Nepal | August 05, 2020

Quake-hit libraries

Struggle to operate in rains

Sabitri Dhakal
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Readers on the premises of Kaiser library

Readers on the premises of Kaiser library

KATHMANDU: A good book in your favourite library on a rainy day is never a bad combination. Probably for most of the avid readers, rainfall doesn’t dampen your reading spirit, but this rain is not good for precious books. The onset of monsoon is a threat to thousands of valuable books stored in the various libraries — damaged by the the Gorkha earthquake — across the Capital. These books have already been moved to places safe from rain, yet libraries lack space for proper management and functioning.

Books safe yet lack space

Smiling staff greet you at the damaged building of the Nepal National Library, Pulchowk, closed to the public at present. After all, it is not safe inside the library — the walls are damaged and bricks that fell due to the April 25 tremblor and its aftershocks still lie at the entrance.

TU Central Library

TU Central Library

A damp odour prevails inside the building. And in no time one speculates that the rainwater has entered the building — carpets are damp and have stains in them. Water drops falling from the ceiling hit you while walking on the wooden stairs.

One of the staff accompanying this THT scribe inside the building reveals, “The ground floor of the building was flooded with rainwater when it rained.”

While checking on the condition of library soon after the earthquake, the books were all scattered on the floors. They would have been completely damaged by the rain had the books not been shifted from there, as per Prem Raj Adhikari, Bibliographer and Library Officer at Nepal National Library.

Books in sacks: Kaiser library Nepal National Library

Books in sacks: Kaiser library Nepal National Library

“We were able to remove 130,000 books from the library on time and people from the Armed Police Force have been a great help to us during the time,” he informs.

So, where are the books now? They have been collected in sacks and stored in two halls of the Mahendra Bhawan High School, Sano Gaucharan. Along with books, they have “stored some of our furniture there,” as per Adhikari. There is no fear of books being destroyed by rainwater here.

Some books are stored at the Children’s Section of the library itself — piles of books lie on the floor here. Away from the rain, these books, however, face the dangers of rats and dust — thus, chemicals have been used to protect the books from further damage. The empty bookracks are kept on its premises covered with tarps.

Though the books are protected, there is no space to run the library yet. “We have been working hard to get a space to operate the library,” shares Chief Librarian Yadav Chandra Niraula. But if they find a place, Adhikari shares, “We can open one section immediately, while the library can be in fully functional in a month’s time.”

Moving on slowly

Pillars are damaged and cracks are visible on the walls of Tribhuvan University Central Library, Kirtipur. Yet people can be spotted inside the library these days — you find them flipping through the newspapers, reading or inquiring about thesis.

Though the library has come under operation, readers like Satya Raj Pant find it difficult to find books he’s looking for. “The books we want aren’t available. They take a long time searching for the books. We know this is because of the damage caused by the quake.”

And Yamata Pandhak, for whom the library used to be a part of her life, “I am happy that the library has begun to fill with people.”

Chairs and tables have been kept under tents where readers can enjoy reading sitting in the shade. The tents have been fixed in the open space of the library. “These four tents have been provided to us by the Embassy of US. They have helped us and readers to enjoy reading,” shares Dukhari Niraula, Library Assistant at the Library.

“People have started to visit the library slowly and we are trying our best to manage it,” he informs.

Their attempt to manage the library post-quake is evident here — books from the damaged racks have been piled up in different places in the new building. The readers now can borrow books from the library — they can be issued and taken from the General Section.

Faculty room where one can get four different faculties’ books — Education, Management, Science and Humanities — has also come under operation. The newspaper section has been shifted to the Faculty and Silent Room Area.

And all these sections are safe from the rain — thanks to the roof with corrugated zinc sheets that are still in good condition. “Rain won’t enter the building and the books are safe,” adds Dukhari further expressing his happiness for being able to “keep all books and documents safe”.

Uncertain opening

According to Sunil Kumar Shrestha, Computer Officer at Kaiser Library, Thamel, the earthquake damaged the library building and cracked its roof. “The rainwater entered the building through the crack and some books were rain-soaked,” he informs.

But Shrestha claims they don’t have to deal with that problem anymore — for the crack has been fixed by “plastering it and there is no chance for the rainwater to seep in. And we have already dried the wet books”.

Meanwhile, they have shifted most of the books from the first floor to the ground floor — “our employees are keeping them in sacks and stitching them” as per Shrestha. A glimpse from the small opening of the door of the room where these books are stored reveal hundreds of sacks inside. These sacks are filled with books but aren’t stitched and one is not allowed to click photos.

Are these books safe in the sacks? “We need various chemicals to save such items and we lack the budget. For the books we have put phenyl in the sacks. But it is not a long term solution. So, we are planning to shift to the annex of Skill Development Office” informs Shrestha.

Along with the books, items of archaeological importance are kept inside the library’s hall — everything safe from rain. The manuscripts and documents are safely kept in cupboards inside the library.

Though some people were reading newspapers in the library’s premises, there is no answer on when it will be open to the public!

Other services at libraries

Binding halted at Central Library

In the old building of TU Central Library, you can see a machine required for binding books damaged due to various reasons like mishandling. The binding of journals is done here. But for the time being, these services are halted as the machine has not been shifted to a safe place yet. “We haven’t been able to use the cutting machine too,” informs Dukhari as it is also in the old building. Separate Study Carrel has also been halted for the time being. “As this section is upstairs and there are cracks, no one is allowed in the area,” adds Dukhari.

ISSN service continues at NNL

International Standard Series Numbers are necessary for journals published and the Nepal National Library provides such numbers for the journals. The service continues even after the disaster.

But the microfilm section hasn’t been shifted from the building. There is a lack of manpower to operate the machine in the library and they have been unable to take the machine out from the building.

Meanwhile, through a mobile application, one can get information about the reading materials of the library. One needs to download mobile application typing NNL Catalogue and find the book one is searching.

A version of this article appears in print on June 27, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.

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