06 Jan 2018 14:01 IST

Mourning the end of a lending library

It didn’t just make reading cheaper, it was also a sanctuary, a sortie I had come to cherish

Recently, my lending library announced it would shut shop in a few months. It cited losses due to shrinking customers, who had either started using e-readers now or abandoned the habit of reading. The dismay I felt at this development was coloured with these other thoughts:

~ I was one of those readers.

~ I held the library responsible for me moving to an e-reader three years ago.

~ I had reduced my use of the library but had not deserted it.

~ I haven’t become a convert to my Kindle.

As far back as 12 or 15 years ago, I would ask the proprietor and staff at the library to buy books I wanted to read. They had a ‘suggestions’ book, but those were rarely taken. They told me they only bought the books that their distributor or dealer sourced. Even if it was a prominent title, they would have just one copy. In the process, I ended up buying several books, some of which trickled in only months and years later into the shelves at the library.

A little later, I had become somewhat of an Internet being; my book reading time diminished by hours spent online. Nonetheless, I held on. My grip loosened as the lack of the books I wanted became a rather permanent feature with the library.

Finally in 2015, I caved in and bought a Kindle. I’ve bought only a few books on it so far, still resorting to the paper-and-ink kind when I could find them at the library.

Discovering books by algorithm is not the same as traipsing into the library and stumbling upon enticing bits and pieces of books peeping out of this shelf or that. As for buying books, I no longer have the place to store them at home.

The library didn’t just make reading cheaper, it was also a sanctuary, a sortie I had come to cherish. Entering the library with some anticipation was as pleasurable as leaving it with an armload of finds.

Much has been written on libraries prepping themselves for the digital age. Most suggestions converge on them becoming community hubs that host various events, or venues that provide Internet access and services. My beloved lending library could probably not have afforded much, but I wish it had been more responsive and contemporary, created a little excitement about impending arrivals, new books, old favourites, and little-known books and authors.

I would not have become a less frequent visitor, and contributed to its ending.