CHENNAI: Despite its glorious heritage, the Connemara Public Library, which serves as the State central library, is showing signs of decay.
Several books are in dire need of restoration, new books are unavailable and there isn't enough staff. Since many of the books are early editions, conservation techniques need to be updated, say library sources.
"Before building a new library worth Rs 165 crore (at Kotturpuram), the government should improve the infrastructure of a library that was once the pride of Chennai," says K Mahalingam, who frequents the library.
The Connemara library was opened in 1896, making it one of the oldest in the state. It is a United Nations Depository Centre and a UNESCO Information Centre, as well as an architectural symbol of the British Raj.
Apart from air conditioning in certain sections and computerised bibliographies, little has changed over the years, says Dr P Perumal, a library sciences professor.
The library does not have a children's reading section as it was replaced with a digitised Children's Centre' a few years ago. "The centre only has CDs with computer games and short stories. Children should be able to read good literature," says R Lakshmi, the mother of an eight year old. A library official, however, says, "The library is meant only for research scholars, not children." But researchers too find it hard to use the library.
"The public is not permitted into the old books section, and the process to submit a list of books for viewing is tedious," says S Haripriya, a Madras University post graduate student.
The computerised bibliography for Tamil books is also not user friendly. "One of the cardinal rules of library science is to save the reader's time. Any search throws up several different results without any categorisation," says Perumal.
The library does not have new titles either. A copy of every book published in the country has to be delivered by its publisher within 30 days to the four public libraries specified of which Connemara is one as per the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954. But over 60% of books published are not sent sent here, say officials. The National Library of India at Kolkata received 6,890 English books under the Act in 2008. Connemara library received just 5,431 English books in 2008.
The library is short-staffed: Of the 121 positions in the library, 41 are vacant. The post of director was dispensed with eight months back, and the library is run by a librarian-in-charge. "The issue will be remedied in the near future," said the office of the Directorate of Public Libraries.