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At Delhi’s libraries, leisure reading gives way to competitive exam prep

Civil Services aspirant Sunil says it is easy to study in a quiet library environment. “It’s also very useful for me when I need new reference material,” he adds.

Written by Arnav Chandrasekhar | New Delhi |
Updated: June 29, 2022 9:19:36 am
Changing Demographic: At Delhi’s libraries, leisure reading gives way to competitive exam prepDyal Singh library in Central Delhi. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

On a sunny weekday afternoon, the Dyal Singh public library in Central Delhi looked oddly deserted from the outside, but a glimpse of the rooms inside proved otherwise. The tables were lined with readers, while the reading rooms were bursting at the seams. This library, like many of Delhi’s public libraries, has found itself host to students preparing for competitive exams.

The librarian, Pankaj, says, “Before Covid, about 70% of our visitors were students. But now that the situation has gone back to normal somewhat, the number has increased.”

He adds that the library, which houses thousands of books in various languages, is open to and hosts people from all age groups and parts of society. The reading rooms, though, were teeming with students poring over textbooks. At the Dyal Singh library, these rooms are free to use, through the payment of a nominal security deposit.

Civil Services aspirant Sunil says it is easy to study in a quiet library environment. “It’s also very useful for me when I need new reference material,” he adds.

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Delhi’s oldest public library is home to more than just books: kittens play around near a shelf of ageing Urdu manuscripts, in a building that houses books dating back to the 1600s.

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The modern-day competitive exam culture has left a mark on the Hardayal Municipal Public Library, which too has been seeing its fair share of CA and UPSC aspirants.

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“Earlier, you would see more people coming to borrow books and read. These days, you see mostly students coming to study,” says acting librarian Rajender Singh. He adds that while the library, which has been in operation since 1862, is primarily a heritage library, they have also stocked up on study materials for various competitive exams to cater to the new generation of readers.

A cheap and quiet reading space is a draw for students here as well. The fees only add up to Rs 1,000 a year, with a refundable deposit of Rs 200.

A Chandni Chowk staple, the Delhi Public Library is one that seems to have embraced the rising number of students, and with branches all over the city, its effects are not limited to Chandni Chowk alone.

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According to Delhi Library board chairman Subhash Kankheria, “Education is something we cannot ignore if we have to progress as a society. That is why we are focusing on the students who come to the library and provide all facilities for them. We have reading rooms and study material, and if any textbooks are not available students can apply to get them purchased.”

The chairman says that the fees charged are nominal, compared to private reading rooms and study halls across the city.

He adds, “These places may charge Rs 1,000 for their facilities or even more, but we only charge Rs 100 a month. Even this charge is only to show that the service has value.”

On the whole, it seems the library as a quiet place to read for the average person is giving way to the library that caters to those facing India’s competitive exams. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as librarian Pankaj says, “In a way, everyone who enters a library becomes a student.”

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First published on: 29-06-2022 at 02:42:53 am

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