I love libraries. Ever since I was young. I used to cycle my way from my home in Royapettah to Mount Road in Chennai to hang around the British Council and USIS Libraries. It helped that they were air-conditioned and this was Madras! I went there often enough that the librarians started recognizing me and would smile. That was special.
I also visited the Connemara Library in Egmore and loved the gorgeous Victorian style building with all kinds of nooks and crannies within. I was a student volunteer in my Christian College High School library. My own Vivekananda College Library was relatively a dull and dreary place, with closed access to many of the sections. You could not walk about the racks and yank out a book to read. You have to tell one of the assistants who would get the book for you. That made me a frequent visitor to the librarian’s office and he took an interest in my career. When I told him that I was joining the B.A. in Economics program, his face dropped, and in a mournful tone asked me if my performance in the Pre University Course was so bad that I would not qualify for IIT.
The libraries rescued me in my final year of the BA program. Three months before the final year exam, I realized that even though I attended classes regularly, I did not know a thing about the subject. The solution was obvious! I borrowed books from different libraries and pored over them. Did not do too badly in the exam!
I even remember those after whom all these libraries are named. The Ratan Tata (senior!) Library at Delhi School (a lovely place with all the economics journals in the world you can think of) and the Vikram Sarabhai Library at IIMA. The names just ring in the mouth and connects all the synapses in the head.
Well, libraries I am told are dying. At least the one here at Suffolk University is. Being an urban campus, various other functions of the university are eyeing its space lasciviously. The Librarians’ own data shows that a very high percentage of the books have not been checked out even once, and so they are unable to defend the space. Many books are to be moved to the basement and one will have to requisition the books in the future. Students’ use the library just for group meetings or lounge in the chairs with earphones plugged in. I wonder what they listen. I hope it is an audio book. I do not see a single book in the bibliography of my students’ assignments.
But libraries are not just a place to borrow books! They are places where you get inspired! You can discover subjects even better than Google can! Sigh! David Godman, while a student in England, stumbled on a book while looking through the spirituality section and found it was about Ramana Maharshi. He read it, bought himself a ticket to Tiruvannamalai (where Ramana had lived and an ashram grew around him), and is still there, 30 years later.