Mridula Koshy is a writer. For the past few years, she has been very involved in running a community library, and more recently in setting up more community libraries.
How did the community library come about?
Back in 2008 my partner and I started reading aloud to a couple dozen kids in an area school. They were great fun. They wanted to borrow books. We started carrying a bag of books. Eventually we got help from everyone everywhere and created a decent school library for all 500 kids in the school. When that school shut, the NGO to which it belonged – Deepalaya – gave us permission to bring in dozens of volunteers and to run the library as a community library. Our library in the Ramditti J R Narang Learning Center is open seven days a week; it is an excellent library that is free and open to all.
Of all the different things that you have done in the library, what do you think has been the most successful in terms of ensuring engagement, especially from children?
We read aloud to kids. There is a read aloud happening in the library at least five out of seven days and, by the end of the week, somewhere in the order of 150 to 250 of our members have been read to, usually multiple times. Two and a half years since we became a community library, there is anecdotal evidence that hundreds more read alouds take place weekly in our members’ homes with children and adults reading aloud to one another.
Shoumi Dasgupta, one of the volunteers, reads to kids.
A read aloud can be for the pure fun of turning the page and advancing the story or it can be to provoke thinking and discussion. Almost all kids, even those from families with generations of educated forbears, need read aloud. To make reading the pleasurable journey of self-discovery that we all know it to be, first we need someone in the know to read to us, to model reading to us, to model thinking and self-discovery and pleasure.
A young member aloud to younger and older members.
Are there any stories you would like to tell us?
I will tell you a story about a couple of kids in a read aloud. Once a volunteer was reading a story aloud at the end of which a little girl in the room began crying quietly. Everyone waited and then the little girl said the story reminded her of her own home life and her feeling that her father did not love her the way he loved her brother. Another little girl began crying and said her father too loved her brother more than her.
We all hope to find in stories the language with which to tell our own story. I think a lot of people in the room that day found words they needed.
From your observation, is there any difference in how kids who grow up in homes surrounded by books respond to books and how kids who grow up deprived of books respond?
Kids who don’t have early access to books can catch up in terms of acquiring vocabulary, in terms of understanding books as tools for imaginative thinking, in terms of gaining pleasure from losing themselves in books. But it cannot happen without sound pedagogical intervention.
Children who haven’t had access to books within the intimacy of the family do not associate feeling of love and pleasure with books. Read alouds can create this intimacy and pleasure. The communal experience of a Read Alouds in our library is a bridge to the pleasure of reading alone. Without the read aloud the initial loneliness of reading can be intimidating.
And finally kids who have not had access to books may know how to read from their school but do not read with fluency and so cannot find reading pleasurable. We utilize a reading fluency curriculum in our library, which moves children in a few weeks toward increased speed and accuracy and understanding in their reading. Without this, reading remains painful, no matter how many read alouds motivate a child to want to stumble through a book.
How is your plan of creating more community libraries taking shape? What can other people who love books do to participate?
The Community Library Project is a trust, the goal of which is to run a small number of community libraries as an argument for a publicly owned library system. Our libraries are labs in which we can learn what kind of best practices make for excellent libraries that serve all people. We demonstrate that libraries do indeed work – if you build them, the people will come. Ultimately there is no argument for not building a publicly owned library system in Delhi and beyond. Libraries are neither unnecessary luxuries nor impossible achievements.
If you have ever loved a book then you know that love needs the outlet of another reader to whom you can say, ‘you must read this.’ We readers need more readers. Readers can support others in becoming readers by supporting our organization through cash donations, through volunteering (serious commitment needed) and through donating books (new and used but in mint condition).
We are also here to help people who would like to start libraries that are free and open to all. http://www.communitylibraryblog.com/nav/home