Near the metro station of Sikanderpur in Gurugram, through the rustic lanes, the white wall of the Community Library stands out. Shubha Bahl, along with her team, manages this beautiful centre that acts as a lighthouse for children. The Community Project Library (TCLP) offers a platform for children to participate and learn. They engage and empower the members through their elaborate and detailed structure.
“TCLP calls its libraries as learning labs and follows the same curriculum designed specifically to meet the requirements of its members. The curriculum is designed by a team of volunteers led by its curriculum coordinator, Michael Creighton,” says Shubha.
Their ‘pyaar se’ or ‘with love’ ideology has drawn around 900 kids to the library. “With a simple and member-friendly admission process, any child can walk into the library and get themselves enrolled. In fact, most of the 900 members of the library have walked in alone, without being accompanied by a grown-up,” says Shubha.
In the middle of this interview, I see a tiny girl going through the library shelf, picking a book, quietly making her way to the reading room, taking her place and then reading the book aloud. Her focus in the entire process and her willingness to read a book could be totally attributed to the environment that the TCLP team has provided.
The roots of TCLP can be traced back to the first branch it created in Sheikh Sarai, Delhi, in collaboration with Deepalaya NGO. The second branch in Sikanderpur, in collaboration with Agrasar NGO, was set up last year in May, and is now being successfully led by Shubha and her team of volunteers.
TCLP has helped start free community libraries in Delhi NCR and in several other states in India.
Initiatives at the Community Library
Shubha and her teammate Ritika proudly recount the number of projects and initiatives successfully implemented by TCLAP. The impact of the projects can be seen in the kids with their increased confidence level and their fluency in reading.
Read-aloud sessions conducted by the volunteers form the core of the project. “Without read-alouds, the interest in reading the book is difficult to generate,” says Shubha. Once the read-alouds are done, the children are keen to issue and read the same book. The read-alouds are an engaging session. “We try to awaken the second voice in the minds of the kids by leaving open-ended questions without assessing if they are right or wrong. The second voice asks them to think beyond the written text and engage in the process of reading for thinking.”
“The head-start to reading program is an intensive project that the libraries run. The program is specifically designed for four to six-year-old members. In this program, members do not just feel nourished by having heard a good story, but also by eating and playing together.”
“An interesting part of being a member at the library is that all reading is rewarded. Under the Honour Roll Program, every child who has read 10 books gets a star along their name on the Honour Roll Board. There are various milestones which have an incentive attached and the 100th book deserves big celebrations. After having read 80 books, every member has to write 20 book reports to reach the 100th book milestone.”
A number of master classes and sessions by authors, poets, artists, journalists and professionals from other fields of work are conducted regularly at the library under the banner ‘Sahitya Sabka, Duniya Sabki’. Recently, award-winning journalist Neha Dixit conducted a workshop on the basics of what makes a news.
The Student Council
The student council is an essential feature of the library. The kids are nominated, taken into an intensive training programme and then given the task of managing the library
Both Shubha and Ritika are thrilled with the transformation of the kids and share the stories of their maturity in handling situations.
A chat with two student council members of the library – Alam and Divya – is enough to see the maturity and confidence they have gained through the experience. Alam was reading a book on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. He shared that his favourite books are those of Chandrashekhar Azad and other freedom fighters. Divya, a class 6 student, elaborated her future plans, “Mere bohot saare dreams hai..konsa bataaayun? Mujhe librarian ban na hai, mujhe doctor bhi ban na hai.”
Difference between a community library and a normal library
Explaining how a community library is different from a private or school library, Ritika says: “The books are kept in open and not in closed shelves.”
Every kid is free to select a book. “The only punitive, if you call it that, is that they have to give two-three hours to the library before issuing another book,” says Shubha.
Apart from that, the major difference is the engagement level. Kids are encouraged to speak up what they feel and think about certain topics, creating a democratic space for kids to grow and learn. “TCLP creates a free and open environment for its members where they are encouraged to speak up and raise questions.”
“The Sikanderpur branch of TCLP has created a new program ‘Adda’ for women from the community. These sessions are more like a discussion circle where women get together every week and talk about social and political issues through personal narratives interspersed with literature. The underlying theme in most talks is women’s empowerment and fighting for one’s independent identity in the world.”
The way ahead..
“The Community Library Project is a movement. We want it to spread to every corner of the city,” says Shubha.
Every detail and curriculum along with the procedure to set up the library has been uploaded on their site. “TCLP’s mandate is not just to build and run excellent libraries but to actually build momentum around the library movement in India.”
Through digital media, they hope to spread the message and also guide anyone who wants to set up a similar organization.
Rachna Chandira is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv