I finally walked into the Colombo Public Library. It’s about as bad as I imagined it. The periodicals room is OK, it has all the newspapers and you can stand around reading them. Not too much else that’s new. It’s mainly the selection of books that’s depressing. I did a random walk around and the newest book I could find was from 2006. There was some non-fiction about the Chinese economy in the 80s. The fiction was even worse.
The books are all old. Some old books are fine, but as you can see, they’re almost all rebound Indian reprints of books that were relevant somewhere else 20 years ago. They were reshelving things so the Philosophy section contained the Princess Diaries and kids books were piled on tables. Entire sections (History Of Known Persons) were missing and other books were misfiled (there was a history of England in the Mesopotamia section).
Space wise, also, it’s tiny. I could throw a ball across the length of the lending library, and I can’t throw that far. I won’t even get into how one actually borrows a book, in Dehiwela at least it’s a process that involves an application form, references and an absurdly small yet annoying deposit. I didn’t even try. The library isn’t especially welcoming, all but one of the doors are barricaded with a table and a security guard asks everyone where they’re going. ‘To the library?’ I said. He asked why and I said to look at books. That seemed unusual but enough.
As you enter there’s a rather grotesque statue and a picture of former President Premadasa. I don’t think the library’s seen much hope since then.