Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Interphase Between Library Movement and Book publishing in Kerala

A few years ago I made a visit to Kathmandu,during which I stepped into the office of HIMAL,the South Indian Magazine.Upon introduced that I hail from Kerala,Sri.Kanak Mani Dixit,the editor ,appeared very much pleased in welcoming me.During our conversation it was disclosed that he admired my home state very much because Kerala had a very wide network of libraries set up over some decades, which in turn gave a very unique movement of culture.When I told him that I was closely associated with the movement he,expressing more enthusiasm,requested me to write an article on the movement for HIMAL.Though I agreed at that moment ,my promise remains not kept tilldate.Last week when Sr. N Sukumaran Nair of the Kerala Library Association requested me to prepare a paper to be presented at this seminar,the Kathmandu encounter flashed in my mind.I thought a presentation dealing with the interphase between the library movement in Kerala and book-publishing in Malayalam will be of interest to the delegates gathered here from different parts of the country.

Kerala State was formed by uniting the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin and Malabar District of erstwhile Madras Province,consequent to the reorganization of states on 1 st November 1956.These three political segments had diverse social, cultural and political backgrounds.Naturally the library movement in the state evolved in three diverse streams,which in course of time merged into the present organizational structure of Kerala State Library Council.Although the Council and its forerunner Kerala Grandhasala Sanghom covers a life span of just 63 years,the history of the movement,taken the geographical units together, is now 180 years old.

In 1829,H H Swathi Thirunal,the Mah araja of Travancore,opened the first public library in Trivandrum.Though termed ‘public’it was open only to the privileged higher classes in the society.A few more libraries were started in the succeeding years under the patronage of the Maharajas.The Maharajas of Cochin followed suit by opening some libraries in remote areas also.In Malabar the launching was different; it was the kindling of nationalism that led to the establishment of Peoples’ Libraries even in the remote corners of distant villages.By mid-1930s the renaissance movement in Kerala attained the pinnacle of dynamism,spreading waves of turbulence and uprise in agrarian,trade union and cultural fields.A common denominator of all these areas was the literacy movement .Kerala turned out to be a battlefield of ideas,the warriors of which were the progressive younger generation of those days.They very devotedly dedicated themselves to the process of social transformation.By 1950, libraries and reading rooms which served as the nerve centres of artistic and literary activism sprang up in almost every village.It may be noted that some historians have described the three decades starting from 1930 as the’ red decades’ in modern Kerala’s cultural history.Those decades had their imprints on the political transformation of the state.
As more and more libraries were established,it became imminent that some organizational linkage is established among them.Initially library workers made attempts to meet separately in the three political segments of the state.They met in Trivandrum(1929),Trichur(1931)and in Kozhikkode(1937).The landmark was the meeting held at Ambalapuzha in 1945 where the delegates from 47 libraries formed All Travancore Library Union.The maharaja gave recognition to the assemblage and sanctioned annual working grant of Rs.240 to each library.In 1950 ,following the merger of the two princely states,Travancore-Cochin Grandhasala Sanghom came into existence,which subsequently developed intoKerala Grandhasala Sanghom with the formation of the new state.The number of libraries were increasing ; the number of workers too.Political and cultural activities were getting intertwined.It became unavoidable that the state stipulates certain rules and regulations in running the libraries in the interest of the public.Kerala State Public Libraries Act passed by the assembly in 1989 was the ultimate outcome of the deliberations on the issue for about twenty years.KSLC,a democratic institution under the act came into being in 1991with a three tier system of elected bodies at the Taluk,District and State levels.Each library is an autonomous institution,but vertically integrated with the three higher levels.Elections are conducted every five years,usually taking around one year for the the electoral process to complete from the local library level to the state level.On 27th April 1994 the first State Library Council assumed office under the chairmanship of the late poet Kadammanitta RamakrishnanNow the third council is in office.Dr.G.Balamohanan Thampi,formar Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University is the President and Sri,K.Balakrishnan Nambiar,Secretary.

