Kids here don’t like to read, I was told. I wondered why.
I was working as a volunteer with a Gurgaon-based NGO, to revive a library which was located on their campus. It was a pretty good set-up—a spacious room with a few thousand books, library-like furniture and electricity.
However, it wasn’t long before I figured out the reason behind the unused status of the books—the library was far from being properly maintained.
The books were all jumbled up – you could spot a poetry book in the general awareness section, and law-related college textbooks were cozied up in the kids section. Random papers adorned other shelves. If a child stepped into the library, they would be absolutely clueless on what to read and where to look. There was a dire need to get a librarian onboard, but the organization did not have the funds.
Over the last three years I have spoken to many people who are doing fantastic work in the community libraries space. Most people seem to face the same problem though. Community libraries hardly manage to stock up adequate books. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they are able to get a dedicated space for their library. Rarer still is getting the furniture. Under extreme paucity of resources, it is hardly surprising that no one talks about hiring a full time librarian who can push the mission forward. And how do you find a person who would work without any monetary incentives?
That is how we came upon the user-owner model. Our users are primary school children, who also wield the librarian’s responsibilities.
Aren’t they too young, one might wonder. But when you give it a minute’s thought, it begins to makes sense. For kids, responsibilities like these mean the world. It is their first opportunity to lead.
With proper orientation, our young librarians perform their duties with diligence.
It works especially well at the government schools that we work with. An already overburdened teacher is glad that he doesn’t have to manage one more thing. In fact they’re glad that children can keep themselves occupied constructively during free time.
In one of our libraries, the kids have created a marketing display with names of books that they have in the library.
Others have showed keen interest in the best practices being implemented elsewhere – what are the good things that other libraries are doing? Some actively devise strategies to increase readership – shall we keep Saturdays as reading days? They’re also our source for ground-level information, on which books are more popular than the others – Ma’am Ji, bachhon ko kavita wali kitaab pasand hai (Ma’am, the kids love to read poetry). They’re very thorough with book lending entries because they understand the importance of maintaining proper records (the better the records, the more number of books would get added to their library!). One of our libraries had 1500+ book-lending entries in 2017. And this is just with once-in-a-quarter intervention; we wonder what these kids would do if they had more support.
We are taking one step at a time. And with every step we are getting closer to our dream of putting books in the hands of every child.