Kerala is concerned over a Union government plan to bring libraries across the country under the Concurrent List — or List III — of the Indian Constitution. Many in the state view the move as a part of a wider agenda to interfere in the functioning of libraries and spread the Sangh Parivar ideology.
“They can regulate funds and grants from national institutions like Rajaram Mohan Roy Library Foundation to state councils of libraries and individual libraries,” Secretary of the Kerala Library Council VK Madhu said.
The Union Ministry of Culture is likely to introduce a Bill in Parliament to bring libraries under the Concurrent List, where the Union government and states have equal jurisdiction. Education is already under the Concurrent List.
“If such a law is enacted, we will be compelled to buy books spreading Sangh Parivar’s ideology,” Madhu further said. “Books on scientific thought and rational thinking would be removed from the priority list. Regressive books would replace them, and the future generations would suffer,” he told South First.
Kerala’s Higher Education Minister R Bindu said the move was aimed at usurping control of knowledge dissemination and routing regressive ideas through the library system.
“We have a secular, progressive, and inclusive library system in Kerala that has evolved over the years as a global model. Libraries are a state matter, and the Union government interference must be resisted,” she told South First.
“It would be better for the Union government to tell other states to emulate the Kerala library model,” she added.
Among the Indian states, only Kerala has accorded autonomous status to libraries.
Among the 46,746 registered public libraries in the country, Kerala tops the list with 9,515. Along with libraries of educational institutions, the state has an estimated 14,000 libraries.
Food for thought
Prof Ajay Pratap Singh, the director-general of the Kolkata-based Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation, revealed at the recently held Festival of Libraries 2023 in New Delhi that the Ministry of Culture was planning to bring in the legislation.
While addressing the conclave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the organisers: “Such efforts will spread awareness on the importance of reading, particularly among the youth.”
PVK Panayal, one of the 23 representatives of the Kerala State Library Council who attended the Festival of Libraries, told South First that a draft legislation was discussed at the delegate session.
According to Panayal, Prof Singh wanted state governments to adopt resolutions backing the Union government’s move to bring libraries under the Concurrent List.
Libraries are now a state subject, meaning states have control over them.
Kerala had witnessed a strong library movement, a unique public library system, which witnessed the mushrooming of libraries and reading rooms across the state. The movement significantly contributed to the state’s high literary status, besides inculcating the reading habit in the people.
India now observes 19 June, the death anniversary of PN Panicker, who spearheaded the movement, as Reading Day.
Way of life
Kerala Library Council member Managalath Chandran said the state would resist any legislation to bring libraries under the Concurrent List.
Madhu said Kerala has a robust tradition of libraries that has been in existence for centuries. In 1827, one of India’s first public libraries was set up in Thiruvananthapuram. It now functions as the Central State Library.
“In Kerala, libraries are a way of life. They helped spread progressive politics as well as popular science movements. Libraries are competing with each other to organise mega literary events and social gatherings, other than lending books,” Cheeral, Wayanad, resident M Govindan, who divides his spare time between the local library and activities of Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, told South First.
In the Malabar region, the library movement evolved as part of the nationalist movement, mainly thanks to the Leftists. Marxist thinker K Damodaran was one of the pioneering leaders who tried to build a network of these libraries and make them part of the freedom movement.
On 14 May, 1937, the Malabar Grandhashala Sangham (a library collective) was formed to coordinate the library movement in the region.
“Now, we undertake many activities besides lending books to attract people. Most cultural events in Kerala are being held by libraries,” MP Jayan, a library activist from Kannur, said.
The Mayyil model
Over the years, libraries have become integral to Kerala society. People from all walks of life have contributed to the growth of libraries.
Kandoth Santha of Mayyil in Kerala’s Kannur district, was one among them. A voracious reader from a poor family, she willed her life savings to the local Navakerala Library.
After death due to Covid-19, her sons Unnikrishnan and Vinod Kumar spent their mother’s ₹12 lakh savings to renovate the library. It now sports a new upper floor. Spread over 34 sq km, the Mayyil Grama Panchayat has 14 full-fledged libraries.
In September 2020, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared Mayyil Grama Panchayat as India’s first panchayat with a digitised library network, which could be accessed from anywhere in the world.
“It was during the pandemic-endorsed lockdown that we thought of digitising all our libraries apart from bringing them under one network. The coronavirus prevented people from visiting libraries and selecting books. Those confined to houses had no other hobby to kill time other than reading books. So we evolved this concept of networking them,” said social activist U Janardhanan, who initiated the process.
“E-books are not affordable to most people. So we decided to give digital versions of all books in our libraries,” he told South First.
The libraries have books in Malayalam, Hindi, and English. A total of 2,09,404 books are available online from Mayyil. Local MLA James Mathew sanctioned money to buy computers and other facilities for the project from his local area development fund.
Karnataka, too, is worried
Karnataka has 6,890 registered libraries. They include 5,766 grama panchayat libraries, 127 nomad libraries, and seven children’s libraries.
Department of Public Libraries in Karnataka, Administrative Officer Manu M said he had not come across any Bill envisaging bringing libraries under the Concurrent List. “We have neither received any order nor notification related to this Bill,” he told South First.
“Karnataka is the first state in the country to pass the Karnataka Public Libraries Act, 1965. Later, around 20 states introduced similar bills,” Karnataka State Library Association President Dr M Krishnamurthy told South First:
“We do not have information about this Bill. However, the state libraries must be under state jurisdiction. For example, the City Central Library is entitled to get around ₹6 crore annually from the BBMP,” he said.
“If the Union government takes libraries under its control, then the question is how will the libraries get that fund because the central library will come under the Ministry of Culture. We will have detailed information about its implications only when the Bill is introduced,” he added.
Library movement in Andhra Pradesh
Andhra Pradesh has around 2,506 libraries, including branch libraries, government, and book deposit centres that are run by Zilla Grandhalaya Samsthas.
Public libraries in Andhra Pradesh are managed by municipal corporations, grama panchayats, cooperative societies, and voluntary organisations.
When the undivided state was formed in 1956, the Madras Public Libraries Act was in operation in the 11 districts of the Andhra region, and the Hyderabad Public Libraries Act was in force in the nine districts in the Telangana region.
To have a composite Act, the Andhra Pradesh Public Libraries Act was enacted in 1960. This Act was amended successively in 1964, 1969, 1987, 1989, and in 2016. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, a separate Act for Telangana libraries was enacted.
The library movement in Andhra Pradesh was a people’s movement that spread across all regions. The success of the public library movement in Andhra could be traced to the beginning of the 19th century. It grew steadily in the subsequent decades.
In 1800, a private library belonging to the Paravasthu family was opened to the public. It was subsequently developed as Arsha Grandhalaya. Raja Rameshwar Rayalu’s (1821-1865) library was also opened to the public at Wanaparthy and Mahabubnagar.
Tamil Nadu has 4,641 libraries under the Directorate of Public Libraries.
Public Libraries were opened in Tamil Nadu as per the Tamil Nadu Public Libraries Act, of 1948. The Directorate of Public Libraries was formed in 1972 to improve the library services.
Apart from the 4,641 libraries, Tamil Nadu also has libraries at hospitals, prisons, and passport offices.