Rahul Gagangala: “I want all books to have coloured pictures”.
Gayatri: “I like reading books with jokes. I get to laugh”.
Vandana: “I like T.V. more for Tom and Jerry. My books don’t have cartoons”.
Sudhkar: “Libraries in schools only give books for a single day to take home”.
Verra Reddy: “My favorite book is Bobak Nerchena Pattam (Bobak Learned a Lesson) that has a sheep like me that keeps eating”.
Community libraries are designed to allow children access to books in order to sustain their interest in reading, to strengthen their reading skills and also to support their all-round learning.
Pratham’s (An NGO working toward the betterment of the poorer communities including children) community libraries are situated in bastis that comprise 200-250 households. Housing a library in a basti gives that much more freedom to the children in that basti to come visit the library regularly. Also by focusing on a particular basti, the community libraries are able to follow a localised development model thereby creating greater scope for community mobilisation. The linkage fostered by a basti based library intervention also broadens the scope for advanced network within and among communities.
The community libraries of Pratham target children between the age group of 3 and 14 years. The libraries are located either in the community or within the school, if it is in the basti. The libraries constitute a collection of books stored in a cloth bag with pockets that can be hung on a wall. Each library contains about 150-200 books catering to varied learning levels that are developed within Pratham Resource Centers to encompass an array of non-fiction topics as well as a vast variety of fictional texts. This programme is run in communities by local women designated as librarians. Also,for a more effective engagement of the community with Pratham’s libraries, periodic home visits are carried out by the librarians to persuade the parents to send their children to the libraries along with conducting parent-teacher meetings to ensure regular attendance of children in the libraries.
To streamline the work of the community libraries, the librarians designate fixed hours for book borrowing. But often, as the librarians are local residents of the basti and have a good rapport with the community, children flock to their houses in groups whenever they want to during the day. Pratham’s community library programme has seen encouraging cases of children running their own book borrowing activity as well in the absence of the librarians on certain days. The librarians supplement this activity by maintaining a register with a page dedicated to each child that records the child’s background details including ability to read at the time of joining so that the long-term impact of participation in the community libraries can be tracked. The names of books borrowed and read by the child are recorded with the help of a library card. As the child reads more books, she/he is given library cards of different colours so that she/he feels rewarded for having made an effort to read more.
In addition to regular book borrowing and exchange, the librarians also conduct activities such as book discussions, role plays, drawing activities, quizzes, loud reading of stories, story telling and essay writing. All these activities are linked to reading and writing, thus helping children enhance their skills and internalise reading as a fundamental habit necessary for a learning culture.
The community libraries have become a platform for monitoring children’s literacy levels. They have also evolved as community activity centres where periodic activities are conducted to ensure that children acquire various skills. As Sunita, a mother of two children aged 6 and 10 years who frequents the library in Nampally mandal says, “I inquire about new books and activities in the library. This library supports the government school education of my children.”
G Anuradha is the librarian in Musheerabad Mandal of Hyderabad. On being asked about the children coming to her library, she explains that same children don’t come everyday because they go for tuitions. Also she says that she does not scold children if they come late or even skip coming because she wants to encourage children to come to the library. Her opinion about Pratham books is that they are rich in entertainment content but these books should also balance academics with entertainment. She further explains that if GK questions that children get from school can be answered using books from libraries, children would be more excited to come to libraries. When asked about the signifi cance of a community library in her mandal, she says that books supplement the grandma story-telling sessions and children narrate the same stories to their friends in schools.
The author works for Pratham, Hyderabad. She can be reached at email@example.com.