On a busy Monday morning, Anupama Saini greets her library staff and tasks them with the day's assignments — shelving the books, sorting the ones returned, ensuring physical distancing, and guiding the dozens of members who come to the library for their week's supply of books.
But just under a year ago, Anupama could barely have thought that a pandemic could grip the country, resulting in the library’s doors being shut and requiring her and her colleagues to depend on the digital platform to provide for the library services.
"Oh dear library! It’s so good to be back. After coming, almost a year later, it felt so warm, safe, and welcoming – like meeting an old friend after a very long time.” tells Anupama.
Anupama’s exuberance is echoed by jubilant readers around cities in India as library doors gradually reopen with limited services And with several readers already hooked onto one digital library or the other, librarians across cities will be paying close attention to how the footfalls surge when the physical library welcomes back its beloved members.
Dilip Taneja, an investment banker, formed an unlikely bond with digital audiobooks and e-books during the pandemic, while Priyanka Das, a film buff, spent an immaculate time treating herself to a canvas of online movies. Much against microbiologist Atul’s liking, his subscription to an online library now means the world to him. “Today, an online library is important to me – even if it’s for one good film or a concert video, leave alone my research. I don’t want to be outside this tidal wave even though I know that I just cannot wait for my public library to reopen its doors”.
Academic experts warn that the closure of libraries had a chilling effect on young readers. Studies during the pandemic have shown that people value the public library highly as an educational and community resource. Even though British Council reported a 55 per cent increase in digital library membership over last year, the number of enquirers seeking to know when the physical doors will reopen has been overwhelming. This goes on to show that a brick-and-mortar library has a value that is distinctive and irreplaceable by any alternative form.
"The news of libraries reopening is incredible”, says Atul. “Before, I had to spend incessant stressful hours on the screen to get my research done. And now, I can finally run my hands on freshly laid out books and relive the nostalgia and thrill of bonding with books," he added.