A post by a friend about his visit to the Dr. B C Roy Memorial Children’s Reading Room and Library in Delhi, freshened up my own memories of the libraries that I used to frequent in my growing up years in Delhi, and later in Mysore and Bangalore. So here it is …
1. 1970-78: A small lending library existed in the C block market of Amar Colony, from where my brother Chander, and I would borrow Sad Sack and Commando comics for a nominal fee. Towards the end, I remember borrowing a few Tintin’s from this place. As comics and books became much costlier (as did almost everything else!) from 1974 (OPEC crisis), the borrowing charges went up steeply, and down came the readership.
2. 1975-78: Frank Anthony Public School Library – We were allowed to visit the main library on the top floor of the main building, only when we were in 5th. A large room it was, but instead of remembering the books I read there, all I have are some vague memories of being bullied by seniors there. I do recollect that we had to borrow a book every week.
3. 1974-76: Delhi Public Library – the library in the mini bus – that used to come near Ram Mandir on Tuesdays, and on some other day next to the Gurudwara, near C block, Amar Colony – this is where I became a member first of DPL. I borrowed and read Rajaji’s Ramayana and Mahabharata for the first time from this place.
4. 1976-80: DPL, Shrinivaspuri, just off the ring road – this was a proper library. I remember paying 15 paise per library card as the joining fee. The 2 km walk from home was a long one for my short legs, but one that was a pleasure when accompanied by one or the other friend from B block. My brother was a member too, but would not come with me. 🙂 One of the biggest problem here was to find a book that was “complete”! Some members/readers seemingly got vicarious pleasure from tearing the most crucial pages of any mystery book, before returning it. I remember taking one such book to the librarian to complain about it. Instead of sympathising with me, she started suggesting that I must have torn the page myself, as all the books in her library were “perfect”! I left in tears, wowing never to come back…but back I was, a month later 🙂
This was the place where I learnt to check for titles using the library catalog filed on cards …somewhat like the one below. Very few of my friends could find a book through this method, and it was one small thing that I could be proud about being good at. 🙂
5. 1981-84: The American Center Library – I got a membership with a recommendation from dad’s friend, and remember being told by the librarian as to how lucky I was to become a member at such a young age. 🙂 This was of course a far superior library experience compared to what I had experienced before. My main hope in taking up this library’s membership was that I would get access to a whole lot of NASA literature – about the various Apollo missions, but that never happened. Instead I got to know about how books, magazines and newspapers were being put on micro films, and like Bond, James Bond, I could actually read these micro films on a console. The SPAN magazine was another attraction. They also had a documentary viewing console, with headphones attached. One had to “book” time on this, and it was operated by the librarian. I remember watching some documentaries on New York and Boston, and also being told by the librarian that I was hogging the machine! 🙂 The other fascinating thing for me was reading the week old newspapers – some of them as thick as an entire week’s Indian Express newspaper, our staple newspaper at home.
6. 1980-82: British Council Library – Unfortunately not a positive experience. The librarians used to make visitors feel unwelcome; something to do with the AC environment being sought after by many Delhi-ites I suppose! Membership was too expensive, and the few times I visited, I had to come up with innovative school projects as the reason to spend a few hours browsing.
7. 1981: Central Secretariat Library – this library had so many old newspapers, that when I went there in the summer of 1981, I spent a few days to find out how and why the Indo-Pak war of 1971 had started, and how it finished. I remember that the librarian or their assistant, actually helped pull out volumes of newspapers from upper shelves, that had to be accessed using ladders, and allowed me to go through them for hours together. I remember that I noted down a lot of details about the war, and a lot of questions too in a notebook. Lost it though. 😦 To get access to this prestigious library, all I had was my Delhi Transport Corporation bus pass as my identity card. Doubt that a common citizen can even access that wonderful library now.
8. 1978-83: The DTEA, Lodi Estate school library – I read one of the most fascinating books on Astronomy, when I joined school in 1978 (8th). Pity that we were hardly ever encouraged to spend time in the library from 9th onwards.
9. 1984-88: National Institute of Engineering, Mysore – I visited the smallish library one the very first day in college, only to be told that I should wait till the library cards were issued! Later on, the library room expanded into a much larger space. The reading room was a nice place to be, and in the evenings one could study with hostelites who obviously did not have cooperative room mates! 😉 I don’t remember borrowing many books, but they were all technical books for sure.
10. 1990-98: Eloor Lending Library – I was introduced to this famous lending library, my cousin Sridhar, himself an avid reader of fiction. The book deposit and lending fee were quite high, but then at Eloor, you always got the best service. New books, neatly covered in plastic covers, and you could request for new titles too. Back then, when they were the only big library in namma uru Bengaluru, they used to have regulars for their fiction, architecture, fashion and technical book sections. I was introduced to Garfield here, but most of the books I used to borrow were related to Programming.
11. 1990-94: IISc Library – A fantastic library that I go access to with the help of my boss’s contacts in IISc. I did not get permission to borrow books, but I had permission to refer to their huge collection of Computing related magazines and journals.
12. 1991-94: British Library, Bangalore – I convinced my boss to pay for my annual subscription to this library for 3 years. I remember finding the atmosphere a bit stifling, but perhaps it was me, carrying a chip on my shoulder, from the injuries inflicted by it’s counterpart in Delhi! 🙂 My best memory of this library is finding Saki again! I had read Saki’s short stories in the English Reader in school. So, it was great to find H H Munro alias Saki again. It was an old edition, and the librarian was reluctant to even issue it to me. Once I returned it, the book never made it back to the shelf. 😦
13. 1992-94: National Center for Software Technology library – I had access to this library when I was doing my Post Graduate Diploma in Software Engineering course with them. Back then, they were in the V V Towers building. The library room of NCST provided me with one more positive memory. It is in that room that I presented one of the RDBMS projects we worked on – creating an Oracle database that could provide information on bus routes, based on starting and end points. Possibly the only time that Shri P. Sadanandan said “Well done” to me in the entire course! 🙂
14. 2010-13: Kwench Lending Library – this was a unique experience. These guys tied up with my office, and for a nominal monthly fees, would come and deliver, as well as pick up books from the office. The best part was that there was no time limit for keeping the book. There would be reminders, gentle emails reminding you once in a few weeks, in case you had forgotten that you still had the book with you! I borrowed a lot of novels from here for my mom, and she was quite sad when this arrangement came to a rather abrupt end. 😉
15. 2014-till now: The Woodrose Club library – I discovered this library only late last year, though it has been present for a long time now. A decent collection of books; good enough to keep my mom happy! She has already read the first of James Patterson’s many novels, and Rohington Mistry’s classic Family Matters, borrowed from here 🙂