Age-old repositories

JAN 16 -

The evolution of technology is likely to change the way we read, write and sell books, and soon. While yet to catch up in a big way in Nepal, online books are becoming increasingly popular overseas, with authors wisening up (and perhaps even resigned to) to the lucrative nature of the Internet, and many titles being released online and in print simultaneously. Amazon’s e-book reader—the Kindle—and the maturation of the Google Book Search service, could be said to lead this new revolution, making e-readers out of many former book-lovers, who have succumbed to the convenience and reduced costs of online texts. And although it will probably be quite a wait until a majority of Nepali readers, at least those in urban areas, are seen going in that direction, we have to acknowledge that reading in the future is going to be different. And in that context, libraries in the country, once valued repositories of knowledge, are becoming increasingly pushed to the background in favour of more ‘modern’ sources of information. So how relevant are libraries today?

Juju Bhai Dangol, manager of the Kathmandu Valley Public Library, believes that one of the reasons libraries in Nepal see less traffic today also have to do with the fact that most institutions are slow at updating their services, remaining poorly-equipped and lacking the kind of materials and resources that would cater to the needs of 21st century patrons. “This is why we’re trying to constantly add new books, and update book lists at the KPVL,” Dangol says. “You have to keep track of what people are reading and accordingly adjust your collections.” When the library at the British Council closed a few years ago, BC donated more than 8,000 books to KPVL, and

Dangol says that numbers of visitors to the library have increased substantially since then. “We have a lot of high school students, and they usually pick up fiction volumes or short stories.”

Dangol himself was a regular visitor of the Nepal-Japan Library while growing up. “They were stocked with things like the Hardy Boys series, Goosebumps, the kind of things you liked as a kid,” he says. He was also a regular at the British Council until it shut down. “That was probably the best library in the city—the facilities, ambience, everything. I pretty much lost my reading habit when it closed.”  

Like Dangol, Samikshya Siwakoti, who just graduated from Rato Bangala School, has a particular affinity with libraries. “It was probably my favourite place in the entire school,” she says. “There’s a distinct feeling when you’re in there, surrounded

by books, where you can get up, walk around, touch titles with your hand. You don’t get that same feeling when you’re reading e-books—they’re not tangible.” Siwakoti says libraries, in that way, encourage her to read, and she’s surprised a lot more people don’t see the appeal. “I can’t imagine anything better than having a good book in your hands, and sitting in a quiet

little spot to read.”

But people like Dangol and Siwakoti are rarities at a time when the Internet, and social networking sites like facebook, in particular, have essentially filled up any free time many youngsters have in the day. For a generation acclimatised to instant information and fast-paced searching, one can understand how libraries can seem antiquated. It obviously doesn’t help that most such institutions themselves aren’t doing much to change that perception—the books at most public libraries are in dismal state. This was one of the main reasons why Sandesh Siwakoti Ghimire, who was a regular visitor of libraries during the two years of his high school, decided to give them up. “I really do like paperbacks and printed books, and I also enjoyed the kind of atmosphere you have at libraries,” he says. “But then, there were constant problems—pages torn, missing—it was better just to buy my own.”

Perhaps, if book-lovers are lucky, we’ll never have to part with our beloved paperbacks and hard-covers. But given how expensive books can be, the government and educational institutions really need to push to make library facilities more streamlined, and in Dangol’s words, “more relevant” to present-day readers—for instance, by incorporating more digital collections or search systems. Hopefully, the age-old stature of libraries can one day be restored.

Posted on: 2013-01-16 08:59