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December 31, 2018

Dwindling readership | Mangaluru's 36-year-old iconic ‘Standard Library’ shuts down

Harsha Raj Gatty

After 36 years of service, Mangaluru’s one of the popular private libraries has turned over its last leaf in pages of its glorious history. The 'Standard Library', once one of the most popular destinations for avid readers with over 17,000 books, is stopping operations today (December 31, 2018) as it faces acute problems of dipping readership along with soaring maintenance.

For its 70-year old bibliophile owner Victor Alvares, it was dream venture to have his own library. "Even as I used to work at an auto-shop back in the early 70's, I loved to read anything that interested me. I was a member of city's first library 'Popular Library' (now closed) run by Late Lawrence Mascarenhas since 1970 at Hampankatta in the city and spend hours together to read. At the same time, I was simply amazed that one could make a living by lending books," he says.

In a chance conversation with Abraham Soans the owner of 'Hamsons library', Victor realised that the former wanted to sell his 10-year old business along with the books and memberships. "I felt this was destiny's calling, to pursuit something that interested me a lot. My offer to purchase was met with positive outcome and I became the new owner of the library, which then I renamed it as 'Standard Library'," he says.

While prior to the takeover there were about 200 books and few hundred members, with his due diligence, Victor says he increased the books to over 17,000 fiction, non-fiction, comic books and close to 1,200 readers. "We actually have more books and people than the registered numbers, but it is just that we don't take account of newspapers and magazines. Whereas the membership is transferable, so based on one card the family and friends can procure books. Also, when a member leaves we allot his number to the new member, so we don't have an exact log of how many readers have been with us over the years," he says.

Though initially a borrower was charged 10% of the actual cost of the book, as the price of the book rose, the renting charge was standardised to Rs. 25 for 1 week, alongside refundable deposit of Rs 400 for newer and costlier books.

About 15-years ago, roughly about 50 people used to beeline at the lending counter or bookcases at the Standard Library at any given time and there was no room to sit. Despite the existence of government libraries that were offering books for free, what kept the private libraries in relevance was that they regularly updated stock of new book releases based on popular demand.

Alvares recollects that especially during vacations when the children used to flock in large number to fumble through the latest editions of Tinkle or Panchatantra comics, some older ones subscribing to novels by Agatha Christie, Jeffrey Archers, Sidney Sheldon or in search of characters such as Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Archie's, Sherlock Holmes and so on. Besides there were regular readers for English, Kannada and Konkani, literature, romance and fiction pieces, along with generic contents like palmistry, self-help, travel, religious, mythology, Ayurveda, cookery, crafts and hobbies.

"But now barely we see one person each day. There are times when I am all by myself in the library," he says. Both young and old, engrossed by technology and other forms of entertainment, they are less enthused about books now, he says. "Now people have television, computer, smart phones, tabs which have taken over people's interest. There are no longer serious readers, only to pass their time people sometime flick the pages of the book I have seen," he says.

It not just the story of one private library that is heading towards closure; several others have shut down in Mangaluru over the period of time mostly citing economic reasons.

Since mid 2000’s private libraries like Popular (Hampankatta), Nandan, New Era Library have succumbed to the online readers and 'Kindle' readership era one after the other. Whereas few other survivors like Accolades Library admit that they had to take alternative routes to sustain their business. "Firstly, we are keeping our library lending only during the weekend, moreover we have supplemented our business by conducting classes on public speaking course where we encourage people to read books and improve their vocabulary and command over the language," proprietor of Accolades Library, Krishnaprasad Adappa said. He adds that in the present era only the government libraries and those attached to organisations may sustain given study flow of finance for books and staff maintenance.

On the other hand co-owner of Readers Delight Wilma Fernandes says that despite the digital transition, people do come back for reading. "It’s just the matter of doing through market research and getting the relevant books on your desk. We have sustained despite the changing time and though the readership is not like the earlier times, we still hope to continue," she says.

Meanwhile, Victor reaffirms that post December 31, he will no longer continue the business especially in the backdrop of the mounting bills of maintaining the library. "I have already started selling second hand books to buyers or souvenir collectors, in couple of months, I plan to dispose the entire lot. Post this I plan to take on travelling" he says.

Dwindling readership | Mangaluru's 36-year-old iconic ‘Standard Library’ shuts down

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