On paper, TN libraries a book lover’s paradise

Tamil Nadu can boast of an outstanding library system. With a clear cut procurement policy for books, the libraries are an example for the rest of India. The more than 4,000 libraries in the state include state central, district central, branch, village, mobile and part-time libraries.

Funds are no impediment either. The state library system receives more than `150 crore from local bodies every year through the library cess that is part of the property tax collected by local bodies. Nearly every library in the state has its own building.

Perhaps the greatest boost is the policy to regularly procure 1,000 copies each of Tamil titles and 100 copies each of English titles ordered by the selection committee. In fact, as a result of this policy, we can see hundreds of individuals emerging as book authors every year, with many of them self publishing.

But this glut has not produced quality books. In marketing, there are two types of goods and services – product-centric and customercentric. The Tamil publishing industry has found a third strategy known as library-centric. Books eulogizing the political boss of the ruling party are a favourite with libraries. Then comes pseudo-literature based on characters in mythology or literature. The third category is self-development and personality-development. The all-season favourites, however, are cookery and astrology.

There are scores of fly-by-night publishers whose only mission is to publish and supply to libraries. During the library season they would spring up like mushrooms. Even an established publisher in Tamil needs at least two months to bring out a book. But some of these makeshift publishers bring out many titles in less than 20 days.

Past president of The Book Sellers and Publishers Association of South India Gandhi Kanandasan says, during the library season, one can find many unknown authors appearing from nowhere. These authors can churn out books on every topic under the sun – all of questionable quality , of course. Sometimes the same script would go with slight modification to another publisher.

With the advancement in printing technologies, printing copies is an easy affair. And the libraries are a ready customer for these books.

The yardstick adopted by the se lection committee that orders the books is opaque. As a result, established publishers stay away from the library market. The pricing policy seeks to level the money to be paid – but quality books come at a premium. Delays in payments are another problem.

English is the preferred medium of instruction for students in the state. Even the state-run schools are switching over to English medium.Sadly , the libraries in the state spend little on English books, leave alone other Indian languages.

It is time the government woke up to the enormous capacity we have built up in the library system and works for a turnaround. The director of libraries should henceforth provide to the public and publishers through their website the list of books that were received for consideration, the books that were selected, the names of the publishers, titles submitted and the number of books selected for ordering. The government should also explain how the library cess is spent every year. More English books should be procured.

While we complain about how the internet has killed the book reading habit, we have to understand that young people don’t find public libraries inviting. Libraries need to become centres that hold the local community together, much like in western countries. Book reading events and other related activities can draw people in. The government may want to think of embarking on an enrolment drive to attract fresh users. NGOs and other voluntary organizations can be involved to fix small problems in local libraries such as fans that don’t work. They would only be too happy to help instead of waiting for the government bureaucracy to fix all the problems.

(The author is a social activist and research scholar doing his PhD on consumer behaviour in Tamil publishing industry)
G Olivannan

Author: Book Club India

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