Libraries for 21st century: Arunachal (Part 1)

[S Mundayoor]

This week, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein declared open a research library at the RIWATCH in Lower Dibang Valley HQ Roing, marking the second phase of the youth library movement in the state: a library dedicated to social science researchers from across the world as well as Arunachal youth preparing for competitive examinations.

It was on 24 March, 2007 that Mein, then education minister, had received the first gift of a library for the children of Lohit from the Association of Writers & Illustrators for Children in New Delhi, in the presence of a few book lovers from Arunachal. That tiny library has indeed grown into a vibrant voluntary youth movement spread across Lohit and Dibang region, owned and managed by the people, but with generous contributions in cash, kind and expertise from book lovers across the world, editors, writers and professionals across India and strong support from the state’s leaders and administrators.

Happily, this model, spreading the joy of reading among the reading-deprived students across the region, is sparking laudable similar interventions in other parts of Arunachal, like the Garung Thuk Community Library in Shergaon, (West Kameng) and the Roadside Library in Naharlagun.

A question may arise in the minds of some: How much could such tiny efforts, with frugal resources, contribute to boost the disturbingly low reading culture among our youth and improve the educational standards in the schools and colleges? Do our libraries have a place, a future in our modern life in the technologically-advanced 21st century?

The answer to the second question has been provided by destiny itself as the whole world emerged into a Corona chaos and school education became the worst affected. The educationists and the common people across India have realized how ineffective has been the online teaching efforts to replace live classes where teachers and students face one another and interact, bringing out the best emotions in learners as well as tutors. This was openly admitted by Education Minister Taba Tedir this week: “Online classes are not possible due to poor internet connectivity in the majority of the districts…” (The Arunachal Times, 10 August, 2021).

What other than libraries can voluntarily and wholeheartedly supplement our already crippled school system by strengthening reading habits by giving the learners and teachers ample freedom to choose happily what they wish to learn, how they wish to learn, in what units and when they find it convenient? Isn’t it time that the libraries strengthened the joy of reading?

The National Librarians’ Day (12 August) therefore gives us an excellent opportunity to ponder over:

  1. What shall be the role of libraries to lead Arunachal to a reading society and to strengthen our educational system?
  2. What strategies do the libraries need adopt to fulfil these objectives?

The last two decades of reading campaign activities in the Dibang and Lohit region and the spirited efforts by the Lohit Youth library volunteers to spread the joy of reading have led us to arrive at two guiding principles for libraries in Arunachal in the coming decade.

  1. Libraries and reading movement shall succeed when they are based on a) Volunteerism and b) Handholding of all stakeholders.

Volunteerism is not a new idea in development and planning processes. It has been increasingly realized during various government programmes that only when community organizations, voluntary bodies, traditional institutions and youth and women groups come forward to implement them, these governmental programmes succeed, as has been amply proved by the National Adult Literacy Mission in the 1980s and the ’90s, blood donation and family planning campaigns, etc. During the 1950s and the early ’60s, soon after independence, village libraries in states like Kerala could proliferate and remain self-supporting and urge social transformation only because of the enthusiastic involvement of youth and the educated, especially teachers – all this after school hours, on holidays and vacations. Across India and the world, renowned libraries that we see today could start as tiny institutions come up and grow only due to spirited voluntary efforts of individuals and groups.

As for Arunachal, volunteerism has been the core principle of life of our communities, and we had been the role model for the nation in gram swaraj till recently: almost all activities were planned and executed collectively by the village. The recent story of the renovation of government schools in East Siang district, under the dedicated leadership of the then DDSE Jongge Yirang, is truly an inspiring story of people’s participation (The Arunachal Times, 5 August). If reading has to be an inseparable part of the upbringing of a new Arunachal, volunteering has to spread across the state: by setting up and managing mini-libraries, organizing mini-book exhibitions and localized reading campaign activities like storytelling, story reading, poem recitations, and skits. Reader-friendly books of publishers like NBT, CBT, Eklavya, Pratham, Tulika, TERI, etc, must reach even the remotest villages. Low-priced magazines like Children’s World, Dimdima, Chakmak, Akkad Bakkad, Tell Me Why and Young World must be available in at least a few homes in every village and school.

In a state like Arunachal Pradesh, volunteering can create a long-term impact only with official patronage of activities. Fortunately, over the years, there is a visible trend towards extending official patronage and encouragement to voluntary efforts. As for the Lohit Youth Library movement, from the inception it has been functioning as a voluntary handholding of three groups: NGOs, volunteers and the government agencies and enlightened officials. This handholding became its foundation, thanks to the imaginative practices laid down by the founder patron of the Bamboosa Library, Prashant Lokhande, the then Lohit DC, in 2007, linking up the district administration, the education department and the Lohit Youth Library volunteers. The DCM described it last week as a case of “seamless governance.”

The Lohit Youth Library movement has become a part of an unwritten ‘MoU of faith and trust’ among the three stakeholders.

However wishful and utopian one may label this concept, libraries can reach out to the nook and corner of our state and build a reading Arunachalee society only with volunteerism in the community and handholding of stakeholders.

What shall be the strategies that the libraries need to adopt to fulfil these objectives? We shall discuss them in the second part of this article. [The writer is the coordinator of the Lohit Youth Library Network and Academic Advisor to the RIWATCH. Email id:]