Libraries are gateways towards social empowerment, holistic development

Libraries can play a key role in promoting overall economic development
Last Updated : 14 February 2023, 07:39 IST
Last Updated : 14 February 2023, 07:39 IST

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‘Be educated, be organised and be agitated’ — BR Ambedkar

Despite affirmative action-oriented policies and other measures aimed at promoting social inclusion, low literacy rates, poor educational attainment, and limited access to employment opportunities continue to plague the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities. One critical factor that can play a transformative role in the lives of SC and ST youth is access to education and literacy through libraries — that can serve as an important resource point for students from marginalised communities, providing them with access to books, information, and knowledge.

According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report on Education and Vocational Training, the SC and the ST communities lag behind other communities in terms of educational attainment. The report notes that only 15 percent of ST students attend school regularly, and 34 percent of ST students drop out of school before completing elementary education. Similarly, only 23 percent of SC students complete higher secondary education, compared to 46 percent of non-SC students.

The statistics on low representation of the SCs and the STs in high-value economic activities and higher education are equally alarming. To address these issues, there is a need to focus on upskilling and employment opportunities for the SC and the ST youth. Skill development initiatives, such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), can provide vocational training and expertise to secure better-paying jobs. Moreover, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandate has the potential to create employment opportunities, particularly in the private sector, for students from marginalised communities.

Recently, library memberships for all the SC and the ST students in Kerala were made free — this is a pioneering move that has the potential to improve educational outcomes, and, equally important, promote social inclusion. The initiative is part of a broader effort by the government to promote literacy and education among marginalised communities. Kerala has established over 10,000 neighbourhood libraries, that provide access to books and other educational resources. Apart from opening these up, the order seeks to establish wifi-enabled libraries and reading rooms in remote tribal settlements, where book-reading, author-interactions, debates, preparation for competitive exams etc. would be promoted.

According to the UNESCO report ‘Reading and Libraries in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Select Annotated Bibliography 2004-2009’, libraries can act as a hub of knowledge for the students of developing nations. It stated that libraries help to build literacy skills, provide educational materials, and are a critical source of information for all ages. The report highlights the role of libraries in promoting the social inclusion of marginalised communities. The establishment of community libraries in rural Zambia helped to improve literacy rates and promote economic development. Such initiatives can be replicated in India to provide much-needed access to education and knowledge to students from marginalised communities.

To address the challenges faced by the SCs and the STs, there is a need to materialise upskilling and employment opportunities for youth in tandem. The PMKVY is one such initiative aimed at providing vocational training and expertise to secure better-paying jobs. Additionally, the CSR mandate has the potential to create employment opportunities, particularly in the private sector, for students from marginalised communities. Libraries play an important role in providing access to these schemes, education material, knowledge sources, and networking. It is a resource for researchers, professionals, and the general public. Libraries bridge the gap between knowledge and its application.

The role of libraries has evolved with time, and libraries are no longer limited to books and other traditional resources. The rise of digital resources and e-books has made it possible for libraries to provide access to a vast array of knowledge from around the world. A study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) highlights the role of public libraries in promoting sustainability and development. The report suggests that public libraries can help to create awareness among the public about sustainable practices, and provide them with the knowledge and skills required to adopt such practices. In this way, libraries can contribute to the economic, social, and environmental development of communities.

Moreover, in rural settings, libraries can also serve as community centres, where people from different backgrounds can come together and exchange ideas. Libraries can host events and discussions on topics of interest to the community. Libraries can also provide resources for small business owners, helping them to access the knowledge they need to start and grow their businesses. Libraries can thus play a key role in promoting overall economic development.

Access to education and employment opportunities is critical to achieving social inclusion, and creating a more equitable society. Libraries, skill development initiatives, and employment opportunities if deployed simultaneously can play a transformative role in the lives of the youth of India.

Ideally, all public libraries across India must be freely accessible to all students. As the role of libraries evolve, librarians must adapt and reinvent themselves to meet the changing needs of their users, while continuing to provide access to knowledge and resources, foster community engagement, and support social and economic development and inclusion.

(The author is Special Secretary to Government, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe & Other Backward Communities Development Departments, Kerala)

Disclaimer: Prasanth Nair is a civil servant and author. The views expressed are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Published 14 February 2023, 07:39 IST

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