Sunday 3 July 2016

Why we love Libraries?

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”
Albert Einstein
A library is a strange place. You can write about it from various perspectives depending upon your own experiences with books and libraries. When one thinks of a library,  one feels closer to humanity. Paradoxically most people seek solace in books from the loudness of society, retreating in a forgotten corner with a beautiful book, occasionally with a cup of tea or coffee.
Reading has always been associated with silence as the stereotypical librarian would rightly point you out in a movie with a single syllable beyond which her (strict old lady with glasses) only way of communicating with people appears to be long stern stares. But the apparent silence of the library is a popular myth. A library is one of the noisiest places there is if only you could hear the dialogues happening between a writer and a reader. Opinions firing around like cannon balls, destroying long cherished notions and creating new life from the wreckage.
When one says that we feel closer to humanity when we think of a library, one has to understand the difference between society that we live in and humanity. These two are not to be confused. The society that we live in is a fragment of humanity. Humanity spills over the confines of time and space. It is metaphysical. Humanity is something which we can all connect to despite the horrific things that people have done to each other through history. It is a ray of infinite hope. It is interesting that the word humanity can be used to denote our physical as well as our emotional development as a species.

Maybe you understand the perspective now. A book is a writer saying something which he thinks deserves to be said. Something which s/he believes would help others in the universal pursuit of happiness. It can be an idea or a story or an idea about a story or a story about an idea. The options are as limitless as stars in a galaxy. A library houses thousands, sometimes millions of these.
An important question you might ask is “What about a bookstore? It also has lots of books if that is what you are playing at”. The important difference between a bookstore and a library gives further weight to what I have to say. A library is a public space. The poorest member can borrow the same book as the wealthiest one. It is a community understanding the value of knowledge that has come to them through their forefathers and also the necessity of making it available for everyone.

One of the most impressive libraries that we have visited in India include the one located at Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, a research institute based in Shimla. The gorgeous building houses one of the leading research and reference libraries in Humanities and Social Science in the country. 
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla

The building was designed in Indo-Gothic style by Henry Irwin in 1988 and was known as the Viceregal Lodge. After independence, the building was renamed Rashtrapati Niwas and was used as a summer retreat for the president of India. However, Dr. S Radhakrishnan decided to turn it into a centre of higher learning and the institute was formally inaugurated by Dr. S Radhakrishnan on 20 October 1965.

Next time you are on your summer retreat, do pay a visit to the Institute located on the outskirts of Shimla. You won’t regret it.

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