Reading on the wall

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SummaryTraditional libraries, once regarded as temples of knowledge, seem to be on their way out—owing largely to the rising popularity of online stores and smart e-book readers

On a cold, nippy December morning, two friends decided to check out the month-long clearance sale at the Delhi branch of Eloor Libraries in tony South Extension-I. Within four hours, the duo picked up over 100 titles worth about R20,000, thanks to the 50% discount that was on offer across the board. As they were leaving the library, two women from an NGO in Tamil Nadu, working towards the education of children, were still wiping the shelves off of all the Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl books they could lay their eyes on.

The scene was, however, not too happy for the management of Eloor Libraries, which is among the best-known private libraries in the cities it is present in, especially in south India. After all, it was packing its bags after about seven years of its existence in the national capital, struggling to make both ends meet. Headquartered in Kochi, Kerala, Eloor Libraries has four branches in Trivandrum, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, besides Delhi.

In an era of the Internet and with electronic reading devices becoming more popular, traditional libraries like Eloor are staring at an uncertain future. Coupled with the fact that the habit of reading is on its way out—with the younger generation preferring smartphones and computers over physical books—these brick-and-mortar libraries are dying a slow death.

“We had to shut down as the Delhi business wasn’t profitable,” says Gautam Luiz, managing partner, Eloor Libraries, adding, “There has been a 20% drop in business over the last three years across India owing to concepts like online shopping and electronic reading devices, though only with certain types of people.” His father, Luiz John, started Eloor Libraries in 1979 in Kochi. Delhi was the sixth and newest branch.

“It’s been seven years since we started and have tried really hard to make the library a place of value for Delhiites. But there’s no point now in staying open if we are making just about enough money to meet our expenses,” says Luiz.

Agrees Pankaj P Singh, chief executive of Chandigarh’s The Browser Library and Book Store: “The loss in business because of online shopping and e-reading devices has been at least 20% over the last year... We would be lucky if we break even this year on costs,” says Singh, who started The Browser Library and Book Store in 1997.

Roxy Circulation Library in Mulund, Mumbai, which was started by the late Kantilal

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