"The British Library in Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala, south India) will cease to function on March 31, 2008. All transactions will be terminated on February 29. The library’s stock of books will be redistributed among other British Libraries in the country. These decisions were announced at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday by British Council’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Rod Pryde," says a report in The Hindu.
Of course, no reasons have been given. But it is obvious: lack of money.
With a presence in 11 cities, the network of British Libraries in India is the largest in the world. The cities are Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram. The Bhopal centre will also be closed down.
It's depressing. It's sad that a state like Kerala should lose such a treasure of knowledge. The libraries used to get a lot of support from the British government, but over the years that aide has been reduced; leaving most the centres to find resources on their own.
What is more surprising is the low membership the Thiruvananthapuram library had -- just 6,100 since 1964 when it opened! Kerala is a highly literate state, a vast number of students, a number of colleges and research centres... well, it's quite surprising. Was it the lack of proactivity on the part of the library administration or the lack of enthusiasm of the public? Or was it both?
I became a member of this library in 1980. I'm still a member, having transferred my membership, to Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and now to Bangalore. The annual fee then was Rs 40. The Thiruvananthapuram library was one of my favourite haunts. Whenever I got free time, I headed to this library. I remember the pin-drop silence inside. People spoke in whispers. An amazing variety of books and magazines. During mid-80s video cassettes were made available, which could be viewed in library.
The librarian Mr Parthasarathy used to be so kind to give a complimentary copy of "London Calling" -- a monthly magazine the BBC used to bring out. It gave the programme schedules, write-ups about presenters, newsreaders, correspondents etc. It was such a great help as I used to be really addicted to the BBC. It has tapered off a bit now.
I used to spend hours going through the reference copy of Wisden. I memorised the laws of cricket (since I used to umpire school cricket matches), pore over statistics and profiles of cricketers.
I used to borrow fiction and non-fiction alike, mostly biographies, travelogues and books on cricket like those by Neville Cardus. I used to sit for hours reading British papers like The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and magazines like New Statesman... The library was a wonderful window to the world.
It's truly sad that this window is being shut. Of course, today there are a variety of other means to get information but I doubt if there are many other places that give the same ambiance as a British Library gives.
The Kerala government (a communist one) has shown interest and assured whatever help it can give to help keep the library open. Even chief minister V S Achuthanandan made a surprise visit to the library on Saturday. But I doubt if the British Council will reconsider the decision, though I wish it does.
No doubt, Thiruvananthapuram will miss the British Library.