Open Library

Viewing posts from the Open Library category

Miracles do happen!

June 15th 2012.

Kausani, In the Kumaon Himalayas in Uttarakhand, is a small hill station. It is mainly known because Gandhiji  once spent a few weeks there and was delighted with the scenery and ambience. There is now a Gandhi Ashram there as well as a Lakshmi Ashram, a residential school for girls. There are also a few schools which the numerous children of the town attend. I spent two months there in September and October 2011 and discovered that there was no good library or book store anywhere in the vicinity. Kausani functions mainly as a tourist resort with a number of hotels but there are enough local residents with growing families who have no easy access to any reading material.

During my stay there, I befriended quite a few children who would come to me and my friends for English lessons, Maths classes and generally to listen to stories. So the thought came to me that here is a place sorely in need of a children’s library. Soon after my return to Bangalore, I happened to meet Ms. Meera, Librarian of Raman Research Institute and a serendipitous result was the possibility of getting a book donation from them. However since the grant is very generous, I felt that a few more learning centres could benefit and I therefore asked my contacts to send me names of groups who are working hard to educate and enrich the lives of those children who need it. At Kausani, we have located a space, part of the Hum Joli outlet, which will partner us in this venture. Again with the serendipitous presence of a young librarian in the vicinity who was game, we arranged for him to orient and enrich Ms. Hema’s natural flair to be a librarian for children.

The happy ending or beginning(!) is that on may 20th, the library was inaugurated with 25 children present. They sang songs and were treated to a short talk on ways to help them be responsible for the good running of the library. In November, I plan to visit and do a few activities to nurture the use of the library.

If this story inspires others to make the plunge to start a library wherever they see a need, I am content!

Usha Mukunda

The Coral Tree – Mamata Pandya and Pankaj Gorana

Photo albums still seem to hold a fascination for children. Perhaps it has to do with recognising people and places, and perhaps it has to do with some progression in time. To me, this book did both. The pictures of familiar birds, insects, animals and even a snake helped me reconnect with the immediate world around me. It reminded me that I too have a window to look out from and discover the exciting happenings which don’t make the headlines, more’s the pity!

In all the years I have worked with children in a school library, one thing I notice is that children are drawn to nature -story books which have a quality of realism and photographs seem to enhance that. There is a directness that they relate to. In fact when I opened the pages of this book, I found myself looking at the pictures first and then turning to the words to see if they matched! Not only did they match, they actually continued to have that visual quality.

The vibrancy of the cover and the shared ownership of the book left me with a warm feeling. The bits of information on some of the pages are not obtrusive and that, for me, is a good thing, because children are content to observe and ‘know’ when they are ready, not necessarily when someone else feels they are! However the interesting information given at the end is captivating, as well as the idea of a tree diary.

A bare review of the Wimpy kid series:

1. It promotes a culture of manipulating adults, fooling them, tricking friends, bullying them for fun, etc. through the main character. So when a young reader reads, they could turn this character into a role model and mimic that culture. Some parijathas thought this too…

2. Good literature should have langauge with metaphors, imagery, sound, description, setting, etc and there is none here so no examples of ‘good writing’. there is slang and derogatory langauge like: hot girls, cute butts, jerks, etc. which appears cool for a young reader.

3. We need to know who is writing so in this case the author is an online game developer and designer. It does not look like he has any training or experience in writing or literary worldliness (I am not sure, though, could research..). How it comes out in the book is that the main character is obsessed about violent video games so again there is a promotion of this…

4. What is considered important or thematic is his social world, he has the same notions and views throughout so there is no learning or evolution of this character. Any themes that could be picked up in a meaningful way are addressed very superficially by his parent so …dead ends, like: his brother’s attitude towards girls. So the scope of the book is narrow and does not trigger interest in other people, places or issues. When you read good lit. you feel you have learned something about the other person, place or theme but here all we know is how he feels and wallows in those feelings.

5. It is easy reading and language very simple so that might be the draw. Shouldn’t lit. challenge at least a bit?

6. There is no story line really. Lots of little events that don’t hang together in a bigger scheme so a reader is not learning about the nature of stories or the design of a novel.

7. There are books about young boys who are mischievous or have a secretive side to them so it is not like we want only goody goody characters. It is about how balanced the book is as a whole, how that character evolves, who the others are in the book, where it is taking place, what one learns about deeper issues, etc. On the other hand there are books that are light like, ‘George’s marvellous medicine’ which are about mischievous kids but are so outrageous that one would not try to mimic anything. It is almost fantasy.

8. Finally the older kids said it is like ‘time-pass’ reading. In which case, it should not be for someone beginning to read literature, not be the main thing they read, etc. Only for a reader who has the time and is reading good literature also.

