Bengaluru: Akanksha S Demta has been in Bengaluru for eight years but never got a chance to visit a public library. On February 23, she was finally able to do so, thanks to a Public Libraries’ Walk organised by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) as part of its City Scripts urban writings festival. Like Demta, 27 others took part in the event, which took the participants to three public libraries in the city, like the IIHS library, Mythic Society and State Central Library, Cubbon Park. “The main objective was to create an awareness around reading. We have a history of reading but more people need to go to libraries,” said Preedip Balaji, consultant librarian at IIHS.
The walk went beyond just taking people to the three establishments by encouraging them to engage with the space as well. With roughly 45 minutes spent at each library, the sessions began with a short presentation about the space and the collection it houses, before the participants were left free to wander and check the books. They were also divided into groups of three, with each receiving flashcards to note down things they observe and things they wish the space would have. “A public library is a must-have service that people in a city should enjoy. It has to be more of an experience than merely ‘using’ a library,” said Viswanathan Sridhar, an urban fellow at the institute and an organiser of the walk.
Participants came from different fields, including data science, photography, education and more, with each motivated by a different reason to be there. For PhD student Elza D’Cruz, who had already been to two libraries on the list, a group experience was new for her. “I usually go alone for my research but here, I got some newer perspectives,” she said. Abhiram R, on the other hand, may not have a reason to visit a library anymore, but his interest still made him be a part of the walk anyway. “The books may be arranged under particular themes but the sequencing is still random. But I still like how there is order in this chaos,” says the data engineer, who also runs the Broke Bibliophiles Bangalore book club.
While one would think that libraries are seeing lesser visitors these days, T N Srinivasan, the 72-year-old librarian at Mythic Society firmly believes otherwise. According to data shared by them, the number of references, or people borrowing books, in 2011-12 was 8,222 but in 2018-19, it went up to 17,533. “This clearly shows that people are using the library. We see at least 15-20 people here every day,” he said, adding that lately, many seem to visit this specialised library, which houses books on archaeology, architecture, Indology and more, to refer to resources that reveal how the city was in the past.