In August 2017, businessman Imtisunup Longchar put up a post on Facebook seeking help to build a library for his community. The reason: There was no library in all of Dimapur, the largest city in Nagaland, India.
The response was overwhelming: People offered books, money and advice. One of the first respondents was resident Susan Lotha, a single mother and honorary member of the Juvenile Justice Board — who also dreamed of owning her own library. She saw the post as a sign. When her pensioner father was alive, he “always lamented” that there was no public library where he could read books, she says. Lotha met with Longchar and helped to create a core team of eight. They mobilized help through WhatsApp groups and Facebook and asked people to commit to library membership for six months to a year, raising Rs 30,000 ($437).
On May 4, 2018, Dimapur Public Library — the city’s only active, independent public library — opened its doors, born out of a social media post. As libraries continue to close around the world, it’s an idea worth trying.
Located in an industrial neighborhood populated with schools and churches, the modest library is a small space. There are two sparsely furnished rooms, wooden shelves, the odd potted plant and a water cooler. In a corner, six stools and a long table arrange to form a reading space. One staff member plays the dual role of librarian and receptionist.
The small collection of books — an assortment of second-hand and new — are in good condition, with one section to dedicated to academic books. “The library’s focus is students,” explains Longchar, who “make up the majority of visitors.” They are typically in search of research materials for assignments or papers, or a place to prepare for public service exams. “Students who don’t have room to study in-house ask for permission to study here,” he adds.
The library hopes to fill the void left by the closure of the city’s only public library in 2009. It was shut down because “people were not coming in,” Lotha explains — they didn’t know about it. “The funds dried up and so all the books went to the college [Dimapur Government College].” A state library exists in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, “but it is not functional,” she explains. Many other of the state’s 12 districts have no library. “Nagaland has come a long way after statehood  but we haven’t invested enough thought or funds into libraries,” Lotha adds.
The problems are plentiful, but members don’t seem to mind.
For Longchar, the founder of Islandlo, an online marketplace for products from northeast India, it’s a chance to “create a place that is open to everyone, a place where people can come and read or maybe have a cup of coffee.” Books have been Longchar’s childhood passion, but they weren’t easy to come by when he was growing up. With no public lending facilities, we “would just end up exchanging the few books we had with our friends,” he says. When Longchar started traveling for work, he would visit secondhand bookstores and markets in Mumbai and Delhi, adding to his collection. After moving back to Dimapur for good in 2014, the absence of libraries rankled. “People don’t have money to spend on books,” he says. “We want to give them an option.”
The library is free for children under 10, seniors over 65 and the disabled; there’s a nominal yearly rate of Rs 150 ($2.20) for students and Rs 300 ($4.40) for everyone else. At the moment, the core team pays the rent from their own pockets, and funds generated from donations and membership (currently 41 patrons) is used for maintenance and the librarian’s salary. The team has sought assistance from government departments and local officials, but to no avail.
A year after its inception, the library is struggling. It’s small, with no air conditioning. There are around 300 books lining shelves with empty gaps waiting to be filled. The most pressing need is for study materials and reference books — current offerings are scarce and out-of-date. The core team is constantly seeking donations to help move the library to a larger and nicer location (it’s now situated near a firing range), one that would open up opportunities like community events and book launches and provide a better place for students to study.
The problems are plentiful, but members don’t seem to mind. The library receives daily calls and inquiries and there are always students filling the small corners. “The library is a treasure trove,” says Longshithung Humstoe, who visits the library at least once a week with friends to study for his civil services exam. Last summer, when it got too hot, he would take books home. “After graduation, we didn’t have access to any libraries till this came along.” At least the required essential resources are available, “and we make maximum use of them,” he says.
“Is the library a good idea? Of course!” he exclaims. “It’s the best thing to happen to us.”
Dimapur Public Library is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (winter) or 5 p.m. (rest of the year).
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