Community library in Gurugram’s Sikanderpur village encouraging reading habit in children
Seven-year-old Brijmohan is a bundle of energy, and wants everyone to listen to his story. Fifteen-year-old Ajay Singh reads aloud to the younger children patiently after coming back from school, while 14-year-old Divya Singh revels in the imagery and metaphors used by her favourite author Ruskin Bond. These children and many more first-generation learners in the Sikanderpur village in Gurugram have developed a love for books and are experiencing the joy of reading at The Community Library Project (CLP), a free and open-to-all library in one of the narrow alleys of this urban village, with hundreds of books across genres in Hindi, English and other Indian languages.
The project, the brainchild of Delhi-based authors Mridula Koshy and Michael Creighton, opened their first library at Sheikh Sarai in Delhi. The Gurugram library was started in 2017, in collaboration with the NGO Agrasar.
Shubha, the co-founder of the Sikanderpur community library said, “We believe that all children must have access to books and reading. Reading helps develop critical thinking skills, empathy, imagination and expression and all children should have an opportunity to open their minds and think for themselves.”
The Sikanderpur library works on the model where the space is provided by an NGO, while all the resources are brought in by CLP.THE library operates seven days a week, from 10am to 6pm. Membership to the library is free.
A child needs to attend three read-aloud sessions and sign a form asking for basic information about oneself and one’s family.
The project aspires to create a learning and reading space in the underdeveloped pockets of cities where children of migrant labourers, construction workers, public transport drivers often go to public schools, but don’t receive the same level of education and opportunities as children in private ones.
Koshy, Creighton, and Shubha believe books and read-aloud sessions can help bridge that gap and give these children fresh perspective.
Eleven year-old Manisha Singh has been coming to the library everyday, for a year-and-a-half. While she could initially only read picture books, today she has finished reading six Harry Potter books in Hindi, loves to read and recite short poems and often tells her teacher, Shashank — one of the volunteers — how better a story could have ended, or why a character in the book acted the way they did.
Like Manisha, other children in the neighbourhood feel that they have found an invisible set of wings in the library’s bright green racks and can’t wait to finish school and head to the library every day. The elder ones who have finished reading many books and developed a more nuanced understanding become a part of the student council that looks after the library and conducts read-aloud sessions for younger children. It’s a democratic setup that encourages freedom of expression and thinking. Nobody is scolded or shouted at, but everybody is instilled with a sense of responsibility. The children know the books and library are theirs and must be cared for.
Volunteers say that when a child damages a book, there is no punishment, but he or she needs to do an hour of a read-aloud session and another hour of cleaning or organising books. This is done to inculcate a sense of accountability without fear in the children. Shubha added, “There is no place for fear here, because ingenuity and thinking cannot survive in fear, which are our main goals for these children.”
While read-aloud sessions and reading books are the main focus of the library and sessions are conducted daily, the library also organises more weekly sessions like arts and craft, games, digital learning, Urdu classes, theatre workshops (for the elder children), poetry workshops and more. One look, and it’s apparent that it has become a positive space for these children, where they can think and dream without shackles.
After Sheikh Sarai and Sikanderpur, the founders of CLP hope to create more such avenues of learning and hope for children. Shubha said, “It does not take a lot to do something. We are a lowcost, volunteer-driven initiative with just three permanent staff members. We hope to build a library and reading movement that is doable and replicated in many other places across the country.”