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The Guardians of Madras Literary Society

By November 12, 2018No Comments

Source : The New Indian Express

They’re my reliable companions,” says Umamaheswari, the librarian of Madras Literary Society.

CHENNAI: “A common question asked by visitors is ‘how do you spend the whole day inside a library? Don’t you get bored of solitude?’ To which I’d reply ‘Who said I’m alone? I live amid thousands of authors and books. They’re my reliable companions,” says Umamaheswari, the librarian of Madras Literary Society.

While making an entry in the computer, she is also helping the volunteers with the numbering  process and coordinating for an event over the phone. Multi-tasking is an art, which Uma picked up over 25 years of her service. Uma joined as a regular staff in September 1994. She was responsible for stickering and cataloging books. After constant support and encouragement from the committee members, she pursued a Bachelors in Business Administration in 2000. Later, she did a one-year part-time Bachelors and Masters course in library science while taking care of the library.

“Ramesh Rao was the secretary during my early days at the library. He was warm and motivating. Despite being an office assistant, I was trained to perform all kinds of roles,” she says. A book on the Ganges canal and temples of Pudhukottai are  Uma’s favourites.

“If I stumble upon a different topic it tends to pique my interest. I have learnt a lot of things and I will always be grateful to this library. The management trusts me to an extent that safeguarding most of the valuable and age-old documents has been my responsibility for years,” says Uma who walks in sharply at 10 am and wraps up by 5 pm.

Currently, the library has 470 members and 70,000 books. “In 2004 we used to have a home delivery option. We had around 180 members in the beginning. Although the count has gone down the option of delivery continues. I used to keep the books readily available for our regular members. The library primarily houses history books for reference by people from different backgrounds. We have segregated and named fragile books under the grade three section that are usually fumigated and preserved with neem, lavangam and vasambu (medicinal leaves) once in six months. Some books have large-sized and extremely thin papers.

These are not permitted for photo copies due to safety concerns and to prevent them from getting torn. Our oldest book is from the 1690s titled Aristotle in Greek and Latin,” shares Uma. Earlier, the library functioned on a card system. Each card would be printed with the author name, accession number and call numbers. The books would be located with the help of these. Eventually it was replaced by computer coded system. The books are currently categorised and numbered by Dewey decimal system and colonial classification system. The children’s section is their latest and it was launched on Saturday.

Along with her three assistants, Uma has a helper called Lakshmi Martha who has been working there for 40 years. Martha is one of the oldest members on the campus. Everyone remembers her for her positive demeanour, early morning greetings and her hot coffee. One can’t believe she’s 70. She dusts the books, cleans the racks, sweeps the floor and worships it like home the minute she steps in every morning. Every Saraswathi pooja she makes a rangoli and sings prayer songs in four languages.

“I was working in the care building unit, a part of the campus. I used to take care of the creche with 20 children on the ground floor. Durai (Britishers) would call me through intercom and ask for coffee and tea during regular intervals. I learnt to prepare black tea and coffee. This place makes me happy and I’d love to age with the memories around,” says Martha.

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