Community Library

I believe that ten people giving me Rs. 50 each is more than Rs. 300 from one person. I do not merely refer to the math therein but also the likelihood of finding people willing to spare Rs. 50 at any given point in time as against the chance of finding someone willing to spare Rs. 300. I think this is the simple foundation of crowdsourcing. I am beginning to realise the sheer potential of this approach to solving a lot of problems in India where money is a big problem and a scarcity. One of the first issues I would like to tackle is that of a lack of a good library in a city. I shall keep my discussion to Madras.

When I say “library” I do not mean a large house of books. I mean a large house of books which people like to read. I mean a large house of books which you would want another person to read because you believe it would be a wonderful experience for them. I mean a house of books where people meet over books and provide recommendations and discuss the world of letters.
I do not think such houses exist in the cities I have visited in India. I think such a house is vital for the education and intellectual nurturing of a responsible society.
I have been thinking about this and I would like to put down my thoughts here.
I believe books should not be there because a publisher or writer wants them to be on the market. I think books should be there in your hands because you believe in it or someone you trust recommends this book after having read it him/herself. I believe you should read a book after listening to people discuss it and raise some very thought provoking points. I believe that books deserve to be bought because they will be read all over again (hence, chick-lit is out). I believe that books that contain beautiful samples of language and profound thoughts of the human mind should be read carefully. I believe that books which can clear the cobwebs in one’s mind should be indulged in often like spring cleaning. I believe that only those books which hold a story and are intensely sincere should be possessed and read often. Books which are mere attempts at making money somehow should be left to popular bookstores and people who have the urgent uncontrollable urge to empty their pockets. Books, like food, should be passed on and shared between people who care. 
What I envisage is a smallish establishment which will house books that satisfy nearly all of the above. This biblioven (book heaven) will hold as members those who enjoy good literature (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, studies, etc.) and are in a position to articulate their joy (in writing or in discussion). Members who can influence reading by recommending, suggesting, convincing the biblioven of the suitability and rightness of certain books that should be included as well as their opinion on ones that are already in possession are the kinds who will feel most comfortable in biblioven.
I shall now divide my vision into three parts: characteristics of a member, characteristics of the assets of the biblioven and manner of growth and life of the biblioven.
Characteristics of a member:
I shall use “he” and related pronouns instead of “she” and related pronouns as it involves fewer keystrokes. An ideal member would be one who is widely read and has well-founded opinions while still being open to perspectives and thoughts. He should be quite playful. He should be willing to contribute (in cash or kind) to the biblioven. It is vital that he provides frequent recommendations and is interested in the world of letters and allied activities. He enjoys discussing the world of art, literature, politics, society and trends that affect every living being on earth. He enjoys presenting to an audience or capturing his thoughts in other forms such as articles, reviews, plays, etc. If not directly engaged in the aforementioned, he plays a significant part in them. Most importantly, he is very interested in expansive education and nurturing of people. Although books and ideas only create an indirect impact on an individual, he considers that important and hence, enjoys working towards the realisation of that. 
He agrees to contribute his books to the biblioven with an assurance of their welfare. His contributions will always be his and he can withdraw them at any point in time. He has a definite and influential say in the maintenance of books. A monthly contribution as cash would also be made in order to make the most economical purchases of the top N books that the members have decided on. Periodic purchases will be made and it is often the responsibility of the members to assist in this. He would also make contributions in the form of furniture and/or rent for the biblioven. The size of his contributions do not entitle him to a greater/lesser say in the life of the biblioven as every contributing member essentially believes in the rightness of this endeavour and not for personal aggrandisement or powers. 
Except for specific sessions where children are the focus, the biblioven is not open to children in most cases. I hate saying this (I would rather live with a hundred children than ask them to leave the room) but I think the purpose of the biblioven is clear and shouldn’t be diluted in emotional fare.
Characteristics of assets in the biblioven:
Assets in the biblioven are primarily books and printed material. Audio and video recordings are also a part of the biblioven. Printed material would include magazines and periodicals. Other standard assets would include video display equipment, audio players, computers, high-speed internet access (restricted), photocopying machines, printers, paper and writing equipment. Facilities include wi-fi, charging stations and separate discussion spaces. 
Assets would be the most economical options available and money is spared for procuring the most suitable books, periodicals and audio-visual information. Internet access is primarily for reading online journals and intelligent sites and access to high volume media and specific sites will be provided on a case by case basis. The biblioven is not a browsing centre.
Books included in the biblioven are typically the kinds which people have enjoyed and feel urged to recommend to others. This automatically creates a slow growth in the volume of books. A book doesn’t come in because it is on the best-sellers list but because someone has read it and believes it to be good. If the biblioven should purchase it, then it will have to go through a round of vetting. If the member believes it is good and doesn’t want to waste time with the senate (see below) then he can introduce his personal copy into the bilioven (subject to some broad conditions). 
Assets will be divided into General and Member. The latter will contain material which have been contributed by the members and the former will contain material which have been picked by the senate and procured by the biblioven. An asset from the Member section can move to the General section upon approval from the asset owner and the senate. The member, in such a case, would still own the rights to the asset.
Monthly contributions (in cash) vary according to the assets contributed in kind by the member. 
Growth and life of the biblioven:
It is funny that I discuss this towards the end, but I wanted to give it a lot of time and thought. The questions that rise often are:
  1. How different is this from any other library?
  2. Why should you (or a senate) decide what should be read and what is appropriate for others?
  3. Why should one not go to a larger library which has the books that you have in addition to many other books?
The philosophy of the biblioven is simple: Herein lie books which are beautiful in their essence and not stacked because we have the money or the need to be populated. We believe that books which have stood the test of time as well as show promise for non-commercial or non-marketing reasons are more vital to the nurturing of a society as against books like Harry Potter or Nancy Drew. There are other places for them. Books that touch a depth in a man are the need of the biblioven and, we believe, of the present society.
As mentioned, the collection grows in two directions: contributions from members and recommendations of the members acted upon by the senate. If we have members who believe in our philosophy, then the former growth path is imagined to be more rapid with people offering their books which cannot wait for the senate’s nod. E.g. a member might feel that Somerset Maugham’s “A Writer’s Notebook” should be in the biblioven while it hasn’t yet risen in importance on the General list. He might go through the simple procedure of including it in the biblioven’s collection. One example of a simple procedure would be a fifteen minute presentation about why a particular book should be included with the member’s choicest snippets from the book. The biblioven is for passionate readers who wish to share the goodness of a book with others. If a member wants to include a Sidney Sheldon novel but has not been moved by it sufficient enough to want to grab the nearest person and thrust it into their hands, then why include it? Here I am reminded of an anecdote from Covey’s book. If you don’t like the book, it’s ok as long as you can understand the crux of this anecdote:
Let me share with you an interesting PC experience I had with one of my daughters. We were planning a private date, which is something I enjoy regularly with each of my children. We find that the anticipation of the date is as satisfying as the realization. 

