A Treasure Trove for Book Lovers

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Located in the heart of Colombo you will find the Lakmahal Community Library. Opened for the public earlier this year, the community library is quickly becoming a space for all those who love creativity and literature, not to mention a haven for creative writers in Colombo.

Anisha Dias Bandaranaike, an avid reader and currently a student following a Master’s degree in Museum Anthropology, is the Founder and Director of the Lakmahal Community Library. Teen Inc had the special opportunity to have a conversation with Anisha to learn more about how the library came to be.

Today, all are welcome to visit the library to read, spend a few quiet hours, removed from the world around them, maybe even work on their own writing, and borrow a book or two. Home to nearly 2,000 books, of which a significant portion is donated from the reading community of Sri Lanka, the library is a treasure trove of knowledge and literature.

Anisha shared with us that the idea to create a space for writers first sparked in her mind sometime back in 2018. Since then she has worked on making her vision a reality, “but things really started to pick up around 2020,” she shared.

“The history of the house itself played a massive part in inspiring me to do this project. It belonged to my grandparents. It’s the place where my mother and grandmother grew up in and I have a lot of fond memories associated with that house. It has always been a very welcoming place,” she added.

“I really wanted to do something with a part of the house that reflected those values, while also serving the community, because I feel like those were the kind of people my grandparents were.”

True to Anisha’s source of inspiration, much of what it was like then, has been preserved in the Lakmahal Community Library. “We did our best to preserve the original charm of the house, and although certain things had to be added, structurally it’s pretty much the same. I even tried to find antique wooden furniture for the library since modern furniture would’ve broken the overall aesthetic of the house.”

Procuring the books necessary to make the library a reality wasn’t easy either. The majority of the 2,000 books that now populate the library were donations. “A couple hundred of books came from family and friends, and more came from donations by people who saw the ads we posted and from social media posts,” she shared.

Although appreciative of the support she received to populate the library, she sadly had to be selective in the books that would take up space on the shelves of the library, given the limited space she had to work with.

“We ran a survey to see people’s interests to learn what their preferences are, then narrowed down the collection we were going to include in the library. We also made a list of books we hope to have in the library based on everyone’s response and are slowly collecting the books we need, but progress has been slow because of the current situation. But obviously there are more pressing concerns that the country is facing than not being able to order books at the moment.”

This focus on creative works was fuelled by Anisha’s overarching vision for the library. Besides being a lending and reading library, Anisha wishes the Lakmahal Community Library to be a creative hub for writers and creators in Colombo, a place to escape and simply engage in creative work while sharing a space with like-minded individuals as well.

We wanted to know how far Anisha was in the process of making her vision a reality.

“It’s always going to be an ongoing process,” she replied. “There’s just so much to do. I think with any kind of vision you have, it’s never completely achievable, but it’s about what you can do to best achieve those goals. We’ve definitely achieved a lot by creating a library that people use and appreciate. But there’s a lot more to do in the future.”

The library is managed by a wonderful group of literary enthusiasts in Sri Lanka, who have contributed their time and effort greatly into making the library a success and continuing its operation whilst Anisha continues her education.

Once Anisha returns to Sri Lanka – which she hopes to do as soon as she completes her Master’s degree – she aims to give more time and energy focusing on creating the library. “Once I’m back, I aim to do a lot more and really focus on the event and creative writing side of things,” she commented.

From what Anisha shared, it can be safe to say that there’ll be a lot more going on at the Lakmahal Community Library outside of reading, and there will be a lot of things that writers and literary enthusiasts can be excited about in time to come.

Having said that, you don’t have to wait until then to enjoy what the Lakmahal Community Library has to offer. It’s open for visitors, Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. onwards.

“If you are someone who loves to read, who loves to write or if you’re the kind of person who loves to talk about the books you’ve read but don’t have someone to talk about them to, then maybe the Lakmahal Community Library is the place for you.” 

(Photo courtesy
Lakmahal Community Library)

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage