Private lending libraries may have pulled their shutters up, but book lovers have to have their enthusiasm reined in for some more time, as a majority of them don’t want their customers setting foot in their shops.

The stricture is designed to prevent violations of social-distancing norms. These libraries are making sure sanitised books reach their patrons’ doorsteps.

While some strictly forbid customers from heading to the book racks, a few others have a stipulated time frame, set in stone, for every visitor to make his choice and leave the place.

At Easwari Lending Library, members keen on browsing through the books on the physical shelves can do so but cannot hang out at the library for more than five minutes. Masks are an absolute must, and only three people are allowed at a time.

“We want them to browse and if possible select and renew the book online. The selected book will be delivered to them,” says P. Satish Kumar, proprietor.

To encourage members to stay at home, the library has relaxed a few other rules. “Previously, if a member could only take six books, now they can take double that number. We are also not rigid about the renewal date,” says Kumar.

Bookmark Lending Library at East Coast Road has been running a poll on its website to find out if members would like to visit the library or prefer door delivery.

Karthik Sekhar, who runs the centre, says he is yet to count the votes but he knows people would prefer to visit the library and select books. However, the library understands the risk this would bring, and are therefore not allowing anyone inside. Members can browse books from the online catalogue and collect their books from the library, but without entering the facility. A drop box is placed outside the library for members to drop their books.

“I discourage them from coming inside and hand the book over at the door,” says G. Mangaiyaraarasi, the librarian. Before the lockdown, the library would stay open till 8.30 p.m. now it closes by 6 p.m.

The library already had online features for renewal and delivery but there were not many takers for it. “Given the prevailing situation due to COVID-19, we are encouraging our members to switch to the online platform,” he says.

For those who are not familiar with browsing from an online catalogue, the library has been giving out printouts to educate them about it. “We have a WhatsApp group for senior citizens and children, this has become active now and we are sharing details about books too,” says Sekhar.

Little Love Library at Anna Nagar is still contemplating upon its opening date although many of its readers have started asking for books.

Swetha Meyyazhagan, who runs the place, says lending books is difficult in these times. “You do not know how the person is going to use the book; at the same time you don’t want someone to blame that the books spread the virus,” she says. She has 150 members and a majority of them are being children who love to explore the covers before deciding on which book to take home. “I don’t want to take a chance,” she says.

“I am exploring a subscription plan where members can own the books they borrowed at an affordable rate,” says Swetha.

Delivery challenges

Finding manpower to deliver books is a major challenge most libraries face.

Jayalakshmi Lending Library at Choolaimedu opened 15 days ago but it has had only two customers who came to collect magazine against the 40 on its register. A majority of them want it to be delivered but the centre is apprehensive of taking up this service during these times.

Bookmark Lending Library was only delivering books once a week, now it plans to offer it twice or thrice a week to avoid customers from coming to the place, and is looking to hire a person for the job.

Easwari Lending Library is able to manage door-delivery of books as it has nine branches across Chennai. “Sometimes even I deliver the books,” says Satish Kumar.

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Are your books sanitised?

Experts say it’s safe to lend and borrow books as long as the usual precautions like washing hands and using hand sanitiser are followed. Various studies recommend a 24-48 hour quarantine of returned books as the safest and most effective way to disinfect them.

“This is a new virus and everybody is still innovating on what would work the best. A recent webinar that I attended recommends that books must be quarantined for 48 hours,” says N. Jagadish, former director, American Library.

Libraries must have drop boxes kept for members to drop books and this can be kept away from human contact while quarantining he says. Delivery also must be thorough. “The person delivering books must be oriented towards safety norms. He should wear hand gloves and make sure books are packed well before being delivered,” says Jagadish.

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Making board games, books safer

Retail owners are trying all possible ways to retain or bring back customers during these trying times. Boardroom Cafe at Mylapore has bought a sanitisation box that is said to be capable of killing viruses found in any object. “It’s a shielded box that releases ultraviolet (UV-C) rays which range between 200 and 280 nanometers, that can kill the bacteria and viruses in objects kept in the box,” says Varun Devanathan, one of the founders.

The box was sourced from a lab in Bengaluru. The box also has an alarm that can be set for a specified period of time. “We have 500 boardgames with us and we are yet to open our outlet for customers as we want to be doubly sure that everything is safe and sanitised before we allow people. The sanitisation box is a good investment in these times for the safety of our customers,” says Varun, adding that he spent ₹14,000 on buying it.

Boardroom Cafe has now started to rent its games to customers. “We unpack the games, some are made of plastic and some of cardboard, place it in the box for 10 minutes before we give it out,” says Varun, adding that the box can also be used to sanitise books.



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