How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Soumya Manoj Kumar
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In an age where our faces are often glued to screens, a duo from Kerala is leading a revolution to get us to swap our phones for a book. Christened 'The Like Minded' club, this innovative library aggregator platform aims to not only instil the habit of reading but also encourages the formation of a book-lovers' community.

Four years ago, when Soumya Manoj Kumar moved back to Thiruvananthapuram after spending long years abroad, she felt something was missing in Kerala's capital city: people's reading habit.

There was no dearth of libraries, but almost all of them were unable to cope with new challenges or adapt to modern takes. Only a skeletal structure remained of these iconic establishments, once the agents of progress. 

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Representational Image. Photo: Ronnie Kuriakose

These libraries were now kept alive by only a handful, but their numbers were fast declining with the increasing difficulty of having to weave through lanes of traffic to get to the library and back. That's not all. People, now caught up in the notion that 'being busy is equal to success', no longer have enough time to read, let alone visit the library.

This plight rekindled an old idea nestled in Soumya's mind – to start a library. Soumya, who had always been passionate about books, hoped to instil the habit of reading among her friends and family circles. For this, she knew that not only must she overcome some of the challenges that these old libraries were facing, but also needed to augment the service with new experiences.

“My initial idea was to open a brick-and-mortar library. But I knew that would run into the same challenges that these libraries and readers were facing. I wanted a radical alternative,” Soumya told Onmanorama.

Soumya Manoj Kumar and Alvin Raj
Soumya Manoj Kumar and Alvin Raj

Along with her friend and neighbour Alvin Raj, Soumya conducted a market study in Thiruvananthapuram. They noticed that most libraries had more or less similar stocks. However, a large portion of it was not catering to any audience and therefore remained disused, they found.

Library schedules were another big hurdle, as highlighted by regular visitors. Most libraries, now understaffed, were unable to work the hours that most people found themselves free. This lack of sync prevented their best utilisation.

The duo sought to resolve this. After many conversations with regular library-goers, Soumya learned that home delivery was perhaps an easy and immediate fix to two of the biggest problems that readers raised – traffic and schedule.

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Representational Image.

With 60 books in their initial collection, the two began their journey, delivering books to the readers' homes. For the first couple of months, it was just their friends and close family who were availing the service, but it gradually grew.

“Now we have a collection of over 4000. A lot of these were donated by avid readers themselves who wanted to share books they read and cherished with others. We also have a few libraries making available their collection of books with us,” Alvin, who oversees the operational side of the venture, said.

The membership options too are tailored in a way that it encourages reading. “We are not in it to make money. We are not a business. We want to promote the reading culture in the city. That's our aim,” Alvin clarified.

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Photo: Like Minded team

Packages

They have two monthly packages. The 'Warm Up Pack' offers four books for Rs 180 per month. People availing this membership can retain a borrowed book for 15 days, and then another 5 more days without fine. The 'Book Bees Pack' offers 6 books for Rs 200 per month and allows readers to keep the books for 20 days (and an additional five days) without fine. Both these services can be extended for an additional week with a payment of Rs 50.

Their flagship offer, the Membership Plan, lets the reader keep 20 books (10 books at a time) for a nominal amount of Rs 300 per month after a security deposit of Rs 500.

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Photo: Like Minded team

“Generally, people are willing to share their books. Some may not want the books taking up too much space in their homes, others may have a genuine interest to see their books read by others. Whatever the case may be, they are all standing to gain. We have a commission programme where we give 60 per cent of whatever each book makes back to its original owner. With this amount, the owner can then go get new books to read, update his or her collection,” Soumya said.

Each book is assigned a borrowing cost. For a popular book, the owner can even get up to 75 per cent of this borrowing cost, Soumya added.

Once the team gets these books, they are uploaded on the website (www.thelikeminded.in) where the book's status is also mentioned: if they are available or not. If anyone wants to borrow the books, all they need to do is send the team that list – even through WhatsApp – and the books are deposited at their doorsteps in just two days. Soumya and Alvin arrange these deliveries in Thiruvananthapuram themselves.

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Photo: Like Minded team

“Our most frequent users were those who had lost touch with reading because family or work responsibilities prevented them from visiting libraries and who want to inculcate the habit again. They are thrilled to have books delivered to their homes and are ordering from us one after the other,” Alvin said.

After three months of trial, The Like Minded opened business to the entire city. Getting the book to the reader was easy. Getting them to read, however, remains a challenge still.

“What separates us from other libraries – brick-and-mortar and other digital variants – is that our selection of books is highly curated. These books were bought by their respective owners after rigorous research or after they found it true to their reading tastes. Often they are liked by others as well,” Alvin said.

like-minded-library-1

“Hence the name, The Like Minded. We are all a group of people who have a liking to a specific collection of books, whether we realise it or not. Also, we understand the transformative powers that only reading can bestow. Our aim is to get maximum books to maximum readers,” Soumya added.

Soumya, an avid reader herself, makes sure that what books uploaded on the Like Minded website are also accompanied with its many details. She even writes personalised reviews for each book to give the prospective reader a glimpse into what the book may offer.

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
Photo: Like Minded team

Perhaps the stiffest opposition that the Like Minded team may face is from those conservative few who still view libraries through a rose-tinted lens. Those who still desire for that sense of community that libraries imbibe.

Alvin concurs. “Yes, there are a few who do not want things to change. I will disagree with them. Libraries must adapt to new changes, evolve. There are tons of libraries here but why are there not enough people using them? Where's the sense of community when you can't even visit them?”

“Awareness must be built first. Reading must take prominence. Regardless of the ways that one employs,” Alvin suggests.

The Like Minded team have a lot of things planned for the year. Collaborations with writers, workshops to promote reading, tie-ups with more libraries, and expansion into more cities.

“A reading renaissance. That's what we are after,” Soumya asserts.

How two book lovers in Kerala started a reading renaissance
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