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Delhi lobs library book at publishers

New Delhi, June 14: The Indian government has riffled through its scriptures to find a quirky law to satiate a rediscovered appetite for free books.

The Centre has cited a 56-year-old law to issue notices to all publishers in the country saying they must send a copy of every new publication to each of India’s four notified or “national” libraries at their own expense.

These libraries are: Calcutta’s National Library, the Connemara Public Library in Chennai, Delhi Public Library and the State Central Library in Mumbai.

If a book is not sent within 30 days of publication, the government says, the librarians must lodge a court complaint under the Code of Criminal Procedure. The publisher will be fined the cost of the book under the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954.

“Initially, nearly every publisher would scrupulously observe this commitment under the 1954 act. But the publishers’ negligence has increased over the decades and we had to remind them,’’ a culture ministry official said.

The librarians of these national libraries had independently taken up the matter with the publishers several times but with little result, he added.

A retired National Library official said the library, on an average, received less than a fifth of the estimated 30,000 books in English and 70,000 in the vernacular languages that are published in India every year. Last year, through a special initiative, it received around 35,000 books.

Asked why the library did not buy the rest of the books to meet its responsibility towards the reader, he said it lacked an earmarked fund to do that. So, it bought Indian publications only if their old copies, already with the library, were damaged.

He added that publishers who complied with the 1954 law sent all their books, even the expensive ones, whereas the rest did not bother even to send their cheaper publications.

The act spells out the publisher’s duty in detail: “The copy delivered to the National Library shall be a copy of the whole book with all maps and illustrations belonging thereto, finished and coloured in the same manner as the best copies of the same, and shall be bound, sewed or stitched together, and on the best paper on which any copy of the book is printed.”

The government plans to amend the act and raise the fine to 10 times the book’s cost, the culture ministry official said. “The penalty has to be made stricter so that the publishers will not forget their commitments.”

He said the publishers who ignored the 1954 law were actually losing out on business, because the four notified libraries prepared a “national bibliography” every year listing all the books published in India they had received. “The list is procured by all the leading libraries in the world. By not sending their publications to these four libraries, the publishers are losing a unique opportunity to give the widest possible publicity to their publications.”

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