A library is so much more than a collection of books. It is knowledge, sentiment, history, power, intellectual growth, and shared wisdom. As a library grows, it builds upon itself. The oldest and most tattered book can be as useful or meaningful to someone as a new, glitzier one. Think of your own library at home. It does not matter if it is two books, or two hundred. If those books were destroyed (heaven forbid), you would definitely feel a deep sense of loss. We have sanctuaries for wildlife, but we also need sanctuaries for books.
Fortunately, I have studied in places that have decent libraries. The most recent, the National Institute of Design, has a fantastic design library and archives. Many students spend innumerable happy hours here reading (interspersed with dozing or whispered gossiping). In recent years sadly, one sees more students using Facebook on their laptops between bookshelves, instead of reading. Yet a healthy culture of borrowing books is still alive here.
Sadly, we have few public libraries in India. In fact, except for some well-known ones such as the British Council, or the Asiatic (Mumbai), it is hard to find libraries in most cities. This is the unfortunate reality of our culture. Malls keep opening, but not libraries. In many parts of the world, almost every neighborhood has a public library. A library can introduce children to the joy of reading, and teach them to treat books properly. Large corporate houses and publishers could immensely benefit society by starting libraries. Ideally, the Government should be responsible for such an initiative, but it is doubtful the Indian government could take on such tasks at the moment.
People need libraries to enrich themselves, to pass time, to encourage their children to read, to study and inform themselves, and more. Reading is a good habit no matter where you are in life. We tend to think that only institutes or places of study need libraries, but every residential neighborhood could benefit from one, however humble. A nation without the habit and culture of the library is suffering a silent loss. The library should be considered the modern, secular sanctuary.
The author is co-founder and Director, Content Design at Steta