The history of the library movement in Kerala will be incomplete bereft the name,Sri.P.N.Panikkar.With the vision and spirit of a missionary,he traveled along the length and breadth of the state,propagating the message of reading.He coined the slogan’Grow Up by Reading’ which still reverberates in the minds of library workers and inspires many.His anniversary falling on 19th June is observed as the Reading Day throughout Kerala and the State Education Department celebrates the Reading Week commencing that date in a very festival mood.

Now there are about 7000 libraries affiliated to the KSLC.These are grouped into seven grades:special,A,B,C,D,E .and F.An annual grant ranging from Rs.7500. to the last grade and Rs.25000 to the special grade is allotted to these libraries.75% of this grant is to be utilized for the purchase of new books.

Here emerges the interphase between the library movement and book publishing in Kerala.The libraries altogether purchase books worthRs.550 million out of the grant amount only in addition to other resources of their own.The face value of these books would be about Rs.850 million.This assured market warrants the demand-supply equation to be balanced.In addition to this is the demand from other categories of libraries and individuals.Their demand varies; the exact figures could not be assessed for want of reliable data.But it is presumed that at an average 500-2000 copies will be sold out within one year of release,depending on the nature of the book.Aptitudes do change; the current trend is in favour of non-fiction,maily informative literature for general reading.Nevertheless,the solid market for Malayalam books is the library under KSLC.Generally Aor B grade libraries add 100 books every year to its stock.But libraries of lower grades are insistent to purchase more titles,since the total number of books in the stock register is one among the criteria for annual grading.

Market mechanism as in any other trade plays its ugly tricks in book publishing too.In recent years the demand in libraries has increased unprecedentedly due to the enhancement of the grant amount.In addition to this was a very unique development which provided opportunities to every publisher,big or small,to directly sell books to each library at the Book Festivals organized by the District units of KSLC.This novel experiment had its offing in my district of Kollam in 2000.In 200 8 twelve out of fourteen district committees organized such festivals.Marketing became easy for any new or small publisher.As a result,a good number of new publishing ventures sprang up,most of them managed by the younger generation.

The new entrepreneurs have left behind both very positive and undesirable imprints on vernacular publishing.New books on a very wide range of subjects,with fantastic quality in printing and production appeared in a short span of time.At the same time the market lured some unscrupulous elements who possessed cut throat business strategies and no regard to the world of letters.They resort to any technique for canvassing business at the expense of quality and price,with their eyes set on the maximum number of books made available by the onset of the Book festival season,normally during January-March every year.

At present it is guestimated that some 3500 new titles appear in the market from all publishers-small,medium and big.At the forefront is D C Books,Chintha Publishers,Green Books ,Current Books,Poorna Publications,Prabhat Book House and Mathrubhoomi Books.There are around 20 medium publishers, each bringing out around 50 books annually.But smaller publishers,releasing 5-20 books,make the biggest group with a total output of around 500.The publication units under the Department of Culture,viz State Institute of Languages and the State Institute for Childrens’Literature offer remarkable service,mainly with support from the state exchequer.

One pertinent point subscribing to this National Seminar,I wish to point out at this juncture.At present no agency in the state maintains a system to prepare the bibliography of all the books published in Malayalam every year.Kerala Sahithya Academy makes an attempt to collect all titles.Of late KSLC itself has called for sending copies of new books to its Trivandrum I learn that the response is not that much satisfactory.In the context I hopefully look forward to the decentralization initiative from the part of Indian National Bibliography.I wish the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of INB every success.

To conclude,in the background of my credentials as both a publisher and and a cultural activist in the library front,I wish to pronounce that the close relationship between the library movement and the publishing sector will be opening up new chapters in the cultural history of Kerala.The KSLC has to play a critical role in assuring the quality of books reaching the wide network.It is not the quantity but the quality that matters.Of course those books are to be read too.KSLC plans many promotional activities.Still for the last few years we hear that the reading habit is dying.But as a bibliophile I strongly believe that good books are always being read from generation to generation.But how many good books reach our hands every year?Well,it is not a question applicable to Malayalam only.Challenging times we pass through warrant better books in all Indian languages-books that will ultimately lead the blossoming generations to thought processes which will really ignite their minds.

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