Tracing The Shifting Landscape Of Delhi's Mobile Van Libraries

Tracing The Shifting Landscape Of  Delhi's Mobile Van Libraries

In Delhi, there exists a unique phenomena straight out of a Studio Ghibli movie - a library on wheels. The notion of a mobile library was once a fantastical concept for me, a notion I never imagined could be real. Yet, here in Delhi, it thrived for nearly seven decades. Sadly, the once bustling demand for these mobile libraries is fading, leaving behind an underutilized resource.

Picture this, studying your favorite novels or preparing for an exam while the scenery outside transforms — it's a magnificent prospect. Even for those who struggle to read or write on a moving bus, the library provides a tranquil sanctuary to simply exist.

Present day Mobile Public Library.
Present day Mobile Public Library.

The Delhi Public Library has its origins in 1951, emerging as a pioneering collaboration between UNESCO and the Ministry of Education, Government of India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated this institution, throwing open its doors to the public on October 27, 1951. Today, it operates under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The library's humble beginnings opposite the Old Delhi Railway Station blossomed into South Asia's largest and busiest public library

In 1953, for those unable to make the journey, the DPL extended its reach with the introduction of mobile library services. It was established to cater to the needs of residents in the expanding rural areas and new colonies of Delhi. This service brings library resources directly to readers' doorsteps through a fleet of mobile vans. Currently, the Delhi Public Library operates seven of these vans, covering 70 areas in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Remarkably, 6,169 registered members are benefiting from this innovative approach to library services.

Mobile Public Library in the 1960s
Mobile Public Library in the 1960s Flickr

These buses, resembling the iconic DTC buses, were aptly named "chalti-phirti libraries". Beginning with just one, their popularity led to a fleet covering various neighborhoods, including Kalkaji and Kidwai Nagar. Beyond the city limits, these rolling libraries ventured into the outskirts, reaching villages like Bawana and Alipur.

These chalti phirti libraries, as affectionately dubbed, captured the imagination of the masses. Security personnel were once a necessity to manage the surging crowds eager to explore the world within those book-laden buses. However, times have changed.

L: The old, crowded mobile library, R: Present day, almost empty mobile library.
L: The old, crowded mobile library, R: Present day, almost empty mobile library. L: Flickr, R: The Indian Express

Delhi Public Library boasts a diverse and extensive collection of of books, covering a wide range of subjects including competitive examinations, computer science, philosophy, religion, social science, literature, history, and more. This trove is available in Hindi, English, Urdu, Punjabi, and various other Indian languages, catering to every reading preference. Furthermore, the library has evolved beyond a conventional lending institution. It now stands as a dynamic hub for knowledge dissemination, cultural enrichment, and intellectual engagement. There mobile library also lends books for a period of 14 days.

Delhi Public Library (which runs mobile libraries) go beyond conventional library services by actively organizing events across its units. These events aim to nurture individuals' talents and interests, as well as foster cultural appreciation. The library also hosts enriching activities such as book exhibitions, film screenings, television programs, and lectures for the benefit of its readers. To partake in these engaging activities, membership with the library is a prerequisite.

Today, while these mobile libraries dutifully navigate their scheduled routes across the city, the fervor has waned. A librarian from the DPL laments, "We've gone door to door, distributing forms and seeking users, but the truth is, people here already have ample access to reading materials."

The shifting landscape of interest in Delhi's mobile libraries paints a nuanced picture. While some areas may no longer be as fascinated by this literary vehicle, others still hold it dear. Perhaps all that is needed is renewed attention on this Studio Ghibli-like phenomenon, and the readers will be running to catch the bus.

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