Monday, November 23, 2015

At the Library

Online dictionary defines a library as "a place set apart to contain books, periodicals and other reading material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed". Such organizations may be public bodies catering to the needs of the general public or private institutions meant exclusively for their members. The facility may be made available free of charge or for a prescribed fee. Libraries have their own rules and regulations that are to be complied with to avail of their services. Whatever may be the context, the first thing that comes to the mind when the word "Library" is heard is books and books.

The earliest available library for us in our childhood in the Primary school (standard 1 to 4) was the single old bookcase kept in the room of the Head Master in the village school. There were very few books and we neither had access nor the capacity to read and understand their contents. It was not known whether the teachers themselves read those books. When we moved to the Middle school (standard 5 to 7) in the small town, the library was a little bigger with three or four bookcases. One teacher was in-charge of the library and we got 2 or 3 books during a full academic year. The position was much better in the High school with a separate room provided for the library and one period in a week earmarked for "Library" sessions. We could read some newspapers and magazines in the library room during lunch time. Each student had to pay a fee of 50 paisa (Half rupee) every six months as "Reading Room" fee. The college had a regular library with many books, but not many students were interested in the general books by then. Institutions we worked in for a living had their own libraries in big offices and were quite useful with stock of professional and general management books.

Villages hardly got any newspapers in those days. Small town had a few households getting newspapers regularly and one had to visit them in the evening to read the newspapers. Availability of the papers was directly proportional to the mood of the residents of the households. Some were kind to recognize our needs while the behavior of some others bordered on contempt. Three of us friends were regular visitors to the "Municipal Office" of the small town, every morning to read the daily newspapers. We had to wait until the Municipal President and Administrative Officer finished reading them. A new Administrative Officer who came on transfer was kind to instruct the watchman to allow us to read the papers before his arrival on the condition that the papers were handled with proper care by us. That was a big concession for us and a true recognition of our earnestness in those days!

Experience with public library later on were not very happy either, as they worked during the same hours, usually 10 to 5 during the day, when we would be working in our offices. Becoming a member was a difficult task as was borrowing and returning of the books. Much depended on the attitude of the staff manning the counters. Distances between places of work or stay and the libraries did not help matters either.
A few days ago, my hosts here were discussing about seeking an appointment after 8 PM at the local Library in Pennsylvania, for obtaining a passport for their two week old baby, I became alert. It was a surprise to think of an appointment that late in the evening and that too for obtaining a passport! I went along with them and made a round of the local Library and witnessed the process followed for obtention of a passport. There were many interesting features in the functioning of the library and the facilities they provide to the residents of the community. Some of them are given below:
  • Each county (similar to the Districts we have) has a set of libraries in different locations depending on the population of the areas. 
  • The libraries generally work form 9 AM to 9 PM on three days of the week and 9 AM to 5 PM on other three days of the week. Sunday is a holiday. Late working days are especially convenient to people at work during the day time.
  • Membership is free for local residents. Others too can become members by paying a nominal fee. 
  • Application for obtaining a library card can be made on-line. Libraries have easy access for differently abled persons.
  • On-line catalogues are available for reference and choosing books one needs to borrow or refer.
  • If the books needed is not available immediately, there is a system for reserving the books to borrow them when returned by others.
  • If the required book is available in another library of the county or even nearby counties, request for transfer can be made. The book arrives in 2 or 3 days. 
  • A book borrowed in one library can be returned at another library within the county.
  • Returning of books can be made through drop boxes located at the entrance of the libraries and need not be only during working hours and inside the library. Books deposited here are cleared periodically and accounted by the library.
  • In tune with the times, library activity is not confined to books alone. DVDs and E-books are also available at these libraries.
  • Libraries have well-equipped computer centers. Free wireless internet and public laptops and I-pads are available to the members. One hour free laptop use is allowed.
  • Computer centers have facility of scanners and printers available in them. Scanning is free of charge.
  • Self-copying and faxing are permitted for a reasonable fee.
  • Snacks and soft drink vending machines are installed for providing refreshments.

In addition to the above features, Libraries also provide various other services to the community and truly work as centers of learning. Other services provided include:
  • Learning environment for all residents is provided in various forms.
  • Educational programs and classes for different age groups like Pre-school kids, toddlers time, Babies and Books, Pre-school Yoga are held periodically. There are programs for kids, teens and adults as well.
  • Family music classes, computer help and job counseling sessions are held for the required groups.
  • Local author book talks are arranged to encourage local talent.
  • Income-tax forms are available at the libraries.
  • Duly filled Passport applications can be submitted at the Library. A designated official checks them, verifies with the original documents, takes photographs and sends them to the concerned authorities. A prescribed fee is levied for these services. Telephone appointments can be made for these services to avoid waiting time and enable proper planning.
  • Libraries have meeting room facilities for hosting cultural, civic and educational purposes on payment of prescribed fees. Advance booking can be made for such events.

These libraries are managed by Library Boards constituted by local residents. Funding is by local governments as well as donations from general public. Members of the general public can attend the library board meetings and offer suggestions.

I was also advised that some libraries have open gardens as reading rooms. You can pick a book from a tree, read it in its shade and return it to the tree with grateful thanks! I could not visit such a library this time. May be, it has to wait for another time.
Two weeks after the visit to the library with the baby and submission of the passport application, his passport arrived by mail. Obtaining a passport was that simple, thanks to the Library, systems followed and concerned departments. Modren libraries can certainly be agents of change and convenience to the general public!


  1. Very nice to read and to know about the library system in US. Although I stayed for 4 months in Richmond in Virginia with my daughter, I did not visit library. I will go to a library during my next visit. When I went to Boston I saw a library from outside located in a historical building.

  2. Very interesting. As usual you open a new window for me to view the world differently.

  3. It is really surprising to know that libraries offer services other than lending books also. Fantastic.
    R Jagannathan

  4. interesting and informative post

    1. Thanks for very interesting information as usual.

  5. Thanks for very interesting information.

  6. will a day come in India when such facilities can be made available to ordinary people in our villages?

    1. Interesting and informative article. When will such facilities be made available in India

    2. When will such facilities as eaae of returning books, passport application facility and transfer of books from other libraries,cetc, will become available in India? Very interesting article..

  7. very informative ... I wish such facilities can be provided in India too , for common people

  8. In our middle school days, we used to visit our library only seeking dictionary (We had one big Oxford dictionary only in the library then) to find synonyms and definitions for the assignments and home work given by our English teacher. Ironically, your post starts by finding definition of library in online dictionary. Shows the time we've traveled.

  9. Very interesting and amazing article........