Knowledge Should be Free

As far back as I can remember, libraries have been a part of my life. They evoke several emotions: wonderment, knowledge, comfort, warmth, and an escape into the hitherto unknown.

I recall walking to the little corner store called the library, in India, at age ten. Clutching the fifty paise my mother had given melosing it would mean I wouldn’t have a book to read that night—I would enter my hallowed, but dusty heaven. From the higgledy-piggledy piles I’d choose one book, delighted to borrow the passport that would open new worlds.

They called it a lending library. My parents paid for a membership and in addition, we paid every time we borrowed a book. If we kept one beyond the seven day limit, a fine accrued. Never mind that the books went through so many hands, they were dog-eared, scribbled upon, cover-less, or in tatters. The lending library meant business to the shop owner.

The owner may or may not have read the books and he certainly didn’t organize them alphabetically. Still, he knew them all: the authors, the subject matter and the summaries. Some of the high-demand ones went on a wait lista ledger into which he inscribed names. If you paid him a little extra he could move you up on the list.

At school, from the relatively paltry library collection, we were allowed to take a book home on library days. The school didn’t have a large library but they did treat their books with a little more respect than the owner of the lending library.

When I got to college for my undergraduate studies, I got my first glimpse of a real library imposing, and hushed, where patrons paid homage to the universe of learning, knowledge and possibilities. Still, we mostly spent brief periods of time inside the library with reference books, using them to write essays.

Later, when I came to the United States for graduate work, the university library took my breath away. It wasn’t just the size and the limitless access that astonished me. I marveled at students spread out on the library lawns, reading, eating lunch or relaxing in the shadow of the library. And then, there were those inside. It amazed me that students would enter a library and find a spot simply to do their homework or study there, as if to spend time with booksnot to borrow themhanging around them like they were friends. Knowledge transferred by osmosis, perhaps? I learned then that libraries furnish more than books: they offer solace, quiet, peace, and room for reflection.

And best of all, it was all free, the books and the serenity. I now possessed an actual card and I didn’t need to pay to borrow anything.

The concept of a library has metamorphosed over the decades. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the corner lending library, the school library, the college library, the university library and the wonderful public libraries that populate every county in the United States. With the advent of the Internet, as a member of a public library, I can now download books on to my Kindle, or Ipad. Online borrowing is here to stay.

Today’s libraries bring you much more than books: music, movies, magazines, events, workshops, readings and authors. Long, long ago, in Hindi class, I had to write an essay on a famous quote (the author’s name escapes me):Sahitya Samaj Ka Darpan Hai. Roughly it translates, literature is a reflection of society. I extend that concept to include the library it, too, reflects evolving society.

While in elementary school, my daughter, upon hearing some adults comment on the high cost of college, remarked, “Knowledge should be free.” We laughed, then, at her precocity. Now I wonder, was that wisdom from a child’s mouth? The public library makes that happen for all of us, it offers free knowledge. In addition to so many other things.

Libraries have been a part of my life as long as I can remember, in many avatars. Small wonder I’ve chosen to set my next book, A New Dawn, in a public library.

Author: Sudha Balagopal

Sudha Balagopal's fiction straddles continents and cultures. Her highly commended novella in flash, Things I Can't Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. She is also the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections. Her work appears in Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions, 2022, and is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50. When she’s not writing, she teaches yoga. More at

29 thoughts on “Knowledge Should be Free”

  1. Lovely post, Sudha. It brought back memories from all the libraries I’ve been to. My favourite was the old Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. How wonderful that your next book will be set in a library.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such an interesting post! Your description of the grad library experience resonated with me because, although having grown up with “free” libraries, before grad school, I’d never felt the hushed enormity of a library. I look forward to more posts and to reading your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Sudha,
    I followed your link from Word Tango. Only had time to read “Aloneness,” which I thoroughly enjoyed and I look forward to reading the rest of your story links. Congratulations on your new web site.


    1. Hello Victoria,
      Thanks for taking the time to read Aloneness. It is a chapter from my forthcoming book, entitled A New Dawn. Did you get a chance to look at my blog post? It gives you a hint at what the next book will be about!
      See you at WordTango…
      with gratitude,


      1. Sudha,
        Yes, I had a chance to read your blog post. I, too, love libraries, and I think you captured their essence very well. Can’t wait to read what you’re doing with a public library setting in your next book:)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful blog post and site, Sudha! Interestingly, a friend of mine in a neighboring town recently told me that her “public library” now charges an annual membership fee. Ridiculous! I really hope my town doesn’t follow suit.

  5. Hi Sudha!
    Beautiful new website! I love the blog post…I suppose most writers share this reverence for libraries. With so much available on the Internet, I don’t visit mine much anymore, but this post reminds me how much I enjoy doing so. Looking forward to your book!


  6. Sudha,
    Wonderful blog! I also came here through WordTango. I enjoyed learning about your different library experiences. I work in a university library and love it because I’m surrounded by so much knowledge. While our library doesn’t allow the general public to check out materials, they are more than welcome to come in and use our resources.
    Thank you for sharing!


  7. Took me down memory lane when I read about lending libraries in India . It used to typically be in the garage spaces of independent homes ( now a rarity too!) and the concept of ledgers with our our names and membership IDs might be an alien concept to our kids , but life was simple and we did manage to stay organized !! We and our libraries have certainly come a long way and now e- books !! What next ? Thanks Sudha !!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great opening post, Sudha. The free library is a wonderful idea. It seems counterintuitive to me that someone not only conceived this idea but sold it to the public. I seem to think I know that Benjamin Franklin had a little to do with that, but I am not really sure.

    I hope your daughter has prophetic tendencies!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sudha, I love your new website and blog post on free libraries. I love seeing the mini-libraries that are popping up in small towns, in wooden boxes on street corners. I dream of setting them up in the city. I look forward to reading your stories and more posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jan, thank you so much for checking out my website and for your kind words. Your comment on corner libraries reminded me of mobile libraries. How absolutely wonderful when books can come to you!


  10. Very nice post, Sudha. Your blog post brought back my own memories of the lending library in my home town, Vijayawada. We were extremely fortunate to have a proper lending library called “Prabodha”, run by missionaries. I wanted to be a member of this library but the owner was not going to let a seven year old without an adult signature. So I made my grandfather sign the membership form. Thus started our long association with Prabodha, and years later, our children spent time during our visits to India.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. yes, the charge depended on the type of book we borrowed. (25p – 1 ruppee). This place also had a book store. After we became friends with the owners, they would allow us to borrow brand new books that were set out for sale, free of charge. We were on cloud nine!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Sudha,
    I love the site and your blog entry about libraries really resonated with me, reminding me of our elementary school one and the bookmobile!! When it pulled into the school parking lot my heart lit up!
    Looking forward to checking out each story you provided links for. Nice job!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I too followed from WordTango… Congrats on your new website, Sudha!

    And I could relate to this! Public libraries should be free. At least they have been all my life, in L.A. and S.F., but here in WA state there’s an annual fee as Stacy mentioned, from $80-$100, for the use of ONE library. It’s blasphemous to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reina, so nice to see you here! Thanks for checking our my website and for reading my blog. I am astonished that you have to pay for using a library’s services. First time I’m hearing of such a thing in this country.


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