What it means to me: readerspeak

Keerthi Mukunda

Lights, camera, action! Now we come to the users, the visitors and the many ‘actors’ who enter this place and have experiences to share. We have read about the history of a library and how it has moved from being a preserved and formal space to a more open and accessible one. We followed that with how there are a variety of places within the place, and how it meets the dreams of children.

As a teacher at a small school-community, I have watched how the library has become deeply interwoven in all our lives: parents, students and teachers. Below we have voices from senior and middle school children who grew up in the school-community and who seem to echo concepts that relate to PLACE: visit, familiar place, not feeling lost, growing up through this place, feeling at home, wandering and revisiting! They are heartfelt, wistful, nostalgic, genuine and spontaneous.

Here is a transcript of a conversation with 16 year-olds on library as place:

“I remember the junior library with a big stack of HIGHLIGHTS, and afternoon after afternoon I would just come and browse through them.”

“Both the CFL libraries had a feeling of home. I could walk in anytime, pick up a book, sit on a sofa and read. Each time I go, there is something different in the displays, a new book or a new magazine.”

“As a group there are favourite things we keep revisiting. ‘Information is Beautiful’ is a book we would flip through many times, as a class, all huddled together and looking at the images though we had seen them a hundred times!”

“It was also a place to step a little bit away from reality. It was not a place I had to immediately interact, socialize, see how I was behaving. You know, sometimes I would just lie down on the library floor and read. I just felt so comfortable.”

“During one mela all the senior girls stayed there, listened to music and read. Staying there was magical in a sense. It’s not something one does, sleep in a library-with sleeping bags and books all around!”

“I felt a sense of growing through the library-I was excited to finally borrow from the ‘tween’ section. A coming of age thing was when I borrowed my first senior book …but it was interesting that after a while we would want to go back to the junior section and reread a book.”

“The Display Board. I would pause and read articles, cartoons, junior school projects, some author having passed away; I learned a lot from those as well.”

“What excited me the most was the range of the books that were there in the library. If I was not in a mood to read a big text I could read a comic or a random thing and laugh about it.”

“It had the capability to be both: be on my own or be social and laugh about something together.”

“There were so many genres together. You would pick up something next to another shelf. And there were recommendations nearby. The place had a positive energy.”

“It has been structured in a way that there are little nooks and sections you can disappear into and hide away.”

I found it interesting that conversations about the physical place bled into its culture, the book collection, and social interactions. Everything seemed tied together, in the children’s minds:
“I also really appreciated that there wasn’t judgement around. Let’s say I was in a mood to read a magazine and there was a teacher there. You would not hear them say, oh, pick something more complex. When we came to something, we explored it by ourselves. We were encouraged to go into some sections but not forced.”

“Going back to the culture of the library, it was being used for so many things: assemblies, music, sleeping, classes, social science display posters. It is so versatile. It didn’t feel like a strict thing: this is a library and only a library.”

“I’ve been to a few libraries outside where you should be quiet. Here it’s okay if you’re enjoying yourself and making some noise in the process. That was nice.”

“Being online has really cut out my reading experience. I don’t like reading from the screen. I prefer to have the book with me. I miss going to the library and picking up a book on my own. It has impacted the number of books I read because when I am in a library there’s some motivation: people in front of you are borrowing 15 books and the teacher encourages you!”

Excerpts of the conversation with 13-14 year olds:
“I honestly love libraries but some feel like an outside space than others. Some feel cozy and homely, some are big, scary and cold and quiet. Libraries can range from anything to anything. For me, I still love all of them!”

“A lot of libraries have restrictions and it is not fun to go to them. Our school library feels like you can go to any section; you can go to the arts or science fiction. It is really a cozy environment.”

“A library is a kind of place where there isn’t one particular thing assigned to it. A Chemistry lab will have one thing it is for. But the library doesn’t mean you have to be reading or borrowing. You can just be sitting there, talking with friends, or playing hide and seek, and it feels like a place where you don’t go to do one thing and only that. You can go there and things are quite open…”

“One thing that makes our library cozy is the chairs and cushions, unlike desks and chairs. I have been in a library where they would make us go to a section, and tell us what to read. Military-like. If you forgot your folder, you would get punished.”

“I think libraries are magical places because you go to one place but can travel through the book to many more places. It is a transportation to different worlds, a dimensional place.”

“It is a satisfying feeling when you read the last page of a book and you sigh and put it down. I think to myself: I want to write a book like this with characters and places and heroes. It makes me want to create that writing.”

“I think I went to the library when I wanted to cool down and be with the characters in the book and go with them on a journey. It was an inviting place, actually.”

“I don’t understand the phrase, getting lost in the shelves. I can’t relate to that. It’s not a very big place, and you can have a feeling of knowing where things are. It’s a place where you can be comfortable where you are, and a lot is left to your own choice. That’s valuable.”

“I had an internship at an apartment library: There was a person always available to chat about a book. The lighting was warm, and there were three sweet ladies. You can just put books in a place and call it a library but there is so much more: lights, people, furniture, atmosphere.”

I would end by adding that, as a teacher, the library has a special place in my consciousness. It is a ground of seeds that could germinate into indefinable riches both in my growth as a teacher but also in my engagement with children in that space. It is my classroom, my research pad, my quiet space, my escape into other worlds, and my opportunity to rekindle old interests in theme and discipline. It is also a place for me to stumble on something new, chance upon an old favourite and just be the reader I want to be. These words by Billy Collins capture the many users of our libraries:

By Billy Collins
Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper,
thumb-licking page turner, peruser,
you getting your print-fix for the day,
pencil chewer, note taker, marginalist
with your checks and X’s
first-timer or revisiter,
browser, speedster, English major,
flight-ready girl, melancholy boy,
invisible companion, thief, blind date, perfect stranger ….

The author teaches English language, literature and social sciences for middle schoolers at Centre for Learning, Bengaluru. She has enjoyed and anchored library sessions for these age groups as well. She is interested in developing curricula in these areas too. She can be reached at keerthimukunda@gmail.com.

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