So I approached my daughter and said, “Honey, tonight’s your night. What do you want to do?” 

“Oh, Dad, that’s okay,” she replied. 

“No, really,” I said. “What would you like to do?” 

“Well,” she finally said, “what I want to do, you don’t really want to do.” 

“Really, honey,” I said earnestly, “I want to do it. No matter what, it’s your choice.” 

“I want to go see Star Wars,” she replied. “But I know you don’t like Star Wars. You slept through it before. You don’t like these fantasy movies. That’s okay, Dad.” 

“No, honey, if that’s what you’d like to do, I’d like to do it.” 

“Dad, don’t worry about it. We don’t always have to have this date.” She paused and then added, “But you know why you don’t like Star Wars? It’s because you don’t understand the philosophy and training of a Jedi Knight.” 

“What?” 

“You know the things you teach, Dad? Those are the same things that go into the training of a Jedi Knight.” 

“Really? Let’s go Star Wars!” 

And we did. She sat next to me and gave me the paradigm. I became her student, her learner. It was totally fascinating. I could begin to see out of a new paradigm the whole way a Jedi Knight’s basic philosophy in training is manifested in different circumstances.
Now that is what I call being educated. That is what biblioven expects of members; conscious reading and insight into what is being read. If a member can convince me about how the particular book on Kamasutra goes beyond the mere sexual positions and looks at an entire theory of creativity, consciously captured and built as separate patterns to mirror the patterns of creative sensory evocation based on the various gunas and/or the nadis and how this has extrapolated to combining various forms of sensory objects in an art performance, then that book is included. If anyone has watched typical yoga programs on TV broadcast on Indian channels and compared it with what Discovery T&L shows at 7:00 hrs (IST) then you will know the difference between a book and a book that should be included in the biblioven. It is all about passion and a genuine interest in wanting to expose fellow human beings to the best.
Q: Who are you to decide what is the best?
A: We are but some amongst those who have tasted beauty and with genuine interest and intent wish to share it with all in the hope that it will improve the fibre of the human population. We aren’t deciding; we are suggesting. 
Biblioven doesn’t claim to be democratic or anything similar to that. We care about books and good literature (not just the fiction kinds but any written material). We hope to grow with members who have a similar belief system. The interests of biblioven are placed above those of any member.
Hence, a senate is important. This will constitute members who have been active contributors to biblioven and who have regularly participated in the various activities of biblioven. Such activities include book cataloging, discussions, education events, writing articles and reviews, interacting with other members and building networks. The purpose of the senate is to ensure that the best samples of literature are included in the biblioven and the philosophy is spread in a clear manner to others. The senate will be on rotation with a simple process in place to ensure variety and fresh perspective. The senate is elected by the members of the biblioven. For the period of the senate, the decisions of the senate is respected and an environment of open discussion is fostered.
While the senate is mostly for administrative purposes, the Core Influence is a team of deep thinkers and wise men who provide guidance and education to the members of the biblioven. These are folks who are widely read and learned in many subjects and are innately dedicated to the beauty of words and a life pursuit of finding God in them. They guide members in understanding written works and help provide and supplement perspectives. They are the folks I imagine sitting in a wicker chair near the window and most kind in allowing me to sit by their side to discuss something I don’t understand.
Hence, biblioven doesn’t provide a collection of books in an impersonal manner but backs nearly every one with personal experience from some member(s). If people would like that sort of an experience and feel the need to be guided (even partially) into the world of letters, then biblioven is the place. I, for one, would tremendously enjoy such a place and would live my life entirely in there!
To answer the third question above: anyone can go anywhere. Biblioven doesn’t claim to be the one best library. There will always be human beings who only want to read Archie or Mills and Boons. They will surely find places that cater to their needs. Biblioven is for the serious man. If a person wishes to expose himself to the finest samples of literature without having to sift through many in an unguided manner, then biblioven is where he should come. Biblioven is built by the community and its entire structure is based on the communal interest in better education and nourishment. Libraries per se are wonderful institutions but most have grown to be rather impersonal. Biblioven cares about the reader. In biblioven it is unlikely to find a single book which is not good or which will make you feel like you wasted time. Some great samples might be missing, but those included are most likely to be satisfying.
