[ S Mundayoor ]
In the previous article (The Arunachal Times, 13 August, 2021), we saw how vital volunteerism in the community and handholding of stakeholders are for building a reading Arunachalee society through community-owned rural libraries across our state. Rather, it is a case of no options, for a society in the 21st century is doomed to stagnation if it does not empower itself to be a knowledge-society.
It thus emerges that our libraries too need take on a new avatar, a new form, to meet the changing needs of the times: What then shall be the strategies our libraries need adopt to reach out to the people and help them emerge as a reading society?
The experiences of outstanding libraries across the world bring out this unique feature of every popular library: That it shall be a centre of activities and draw people of all ages to itself. The world’s leading library organization, the American Library Association (ALA), through its monthly e-newsletter ‘I love libraries’ (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been featuring novel initiatives by various libraries across the US. (It even featured the tiny APNE Library, Wakro, of our state in 2012 with an interview of a Class 7 volunteer Jeenamsi Ngadong.) The ‘I love libraries’ newsletter also carries sketches of librarians providing unusual services, launches public campaigns to support needs of libraries in distress, and presents ‘most popular librarian’ awards by inviting readers to document such activities in their local libraries.
Prof R David Lankes, the 2016 winner of the ALA’s prestigious Ken Haycock Award for promoting librarianship says: “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”
The last 15 years of experiences of the Lohit Youth Library movement have proved that the ‘joy of reading’ shall be the core area of building a reading culture in our students and youth. This is the basic foundation over which alone a knowledge society can be built in Arunachal. Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the unforgettable young library reader, beautifully explains when her teacher asks if all children’s books ought to have funny bits: “I do. Children are not so serious as grownups and they love to laugh.” Hence the youth library activists and the youth libraries have been doing a range of programmes like storytelling, story reading, poem recitation, read-aloud sessions, vocabulary games and skits freely, using English, Hindi and Mishmi languages, followed by making the listeners perform these in a friendly, peer-group environment, devoid of the fear of failure or evaluation.
The activities boost the confidence of the students to attempt to read a new book and develop comprehension and appreciation, drawing them again to a library and get exposed to more books.
It is relevant to mention here that, even though for nearly five decades English has been the medium of instruction in Arunachal’s schools, exposure to the English language and printed literature for our students today is hardly for three hours, which is quite insufficient to master the skills of reading and writing, even when they may speak English.
Since the school system cannot create or sustain such a reader-centric environment, it will be in the interest of both the education department and the local libraries to get linked up for mutual benefit. This joint initiative has to be on a daily, regular and long-time basis to bring visible results.
Our public libraries also need to sponsor and conduct small book exhibitions-cum-sales to specifically target the local population. The effectiveness and impact of reaching a wide range of low-cost books of reputed publishers to remote pockets like Kaho and Taflagam on the China border in Anjaw, and Etalin and Anini in Dibang Valley has been proved beyond doubt through annual reading campaigns and National Book Week celebrations from 1998. 2006 saw a memorable three-week mobile book exhibition (Pustak Parikrama) by the NBT across Lohit, led by an imaginative and enthusiastic DC, Prashant Lokhande. Book contests for students in English, Hindi and Arunachal languages during these campaigns are being sponsored in the form of books by the DC, the DDSE, and sometimes the SBI branch.
Thanks to such repeated book events across the Lohit-Dibang region, even private publishers like Tulika, Scholastic, Eklavya and Ektara are willing to provide books on credit for exhibition and sale, provided they are approached by trustworthy agencies.
Many eminent authors, teacher-educators and storytellers have been doing events for the youth libraries, wholly as an act of goodwill: an innovative feature that the local libraries can use to draw readers.
Another significant area has happily opened up with the introduction of the NEP-2020 and acceptance of mother-language education from Class 1 onwards. The history of public libraries and reading habits in India over the last 150 years shows that it is due to an increase in the Indian language publications that reading spread across the country, leading to the growth of social and nationalistic consciousness. Several world classics from English, French and Russian languages soon appeared translated in local languages. Even English-educated scholars like Sri Aurobindo and Tagore, and leaders like Rajaji and Gandhiji stressed on writing in the mother tongue. The steep increase in the popularity of village libraries in states like Kerala can be attributed to publications in the mother language. Hence the only way to boost the reading culture in Arunachal is to dissociate our mindset from equating reading to English language. The need of the hour is to encourage publication of several small readers – not textbooks – in Arunachal languages and help them reach out to the most common people in the villages. Happily, a praiseworthy beginning has been done by the Idu Mishmi Cultural & Literary Society (IMCLS) by bringing out free e-books of Pratham Books in the Idu Mishmi language. This could be replicated in other Arunachal languages, as well, as Pratham permits free translation and use of their illustrations. During a recent adult education class of neo-literate Adi women, the learners, who were diffident about reading English, were offered an Adi book, Gandhi Me Lengkan by Tayom Dai (Tulika Books, Chennai). The transformation was stunning: The women now could so fluently read out any random pages in Adi, even when the language was not quite simple. Such is the power of reading in our mother tongue.
Libraries in Arunachal could sponsor small workshops and literary meets, and bring out manuscripts on a range of topics periodically in our mother languages. The state government and the library directorate could surely support printing of these small booklets that would relate so well to the local communities.
The list of such activities could be long. An enthusiastic thrust jointly by voluntary organizations, the educated elite and the district and community libraries across the state could bring a marked transformation in reading… and resultant education standards. The state government must assure them that, being the ultimate beneficiary, it would stand by the people. We owe it to our next generation. (The writer is the coordinator of the Lohit Youth Library Network and academic advisor to the RIWATCH, Roing. Email id: email@example.com.)