Value in unexpected places

Published On: June 9, 2017 11:52 AM NPT By: Republica

When we think of libraries, there are some names (British Library, A-one Library, Kaiser Library) that automatically come to our mind. Those living in Kathmandu, at least, are well familiar with these establishments. However, it seems for the enthusiastic readers in the valley, there is more to discover.

Inconspicuously located within the compounds of Ratna Rajya Higher Secondary School, Baneshwor is the Shree Ratna Pustakalaya and it has been quietly running for nearly 54 years now. The library’s walls and shelves aptly reflect its long history. There are photographs of renowned poets and personalities who had visited the establishment in its heydays and even the book collection includes Nepali literature that is older than 50 years.

Now while people from around the area are familiar with the establishment, it clearly seems to have missed many people’s radar. The Week, however, went to check out the facility and re-discover its legacy.

The doors of Shree Ratna Pustakalaya open to the public every day after four in the afternoon. The room on the ground floor is always laid out with various English and Nepali newspapers of the day (the volunteer bring the papers they have subscribed at home) and people, both old and young, from the locality slowly begin to pop in for their daily dose of news and reading. Even those who aren’t members of the library are allowed to browse through the selves and sit down with books that interest them. 

On the second floor though, there is always a bit of chatter. Around 4:30 pm or so, the committee members of the library also slowly begin to gather around their meeting table. They are all volunteers and most are retired. They greet one another, tend to the library errands that need to carried out or simply sit down and indulge in banter, from personal life to politics, everything is on the table. They have known one another for decades and they unanimously agree that these meetings at the library have become a daily habit of sorts. While they are at it, every now and then, a few readers come and go through the bookshelves on the second floor as well. 

The fact is the library actually only has three paid workers, one in the administration, one for maintaining the collection and the last, for cleaning the building. They too are working for a nominal amount. So what really keep the library fully functioning are the volunteers, all of whom live around the area.

“I remember being called to carry a couple bricks and help in the construction of the place. We were all kids at the time,” says treasurer of Shree Ranta Pustakalaya, Shankhar Prasad Paudel. 

And he isn’t alone, all the main members of the current committee have memories of playing around the school compound or attending the library’s various events in their youths. Some members have been involved with the library for as long as 40 years. They consider themselves as the second generation caretakers of Shree Ranta Pustakalaya.
Paudel elaborates, “Our seniors told us that this would be our responsibility and we felt it too. It has steadily become a good place for the locals here so we want to help keep it running.”

The main attraction has to be the rich collection of Nepali literature. Even though most of the books there have been donated (they have only recently started buying books for themselves), those looking to explore Nepali literature are bound to find some real gems. From novels, poems, biographies, plays to books on social issues and ideologies, Shree Ranta Pustakalaya has a lot to offer. There are literary works starting from the likes of Bhanu Bhakta and Moti Ram Bhatta, so one can only imagine all the works that are available here. All you need is some time to browse.

As it is, the list of literature personalities that have been associated with the library is an impressive one.  The fact that they have displayed the photographs of various events from over the years and important visits of well known personalities also makes visiting the library an interesting affair. 

From Bhupi Sherchan, Bhawani Bhichu, B.P. Koirala, to Matrika Prasad Acharya, Rishikhesh Shah, and even Ram Baran Yadav in recent times, chairman Shashi Bikram Rana shares a lot of pride on behalf of the library for being able to appeal to them. He credits the library’s efforts in being involved in the community work as well as the literature field for successfully building their network in this manner. 

Rana reminisces, “Today visitors are impressed with these photos, especially B.P Koirala’s attendance at our events. But there were times during the Panchayat era when some members of the library were against inviting him.” 

Apparently, later considering Koirala’s influence in the community and the literature scene, the library’s committee voted for his invitation. And you can bet there will be more stories like these when you visit them in person. 

At a time, when the younger generation is losing interest in old Nepali literature, Shree Ranta Pustakalaya consciously continues to celebrate important days like Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s birthday, Bhanu Jayanti, and many more to commemorate our literature’s greats with their own annual events. They have held movie screenings and also poetry recitations on those occasions. 

Basanta Parajuli, secretary of Shree Ranta Pustakalaya says that today, they have seen a distinct increase in our reading and writing habits. According to him, a lot of Nepalis, especially the younger generation, seem more inclined to give time to literature so much so that they have had to turn away a few poetry enthusiasts who wanted to participate in their events. They requested them to try again later. 

However, there lies the problem as well. With internet taking over our lives, Shree Ranta Pustakalaya, like most libraries, is struggling to maintain foot traffic. Their various functions and events may still bring in crowds in the hundreds but readers on the daily basis have been steadily decreasing. 

Parajuli elaborates, “We may have readers who come to read newspapers but increasing our membership, even at Rs 500 for a year, is a real challenge at the moment. Further, I am really worried there won’t be anyone after us to look after this library.”
They have been considering digitizing their collection and so on but, with limited funds, that isn’t a certainty yet. Most members of the library’s committee say that they have tried to get youngsters in their area involved in the running of the library as they were once recruited as well but that plan didn’t go too well. Their search for the third generation of caretakers for their prized library is still very much on.

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