A friend recently requested me to share resources that would help her set up and run a small library for children. I believe a good library – which doesn’t mean a ‘large’ but a ‘well-run’ library – can have transformative effect on individuals, children and adult alike.

    If you have an interest in (auto) biographies of individuals who have made significant contributions – be it in fields of politics, science, humanities or any other discipline, for instance, you may have noticed a common factor in the early lives of such people: a book that they happened to come across; which set them on a path of inner and/or outer explorations, and subsequently, of achievements.

    Anurag Behar, the CEO of Azim Premji Foundation, has written a beautiful piece, A canticle for libraries, recollecting not just what the local libraries meant to him as a child but also how they impacted the childhood and youth of his father, growing up in a tiny kasba in Chhattisgarh, in the 1950s.

    “The heat would melt the tar on the road, as I walked back home from school with friends” he writes. “None of us would notice that the stiff black leather shoes burnt the feet with concentrated heat. From home I would walk to the British Library, the melting tar would stick to the shoe. Despite all our claims of the lake-generated pleasantness, Bhopal burnt in April and May, as much as the rest of north India. The library was an air-conditioned oasis. I was willingly lost, hardly noticing the air conditioning. Lost in Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. Lost in Punch. Lost in Christie, Sayers and Wodehouse. Lost gazing at the stars, in a fascinating atlas of the universe. Lost in Toynbee, Greene and Yeats. Often understanding little but so completely lost, that is how I discovered the world.”

    “My father [SC Behar, who was the Education Secretary of Madhya Pradesh] grew up in a much smaller place, a very small kasba: Sarangarh” he continues. “It was one of the many tiny princely states in Chhattisgarh. In the 1940s through to the 1960s, the success of people from that tiny, unknown place was remarkable. It was a simple measure of success in socialist India, the number of people who joined the ICS, IAS, IPS or other elite government jobs. The reason was well understood in Chhattisgarh: Sarangarh had good education. My father’s recounting of this good education has two stories. One is about how the local school became good. The other story is that of the competition of libraries. In my father’s earliest memories, his tiny kasba had two libraries…

    There is no substitute for a good schooling system and so we must improve ours. But education and learning, including that of adults, is also significantly influenced by the overall intellectual environment of local communities. Libraries are institutions that can substantially help with this. It’s no surprise that vocal gratitude for libraries, and lament if they are lost, I have heard from hundreds of people.

    Even the age of Kindle and iPad, cannot obliterate the social institution that a good library can become. A library with jaan, is much more than books, it’s a place for meeting, exchange and discovery. If every kasba had one, the local schools and colleges would have an invaluable ally in education. The hard thing is that you can’t infuse jaan by donating books or legislating, it can come only from love—I don’t know what else to call it.”

    One person who has been infusing jaan in scores of libraries across the country through her love for children’s literature and school libraries, is Usha Mukunda. A school librarian at Centre For Learning, Bangalore for many years, she has written substantially on how to set up and run school libraries so that children feel drawn to it and discover more about themselves and the world in a warm, supportive and safe environment.

    My work with educational civil society organizations takes me to different parts of the country and I often visit government (as well as private) schools wherever I go. While the physical infrastructure of schools have no doubt improved over the years in most states; and teachers and principals seem to often take some pride in showing their ‘computers’ and ‘libraries’  – What is passed off as the school library, invariably, is one or a few locked cupboards stuffed with random assortment of books (such as superficial accounts of lives of ‘great men’, ‘moral stories’ and competition oriented books).

    I had attended one of Usha’s workshops sometime back and I realized what even some degree of training, exposure and relevant discussions with teachers can do, towards making school libraries the kind of transformative space that they can become. As she writes in her Manual “A school without an open and active library is like a human being with no centre. S.R. Ranganathan, the founder of the library movement in India calls the school library, “Truly the heart of the school. Stimulating currents go out of it into every corner of the school.”

    In this post, I have listed some resources which may be found useful by people, groups or organizations who are passionate about libraries and are working to make school libraries a magical and transformative space for all school children.

    1. The Open Library : What makes an ‘Open library’? “The challenge for the librarian is not one of policing and monitoring” Usha responds, “but to perceive and hold the library and its users as a vibrant functioning whole. This can only be done when the community of users feels a sense of ownership and accountability.” She goes on to describe how the location, appearance, selection of books, organization and access and use are all critical facets of a good library. She further details some ideas which have helped her enhance the reading habits of children – an important thing to keep in mind is that library is not an ‘isolated’ space. What goes on within the library heavily influences and is influenced by what children do outside of it. There are sections on Story Telling, some suggestions on what kind of books may be liked by certain age-groups, how to conduct Book Talks and Book Auction, how to introduce children to Journal Reviews and the use of Atlases, Encyclopedias and other reference books. Strongly recommended if you are planning to set up and run or are running libraries for children.
    2. Inculcating and Enhancing the Reading Habit: This is a more specific piece on how to inculcate and improve reading habit in children as a librarian (or a teacher or parent). Interestingly, it highlights the importance of reading for the teachers/parents themselves and also gives a detailed account of different types of activities that can be done in a library.
    3. A Manual for Running a Library in a High School: “Why is it so crucial for every school to have an open, accessible library for the students and teachers to use freely?” asks Usha in the beginning of this manual. “Knowledge is everyone’s birthright and it empowers children to be well-informed, free from bias and prejudice. Access to knowledge through reading, listening, viewing and discussing, brings about an intelligent, literate and competent human being. The library can also provide historical, geographical and cultural awareness to readers through well-chosen resources. At a young age, children are full of curiosity and the zest to learn beyond the limits of the school curriculum. A library gives them the opportunity to pursue their thirst for knowledge. Here is the place where independent thinking is nurtured, individual interests are developed and self-confidence grows. As children grow older, they are faced with many challenges and dilemmas in society. How are they to know what is right? Here too the library can provide ample material in terms of inspiring true stories, biographies and essays by thinkers. Articles by leading intellectuals and scientists can help them to distinguish the true from the false. By providing this open exposure the library can help bring about a well-informed, intelligent and balanced community of young citizens and the country will be richer in human resources. When it is begun at a young age, optimum library use and the reading habit can be a lifelong asset. Reading for pleasure has intangible benefits because young people absorb knowledge, values and perspectives with very little effort.”