Keerthi L. Mukunda

Magic in the Mountains.

Sitting snuggled in a shelter between Sitla and Odakhan in the Kumaun Mountains, is a wondrous library. It is free, open and used happily by adults and children from neighbouring hills and dales. The couple whose brainwave this is built a house at Satholi and decided they would also run a library for the neighbourhood. I think their greatest stroke of luck came when they chanced upon a young man working at a restaurant/hotel in Dehra Dun and realised they had found the ideal librarian. This I can attest to, having visited the library, browsed through the books and chatted with the soft-spoken, yet sharp-eyed librarian.

How do you deal with people who don’t return books , was my first in-house question.

No problem, at all. I have their home addresses. If they take too long, I walk over to their homes and ask if they could return the books because there are others waiting to read them.

Do you have any way to guage if they are really reading the books they take?

I just ask them to tell me what they liked about the story and any character they liked. Then I know if they have read it. If they halt and stammer, then I gently tell them that it is a wonderful story and they should go back and read it!

What about recommending books? Do the children listen to your suggestions?

I show them some books and say that so and so liked it very much. Here everyone knows everyone else so they are eager to read what the others are reading. Sometimes they come looking for titles their friends have liked.

Do they suggest books to be bought?

Very much so. They will tell me that the Chirag School has this book and it is very good. The teachers also come here to borrow for themselves so they also give suggestions. Today you, a librarian, have given me many interesting ideas. That is how the library will move forward.

The library carries newspapers and magazines both in Hindi and in English. What a humbling and at the same time energising experience it was  to visit and see  this magical librarty in the mountains.

Go to Kumaun and see for yourself!

A living breathing library space!

Recently I spent two marvellous months at the Brockwood Park School in Hampshire in England.  My mission : To make the library a living space for staff, students and other users. So the question was: Could I do it ? The school has international students from ages 14 to 18 and has a very unusual and unique ambience in terms of intention, curriculum and living. (Please check it out on the website and while you are at it, you may read my piece on the blog there.)

It also has an amazing collection of books and has never had an accession list. Books are borrowed by a manual entry in a notebook as you leave the library. So with no malice intended, many books have got misplaced or even lost. I was asked if I could set up a system of recording the books which to an approximate estimate numbered close to 20,000! The students had got used to a certain casual relationship with the library which had them take it much for granted. So should I take the next plane back to Bangalore, I wondered?

However, to tell you quickly, this story has a happy ending and in the process I discovered that a library can be alive and vibrant no matter what state it is in, geographically and psychologically (!), it can be made a user-friendly place by bringing it into people’s consciousness in light and appealing ways and finally there is no package which can do it. All it takes is relationship….with each and every user minute by minute, day by day…and suddenly in about two weeks I saw more and more response and more and more interaction each and every hour, almost!

I opened the innings by taking a space on the main noticeboard which is the heart and soul of Brockwood. I called it “LIBRARY MATTERS” and began by putting up a cartoon related to reading. Under that I added some tit-bits about the library and anything else that might catch young people’s attention. Next to that I designated a “POETRY SPACE” and put up a poem of Mary Oliver to start it off. Slowly I could see students and staff stop and read. Each week I changed the matter! That was crucial. I had carried a stock of rare cartoons from the New Yorker to last me for the whole stay. Next breakthrough was when staff, older students called mature students and even the students began to contribute to this board. Voila!

In the library itself, I chose a selection of books to display each week. One student, Betsy who was helping to clean the library spotted a book she had read. So I immediately asked her to write a few lines about it for others to read. That really took off. If anyone stopped by to look at a book and to tell me they had read it, they were caught…to write a few sentences recommending it! I made contact with teachers asking them to tell me what they looked for in their areas of interest. Soon a suggestion book came up and staff and students slowly began putting down books they felt the library should have. Next was to make sure we got some of those books!

At the school meeting, which is like an Assembly, I talked about new books that had come in including the genre of graphic literature which was new to them. I also showed a film of book talks presented by CFL senior students for Brockwood students. They were quite touched by that and wanted to send something in return. That was the right moment to introduce book talks there. Finding a slot was tough but I hung in there until I got a time…after supper on Sat. nights (Tues. and Wed. are the weekends) and we began. Coco, a 14 year old student had already swum into my ken when she came looking for books to read. She gave a brilliant book talk and we were off. Weekly book talks had taken root.

By the time I left, I had also managed to take a group of interested students to the British Library in London. (By the way, if you are ever there, do not miss a visit.)

Meanwhile the project of accessing books was also continuing and I sat glued to the computer whenever I could to enter as many books as I could to give them a jolly good start to this project. Every book I entered was tagged with a small dot so before I left I did a presentation to the school to explain how they could use the programme ( a software designed by an old student). They were thrilled and eager to use it, so hopefully in future we will know where the missing books are!!

