Otis White’s Urban Notebook informs us that public libraries are the hot social spots in a town or a city [in the United States]. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet may have instilled fears of book redundancy but we haven’t seen the decline in sales or presence of books. So why are libraries suddenly so hot? Well, people have always loved to meet even for work or academics related stuff and whether it is a startup company meeting its clients or teenagers getting together to discuss homework. The modern libraries are well-stocked and more importantly, well-connected to the Internet. More often than not, the connections are high-speed and the ease and convenience of assembling research material from online sources has to be experienced to be believed. The libraries are also offering audio-visual equipment or hook-ups that simply offer all you need for a complete study or a business session.
People aren’t simply using libraries for work. They are coming in to play as well. There are hazaar groups ranging from poetry reading to Adult Fans of Lego. I simply love such interactive public space that often people mold with their own connections. The best spaces whether indoor or outdoor come undefined and soon grow to acquire a sense of purpose and subsequently attract people. ‘Build it, and they will come’ funda often works in such cases. India unfortunately lacks such space like the libraries in the United States. At best, we have the mobile library or the library that an aunty runs from her home. There is hardly any scope to hang out in such cases. There are second-hand books that often function as libraries but their bottom line is also concerned with selling and not cultivating a social environment. Kids are forced to hang out at kattas, naakas, and now coffee shops. But most of such ‘hanging out’ is simply idling away time (not that it is a bad thing) but we seriously lack spaces to pursue professional, academic, or even hobby interests. Community halls in certain townships try to achieve that goal but more often than not, focus is on indoor sports and there is little scope for other activities.
Urban life in India would do great if we had similar ‘libraries’; not necessarily filled with books (I don’t mind if they were) but mostly spaces to encourage interaction and pursuit of ‘character-building’ activities.