My journey with the library started in 2014 when I joined a small Tibetan school in Bylakuppe, Karnataka. Since it is a small school, there was no full time librarian. So, the responsibility of taking charge of the library was passed on to different staff members and it came to me when I joined. The person who handed over the responsibility to me took out books from a locked cupboard and metal box and gave me the exact count of books. I was shocked that not a single book was lost or missing over the past few years simply because it was all put in a box, locked in a cupboard and not put to use. I lost whatever interest I had to do library work because most of the books were outdated and were all meant for adult readers and not for children. My exposure and experience in life till then did not make merealize that a good librarian can bring about a transformation in a child’s life.
However, my perspective of a librarian/library in-charge changed after taking part in a training and workshop for librarians organized by the Department of Education, Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) located in Dharamshala, H.P. The visit to Bangalore in November 2016 for the work-shop, headed by library experts Usha Mukunda and Sujata Noronha was the turning point in my life. The three-day exposure to library practices at the Centre for Learning Library, visit to several book stores in Bangalore with the training team to learn how to select and shop for books, and discussions with librarians from other schools along with our resource persons were huge learning moments. From then on, my awareness about reading moved to a different level in terms of choosing age-appropriate books and doing various activities like storytelling, read-aloud, book talk, involving children in library work, setting up an open library and many more to seed children’s interest in reading.
In 2017, I was nominated by the Department of Education, CTA to take part in the first LEC (Library Educators Course), provided by Bookworm, Goa. In the same year, I was also offered the opportunity to work in the Department of Education, CTA. Taking part in the LEC with 35 other participants having different education backgrounds and coming from various regions with the sole ambition of becoming better library educators opened my eyes to a bigger picture in terms of reflection, discussion, critical analysis, how to engage children, teachers, parents and community to develop an interest in library practices and learning.
The course is in dual mode, consisting of three contact periods and distance learning periods which consist of online reading and discussion forums. These further gave me an immense exposure and experience to children’s literature. The opportunity of doing a Field Project during LEC really helped me grow professionally and personally. I had initially worked with children and teachers in the school and gradually involved parents through the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of the school. I connected with the PTA for my field project work to serve a purpose of bringing awareness among parents about how to support their children in developing a habit of reading. I understood, during my course, that the librarian’s work is not in isolation but in community.
The relationship began with the PTA of the school funding us in purchasing stationery items to mend torn books. We collaborated in conducting three one-day training sessions for parents on the topic of ‘How parents can support children in inculcating the reading habit’. We discussed the challenges they faced and shared our views but most importantly the gathering itself gave us a reason to talk with one another and to think deeply to bring about a positive impact to children in our community. A total of 78 parents of children from classes 1-3 took part in the training and we received an overwhelming response. These parents were not highly literate and they expressed a keen desire of wanting to do more for their children.
This was the first time that parents got an opportunity to attend such training and sharing. We also distributed children’s books to the parents free of cost during the training. This was to help those parents who found it difficult to choose child – appropriate books and those who could not afford to buy books for children. This activity of collaborating with community members through my field project work inspired me to take this task forward even after the completion of my LEC-2017.
In 2018 and 2019, the Department of Education, CTA expanded the program of providing training to the parents of young children. A colleague and I visited 14 Tibetan settlements spread across India and interacted with over 1100 parents. The sole purpose of our visit was to include the community members in their children’s education and encourage book reading habits. Each session ended with parents receiving books for their children in Tibetan, which was like a take home gift after a reading party.
We are now witnessing the positive involvement of parents in taking responsibility in terms of their participation in children’s development activities and also showing initiative in organizing programs on their own. As I critically reflect on our way forward I feel it is important that we do not stop the kind of relation – building exercise that has begun. Instead, we must continue to connect with parents, teachers and community leaders in future by welcoming their views to help the entire community grow into readers.
The author is an educator working with the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala and coordinates the library program for all the Tibetan schools in exile following her LEC. She can be reached at [email protected].