Too soon , it was time for me to leave. The affection and response I had got were overwhelming. Gifts, chocolate cake. a designer book with personal writings  and hugs and promises to keep the library as active and alive! I couldn’t have asked for more.

All they had needed was a body in the library….a warm one!!


Guide to Setting up an Open Library

We have recently worked on a Manual for Running a Library, which you may download from here. The introduction is posted here.


A school without an open and active library is like an organism with no core.

S.R. Ranganathan, the founder of the library movement in India calls the school library,

“Truly the heart of the school. Stimulating currents go out of it into every corner of the school.”

Can this be done in each and every school, however big or small? Yes it can, provided you, the teachers and your students bring your energy and enthusiasm to making it happen.

Why is it so crucial for every school to have an open, accessible library for the students and teachers to use freely?Knowledge is everyone’s birthright and it empowers children to be well-informed, free from bias and prejudice. Access to knowledge through reading, listening, viewing and discussing, brings about an intelligent, literate and competent human being. The library can also provide historical, geographical and cultural awareness to readers through well-chosen resources. At a young age, children are full of curiosity and the zest to learn beyond the limits of the school curriculum. A library gives them the opportunity to pursue their thirst for knowledge. Here is the place where independent thinking is nurtured, individual interests are developed and self-confidence grows.

As children grow older, they are faced with many challenges and dilemmas in society. How are  they to know what is right? Here too the library can provide ample material in terms of inspiring true stories, biographies and essays by thinkers. Articles by leading intellectuals and scientists can help them to distinguish the true from the false. By providing this open exposure the library can help bring about a well-informed, intelligent and balanced community of young citizens, and  the country will be richer in human resources.

When it is begun at a young age, optimum library use and the reading habit can be a lifelong asset. Reading for pleasure has intangible benefits because young people absorb knowledge, values and perspectives with very little effort. School libraries are valuable and effective aids to bring about better learning and higher achievement levels in examinations, competitions and other activities. For teachers, the library is an invaluable tool to keep themselves abreast of factual information and deeper knowledge. They will be better educators and have the confidence of knowing that they are well read and up to date. For the school, the library is an invaluable asset because it can support, reflect and enhance the curriculum.

Outreach Programme

A brief description of me on the Pratham blog referred to me as an occasional blogger. Well! I have to do something about that. So here goes and if you are bored, so be it.

For a year and a half now I have been on a sub-committee of the Karnataka Knowledge Commission. Before you drop off, I’ll cut to the chase and say that in a recent initiative, 225 high schools in the state, mainly in the rural areas were to be given an initial collection of books, a user-friendly manual and the teacher/librarians would attend a workshop to brainstorm together how to bring about an active, open library in their schools.(This event is happening day after tomorrow. Wish us luuck!) So we first sent off a request to a few authors, NGOs working with schoolchildren, teachers and librarians to send us their recommended list.Having gathered this list, the job of sifting through these lists and making a selection fell on the worthy shoulders of Leela Garady, a former teacher at CFL and a children’s author. Along with Prakash Kamath, an NGO who had helped set up the Teacher’s Resource Centre at Chamarajanagar, she painstakingly put together a laudable list of books in Kannada. Meanwhile with inputs from Kavery Nambisan and other children’s writers, publishers and our own collection at CFL, I put down a list of books in English. Both languages had some reference books too. Apart from this we included some A/V material too. The next task was to write a really supportive, user-friendly and hands-on manual. Elsewhere here on this blog is a copy for you to read and judge. This was then translated brilliantly into Kannada by Leela Garady and is coming out (fingers and toes crossed) tomorrow!!

So thats it for now,
Usha Mukunda.

In response to “A Library In The Mountains”

Thanks for the article. It was a coincidence that we came across it and we enjoyed reading it. It also reminded us of the time a couple of years ago. We were working at a boarding school in Dehradun. Mrs Sukumar had just taken over the primary section of the school and had introduced some great ideas to encourage children (and teachers) to cultivate reading habits.

The First step was acquiring a large number of new books for the school, the teachers as well as the children got involved in selection, cataloging and arranging the books on shelves.

Next, a program DEAR (an acronym – “Drop Everything And Read”) was initiated. The first school (period) was set aside for DEAR. During this DEARtime, the entire primary school, which included children as well as teachers, were reading books.

It was a wonderful experience for all of us. The entire school was reading. Most of the kids gradually got hooked to reading.

Reading your Open Library Blog, was a nostalgic experience for us. Thank you for sharing it on the Net.

Seema & Sameer