Venkatesh Nagara is a Lambani thanda situated a few kilometres away from Yadgiri town. There is a government primary and higher primary school located in this village. Unlike most government schools, this school has a functioning library. The book collections in other schools are caged inside cupboards and in some cases, never seen the light of the day after purchase, except for annual stocktaking. In the library at the Venkatesh Nagara school, the books are in open shelves, where you can see the books clearly. Children come to the library whenever they have free time, and read books.
There is a dedicated weekly period for being in the library for every class in the school with a teacher who is trained in activities like read alouds, book talks and storytelling. Children borrow books to read, something that isn’t usually done with school book collections since teachers are often fined for loss or damage to books. The books in the library collection are carefully curated to appeal to the children, especially large illustrated books with well-written stories on diverse themes. There are art, craft and writing activities that associate creative expression as integral to the child’s meaning-making of the world.
Path of revelation
For children, this is the only place where art and craft happen in the school, so it is a place of joy for them. Hussain Babu, a Class 7 student from Nandepalli school, says, “The art activities in the library made me realise my passion for drawing, and it was the reason why I started going to the library. Reading came in later through many activities.” It seems evident that libraries have crucial roles in the education of children.
This experiment with libraries has been a revealing process for everyone who has been part of its development and implementation. It started as part of an effort by Parag, an initiative of the Tata Trusts, and Kalike, a non-profit organisation based in Yadagiri district, to initiate library programmes in government schools in the district. Yadagiri, carved out of the southern three taluks of the erstwhile Gulbarga district, is quite low in an all-India score of socio-economic indicators including education. So, the choice of location for such an experiment was inevitable, challenging and ultimately if successful, a possible model for similar work elsewhere in the country.
Library programmes can also be links to independent learning components of languages and other academic subjects in school, while at the same time being a space of joy and creativity, distinct from the structured classrooms. Armed with this understanding of the role of libraries in schooling, the fundamental development of the Kalike libraries programme, came from significant inputs by pioneering children’s librarians Usha Mukunda and Sujata Noronha, who had independently worked in different contexts to realise the potential for libraries.
Through their design inputs, the programme is approached in a two-pronged manner. In one set of 40 schools in villages and communities largely clustered around Gurmitkal town, called the “intensive cluster”, a designated library educator is appointed from the local community to maintain the library and roll out the reading programmes along with supporting activities. In the other set of 60 schools from elsewhere in Yadagiri taluk, called the “extensive cluster”, a school teacher is given an additional role of being in-charge of the library programme as well as the role of a library educator.
The library educators and teachers are supported by a dedicated team of coordinators from Kalike who make daily visits to different schools to keep them updated with library work, and to give feedback and support on the rollout of the programme. Workshops equip the library educators in intensive schools and teachers at extensive schools with approaches to library activities, books, by resource people who are practitioners in children’s libraries. Most schools in the programme have provided a separate room for the library to function, and Kalike, along with contributions from the community, takes on wall painting to make the space attractive to children. Kalike provides books, display racks and notice boards, along with periodic supplies of art material and stationery.
In both extensive and intensive clusters, children have an active role in taking on responsibility for running the library. Children’s library clubs take charge of activities like maintenance of registers and lending cards for issuing books. They are part of maintaining the space and take an active role in sharing recommendations of books to each other and to the rest of the school through word of mouth, book reviews and book talks done in library sessions and in the daily school assembly.
This programme, while having tremendous potential, has also faced challenges on the ground, an important factor is the learning levels of children, on an average, being at a lower level than typically seen in these age groups. This does impact the ability of children to process content due to limitations in fluency in reading and vocabulary. The library programme can act as a source of graded reading books, wordless picture books and bilingual books that can help students in improving reading skills if used effectively by language teachers.
Local communities have been instrumental in supporting the library programme since they have been able to appreciate the hope it offers to their children's future. Like Srikanth, a teacher at Nandepalli school, says, “Libraries have a way of opening the world to the children in a manner that can take them everywhere.”