Due to Covid-19 induced lockdown, for Sumana Ghosh, everything she loved about her city was unavailable, restaurants, concerts, and the British Council Library.
For someone who used to visit the library at least twice a week before the lockdown, knowing that the big iron gates of the library were being shut indefinitely was a reminder of a bleak future. She saw no hope of physical borrowing services resuming any time soon. The idea of gravitating towards digital books did not appeal to her either because relaxation for her meant turning off the screen and switching onto the pages of an exciting book.
‘Between feeling lonely and distressed through those long and hard months, the loss of a much-loved routine of visiting the library added to the general feeling of despair’, Sumana and avid reader Vineet Kaura tell staff at the British Council where they stepped in for the first time on a bustling Monday morning.
They were welcomed by the pleasant sight of books being shelved and sorted while a dozen members were seen greeted by delighted faces. It was such a great feeling to be back. After coming, almost a year later, it felt so warm, safe and welcoming – much like meeting an old friend after a very long hiatus.
Sumana and Vineet’s exuberance is echoed by other jubilant readers in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata where the library doors have finally reopened to welcome back the beloved members. "The news of libraries reopening is incredible”, says Atul, a microbiologist. “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.
Academic experts mention that the closure of libraries had a chilling effect on young readers. Studies have explicitly shown that people value the public library as an educational and community resource. Even though British Council reported a 55 per cent increase in digital library membership over last year, the volume of members enquiring when the physical doors would reopen was overwhelming.
“From the time the library reopened in Kolkata, I’ve been a regular visitor every other week. My bond with books began when I started to read as a child. Over the years, books opened up doors to a world full of excitement, companionship, adventure, and they’ve evolved steadily to inspire a myriad of emotions in me.” says Sumana. “Returning to the library and going back to the familiar aisles, browsing and selecting my books reminded me that some things stay the same - even if the world around us has changed in ways we do not recognise” adds Sumana as she echoes the voice of innumerable like-minded readers.
“The British Council library is my son’s favourite place. The variety we get here we can’t get anywhere else. Kids have really missed the library and the feel of real books. I’m delighted to see the library reopen and eagerly await the day when kids will be allowed in for books and activities”, writes Nazima Bhasin, an ardent reader like her son.