State public libraries gasp for breath

Library

ANUPAM CHAKRAVARTTY

VADODARA, JUNE 7

Libraries in Gujarat are dying a slow death even though Gujarat had passed an Act (Gujarat Public Libraries Act) in 2001 along with eight other states to revive the public library system. In Anand district, an educational hub, 183 village libraries out of 350 shut down over a period of one-and-a-half years.

Village libraries suffer because they do not have anyone to look after them except for a guard.

P C Shah of Gujarat Granthalaya Seva Sangh (GGSS) — an Ahmedabad-based private non-profit organisation working for protection of the libraries — however, said village libraries are an integral part of the Gaekwadi culture. Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III had issued compulsory notices to villages to have one library that would be maintained by the administration.

"But these libraries get only

Rs 2,000 a year for maintenance," added Shah. Maintenance means not just paying the guard or the librarian, but also administering DDT so that the old books are not damaged.

On her part, Chief State Librarian Varsha Mehta said those responsible for village libraries do not keep

accounts of the expenditure incurred by the library.

"They are mismanaged," Mehta said, adding: "Nobody wants them except for an occasional curious visitor. When the representatives come for annual accounts, most of them do not have data. So, it becomes difficult for us to give them any fund." Secondly, these libraries are shutting down because the fund amount in itself is paltry — Rs 5,000. "It is not enough to maintain a library, pay the staff, buy new books, pay electricity bills and the like," Mehta added.

Shah, a retired bureaucrat, feels it is the callousness of the successive governments that is forcing these libraries to shut down. He rues the Gujarat Public Libraries Act of 2001, which he describes as "non-committal" with no clear-cut policy for the libraries.

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