Biblioven grows not in order to grow but due to the overflowing zest and vitality of its members. The number of books increase because we find more pieces of beauty which should be included. Movies from all over the world are added because each one of them is a good example of art, craft and thought provoking story. Periodicals are included because the articles therein are worth reading and have been consistently of superlative quality. Biblioven is personal and caters to individuals who care enough for quality literature and sharing the wonder of immersing oneself in it.
One of biblioven’s pressing objective is education. We would like children and the youth to be familiar with great literature and expose them to the thinkers of the world, encouraging them to participate in influencing the thought of the world. Most people I meet haven’t heard of Howard Gardner or Isaac Babel or Steven Pinker or Peter Mayle or Sir Ken Robinson. You might brush it off as poor company, but I seek people to convince myself otherwise. Have people heard of TED or Edge.org or The Institute of Ideas? I haven’t heard of a million things which I keep stumbling upon every day and miss noting down. I enjoy interacting with some people who keep telling me about new books and entertaining events and things to ponder over. Sharing these and reflecting over books/videos/discussions is something that is part of biblioven’s ideals. It would be immensely delightful to discuss the Venus Project and wonder how we could realise that in India (a future post will be about that). I am certain that there are intelligent and wise people who would rejoice in such a setting – in biblioven. 
Members of biblioven would occasionally invite students from school to listen to stories and written works of great authors, perhaps pick their school English textbook and help them see the beauty in some of the stories. Read a piece by Saki and then go on discussing about his choice of words and characterisation. They would perhaps read excerpts from the Tao of Physics and implore students to look beyond the equations and formulae at life in general. There would be sessions about book appreciation and in general, reading. Students should be introduced to the impact of words and thoughts and also the importance of articulating thoughts and ideas. I believe that this will help the future generation to be more inclined towards life-long learning and education and not merely bookish academics and entrance exams.
Interactions with authors and experts on deceased authors would also be some of the activities at the biblioven. I would personally love to interact with Dmitri Nabokov and Vijay Tendulkar. It would help people who are unfamiliar with the works of great authors to find something new to explore. I am not sure how the economics of this will be worked out, but they are details one needn’t go into right away.
Subscription to periodicals will be subject to their non-availability online. If digital copies are available, then they can be shared (not copied) with members. Periodicals and magazines are chosen based on their valuable insight and sound ideas. Stardust and Cosmopolitan will surely not find place in biblioven. Academic journals which are esoteric and cater only to those who are subject matter experts would also find it very difficult to find inclusion. Budgets are limited.
Biblioven will also be the salon to discuss the latest from the world of art, literature and social thought. We would expect members to be well informed about the latest news from around the world and share them with other members. This could happen at periodic gatherings. What is happening with these fake memoirs increasing in number? What is the impact of the Google digitisation project? How can we avoid libraries from being shut down? What’s this craze about trends? Of course, the favourites would also feature: impact of the credit crunch, terrorism, etc.
One more thing I can envision as being part of the biblioven’s list of activities would be the publication of its own literary journal. Something along the lines of Biblio (in India) but more emphasis on thought provoking articles and opinion. It would also serve as a platform for aspiring writers to showcase their talents. It could be very well called Alvibest! 🙂
The biblioven is primarily a retreat for book lovers and literature lovers, readers and writers and thinkers. So it goes without saying that there will be quiet spaces for members to read and these will be separated from the discussion areas. Writers and thinkers are as important as readers and all of them need a quiet alcove.
The only other place I can consider as slight inspiration to the biblioven is the Shakespeare and Company. It is quite different except in its philosophy of sticking to what is right in the world of letters.

The only way to bliss...

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2 thoughts on “Community Library

  1. A thorough analysis of an idea. I cannot see any lacunae in it, except for the fallacies of the human elements involved.A lot will depend on the people of the Biblioven and the readers too.If and when an ideal bibliove indeed gets established, my best wishes for its forever existence!

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