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

On a sunny weekday afternoon, the Diyal Singh Public Library in central Delhi looked strangely deserted from the outside, but a glimpse of the rooms inside proved otherwise. The tables were lined with readers, while the reading rooms were filled with seams. This library, like many public libraries in Delhi, has found itself a host for students preparing for competitive exams.

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

He adds that the library, which houses thousands of books in different languages, is open and hosts people of all age groups and parts of society. However, the reading rooms were teeming with students filling textbooks. At Dyal Singh Library, these rooms are free to use, by paying a nominal security deposit.

Sunil, who aspires to civil services, says it’s easy to study in a quiet library environment. “It’s also very useful for me when I need new reference material,” he adds.

Delhi’s oldest public library is home to more than just books: kittens play near a shelf of ancient Urdu manuscripts, in a building housing books dating back to the 17th century.

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Contemporary competitive examination culture has left a mark on the Hardyal Municipal Public Library, which has also seen its fair share of CA and UPSC aspirants.

Earlier, you were seeing more people coming to borrow books and read. “These days, you see students coming in mostly to study,” says Acting Librarian Rajinder Singh. He adds that while the library, which has been in operation since 1862, is primarily a heritage library, it has also stored study materials for various competitive exams to meet the needs of the new generation of readers.

The cheap and quiet reading space is a magnet for students here as well. The fee only adds up to 1,000 rupees per year, with a refundable deposit of 200 rupees.

A staple of Chandni Chowk, the Delhi Public Library is a library that appears to have embraced the growing number of students, and with branches across the city, its implications are not limited to Chandni Chowk alone.

According to Delhi Library Chairman Subhash Kankharia, “Education is something we cannot ignore if we have to progress as a society. That is why we focus on students who come to the library and give them all the facilities. We have reading rooms and study materials, and in case there are no books available school, students can apply to purchase it.”

The board chair says the fees charged are nominal, compared to private reading rooms and classrooms across the city.

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

Overall, the library as a quiet place to read for the layman seems to give way to the library catering to those facing competitive exams in India. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, says librarian Pankaj, “In a way, everyone who enters a library becomes a student.”

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