Celebrating its Silver Jubilee this month, Eloor Lending Library has been a source of delight and comfort to its 8,000 members.
FOR THOSE with an insatiable appetite for books, the Eloor Lending Library has become something of an institution. A flash of inspiration led Luiz John to start the first of his libraries in Ernakulam 25 years ago. The concept bloomed and today, he has book lovers in thrall in Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata. As Eloor celebrates its silver jubilee, Mr. John is as enthusiastic as ever. "I have always been a lover of books. Naturally, this is a business that suggested itself to me."
Eloor's undeniable success lies in the fact that it is able to fulfil a really heartfelt need among readers. "We provide the latest books to our readers after a careful selection process and every possible subject is covered," says R. Chandran, Manager, Eloor Library, Ernakulam.
Mr. John adds that the Eloor clientele has a large chunk of highly educated professionals. "I feel that the computer people, doctors and engineers are the ones who really throng our libraries. Of course, students come to us. During vacations, children descend in droves upon us and our staff are kept really busy," he says.
Mr. John, a postgraduate in English Literature, initially used to spend hours choosing his books from the bewildering array in various bookshops. As his business has grown, he now has a couple of college lecturers in Thiruvananthapuram to assist him in the selection of the books that his readers crave. "The feedback from our members in this matter is so important as they are the ultimate consumers," he opines.
Mr. Chandran points out that Eloor's willingness to purchase `books on demand' for its members when it receives a reasonable request has endeared itself to its members. "This is something that few libraries do," he asserts.
So, what books do people in Ernakulam lap up, what are their favourites?
"Readers in Ernakulam exhibit a wide range of preferences. Their reading covers most conceivable subjects," says Mr. John. "However, I feel non-fiction has the most number of fans in Bangalore. Chennaiites have a special taste for religious books, something not seen in other cities to such an extent," he adds.
Self-help books, tomes on business and management, children's books... all these circulate rapidly, says Eloor's manager in Ernakulam. "Books that suddenly become controversial or famous are much sought after by readers here," says Mr. Chandran. "Taslima Nasreen's Lajja and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things were both much in demand. Even today, we get enquiries for Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses".
There seems to be a dedicated following for computer books while publications such as those on parenting, for instance, also have their following. "As for the major authors, Grisham and Sheldon on the one hand, and Osho and Edward de Bono on the other excite our customers and we have their books in plenty on our shelves," says Mr. Chandran. Small wonder, then, that Eloor Ernakulam has more than 8,000 members on its rolls.
Entire families are enthusiastic about picking up books from Eloor. A middle-aged customer says that she visits the premises frequently, and more often than not, she ends up choosing books for her husband and two children too. A lot of children also come in asking for books that would help them write project reports, says Mr. Chandran. Says a college student, "When I have the time, I borrow serious works but the fun is that you can find light reading material also when hard pressed for time."
Eloor stocks up to 20 copies of works by John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon so that its readers are not kept waiting for their favourite books. And oh, yes... books featuring a certain character called Harry Potter are just plentiful. "We simply must have more than 30 copies of a Potter book," says Mr. Chandran.
The library purchases new stocks of books on almost a weekly basis. Currently, the Ernakulam branch has an impressive collection of nearly 80,000 books. Aren't the reading charges, however, at 10 percent for a book, a bit too high? "We have this compelling need to buy new books and provide the best service to our customers. The money has to come from somewhere," explains Mr. John. For the month of April, in its silver jubilee year, the library is offering a 20 per cent discount on the reading fee.
Mr. Chandran speaks briefly of the changes seen over the years. The demand for self-help and computer books has, in fact, grown sharply. A welcome trend is that books are used more carefully these days. "A few years ago, there used to be a lot of torn pages when the books were returned but that is no longer the case," he adds.
Luiz John is aware of the need to stay ahead of his competitors. He says, "We score over other libraries as our budget is bigger and also because our purchase is more prompt. It is a pleasure to be in a business that is really useful for the people. I now plan to open a bookshop in New Delhi, it will be something new for us," adds Mr. John.
This must be happy news for the book lover.
Photo by Vipinchandran
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