    The manual’s content has some overlap with The Open Library and Inculcating and Enhancing the Reading Habit; and in case you cannot go through all the documents, this may be the one to start with.

    1. क्या मैं तुम्हें एक अच्छी किताब दूं? शौकिया पुस्तक कर्मियों के लिए एक किताब: This is a great resource for people interested in setting up community libraries. As highlighted in Anurag’s article above, the local ‘intellectual environment’ – be it of a village, kasba, town or city – makes a huge impact on the quality of education provided in the local schools. And community libraries, can act as an immensely productive and powerful space to enhance and sustain intellectually vibrant local communities.
    1. Achi Kitabon ki Guide: Bacchon ki kitabon key chayan key mapdand: One of the first and most important questions that someone looking to set up a library or enhance it, is faced with is: how do I select the books to keep in the library? Should I look at the quality of text only, or pictures, or complexity of language or something else altogether? The choice of books that one keeps in the library can be one of the most significant factors in deciding its overall usage – and this guide, published by NBT in Hindi, is a good resource on this issue.
    1. http://libraryeducators.in/ : The Library Educator’s Course is a professional development course for educators working with children and concerned with their learning through their engagement with printed materials. The course is designed on the belief that a school library can be a space of deep engagement and reinforcement of necessary learning skills and widening exposure and offers professional development in
      1. Intellectually stimulating curriculum enabling vision and perspective building for the library professional.
      2. Exposure and experience with rich selection of children’s books from an every growing Indian market for children’s publishing.
      3. Extensive hands-on experience in contact mode with practical and theoretical discussions.
      4. Mentoring by school library professionals and educators.
      5. The opportunity to dialogue and network with an ever growing community of Library Educators across the country.

    The website itself, is developing into a trove of excellent resources on libraries. The entire reading material for the course, for instance, can be accessed here.

    1. http://goodbooks.in/home: Finding good children’s books written by Indian authors and describing Indian context and issues has been a challenge for educators and parents Goodbooks.in is a website that exclusively reviews, discusses and critically engages with Indian children’s books and is a joint initiative of the Goodbooks Trust and Wipro. “The focus of the site is to create a space that is a one-stop for educators, parents, librarians, research scholars and students of children’s literature and children’s publishing to get an overview of Indian children’s literature and to find good children’s books through reviews.”
    2. International Children’s Digital Library: ICDL Foundation’s mission is to “support the world’s children in becoming effective members of the global community – who exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online free of charge. The Foundation pursues its vision by building a digital library of outstanding children’s books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children.” The site has children’s books in various languages such as Japanese, Farsi, English, Telugu and Mongolian and has arranged them in various sections such as Books by Country, Award Winning Books, Featured Books etc. An obvious challenge in using these books is that many of them are in one regional language. However, it also contains a number of bilingual texts (regional language and English) and all the books come with a short summary in English. That, along with the beautiful illustrations, make these books from various countries and cultures an interesting read.
    3. Donateabook.Org: A Pratham Books’ initiative, Donate-a-Book is a web-based platform that has been set up “to help bridge the gap between those who want to help children read and those who need books for children.” If you a librarian, work for an NGO or like to help children read better in your free time and are in need of books or money Or if you are someone who would like to help children enjoy their reading and become better readers by donating some money, this site is just for you. Two people whom I know well have managed to raise funds in excess of Rs. 50,000 at the website in a matter of weeks, for their school libraries. Do give it a try!

    Other Resources:

    1. Pratham Books: http://www.prathambooks.org/ and http://blog.prathambooks.org/
    2. National Book Trust: http://www.nbtindia.gov.in/default.aspx
    3. Eklavya: http://www.eklavya.in/, Pitara , Chakmak
    4. Tulika, one of the best Indian private publishers of Children’s literature: http://www.tulikabooks.com/
    5. CFL Library: http://library.cfl.in/
    6. https://storyweaver.org.in/
    7. Rohit Dhankar,  a Professor and Director of Academic Development at the Azim Premji University, Bangalore, writes about the role public libraries in small villages and towns of Rajasthan played, in shaping his life: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/284381/of-public-libraries-nostalgia.html 

    This post is meant to be a repository of resources for helping individuals, teams and organizations who are new to this field, help set-up and run joyful libraries. I will update this page as I come across additional resources. In case you know of any that I have missed out – do let me know in the comments sections!

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