As lending libraries and independent bookstores become more rare every day, a once well-known library chain established in 1979 remains largely unchanged. For all those who love the written word as adults, there are memories from our childhood that we cherish to this day. For someone who grew up in Kochi after 1979, Eloor Library on Press Club Road is at least a passing memory of this sort. Having seen the rest of the city change as a native of Kochi, this writer has seen how Eloor Libraries is perhaps one of the last storefronts in the locale that stays true to its old-world charm. While the rest of the shops have modernised themselves and changed their look to stay with the times, Eloor Libraries is a venture that believes in staying true to its origin. With its hand-painted signage and having largely retained its original appearance from its initial days, it offers an escape into simpler times.
The brand was founded by P Luiz John, a voracious reader who initially worked with the civil services but eventually decided to follow his dream of starting a lending library. In 1979 he began Eloor Libraries in Marine Drive, Kochi on a meagre sum of borrowed money and a collection of nearly 5000 books. Through the course of the next decades, the library became a place for those seeking the written word — students, academicians, professionals, and everyone in between. It grew to house almost a lakh of books and worked on a simple model of self-sustenance. The idea was simple and the same approach is taken to this day — one can become a member by paying a refundable deposit of Rs.1000 and they can rent out books by paying just 10% of their cost.
The founder always ensured that the latest books are stocked at the library — ranging from popular contemporary publications to those on the shortlist for the Booker Prize. Staying true to the same model, Eloor Libraries opened up multiple branches across India over the next few decades. From Trivandrum and Bangalore to even Calcutta and Delhi, Eloor Libraries was one of the leading private lending libraries in the nation during the 80s and 90s. But eventually, during the early 2000s, it fell upon hard times owing to the decline in people seeking out lending libraries.
The founder passed away in 2009, but his family continues the legacy of Eloor Libraries. Over the last decade, the brand had to shut down even more of its branches to stay afloat. Today, only three of the branches continue to be exist Kochi, Trivandrum, and Bangalore. They still house a large number of books and some of the employees have been with them since its initial days. According to Scroll, each branch of Eloor Libraries has 10,000 to 12,000 registered members. But only a fraction of them read books and an even smaller segment read voraciously.
While they still house over 70,000 books in their libraries, it is a hard feat to stay true to their philosophies in the changing face of the cities. Recently, Eloor Libraries has become more active under the leadership of Anup, the founder’s son who is the current proprietor. To promote the library among a younger audience, they have become more active on social media and even participate in book fests. Despite the changing times, in the hearts of those who grew up among the quiet shelves of Eloor Libraries, it is a treasure trove of knowledge that they hope continues.
You can follow Eloor Libraries here.
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