“As a reader and raising my own children I realized that reading is a solitary act, there is not a lot of community involved around it. Reading can be challenging skill, you have to work on it all by yourself. But when you celebrate books in a number of ways, you create an identity for the reader.”

Says Dalbir Kaur Madan, a woman entrepreneur of her own kind who changed the face of libraries with her initiative ‘One Up’ based in the small town of Amritsar. A unique initiative, ‘One Up’ is not just like your ordinary library, it is a community and much more.  SheThePeople spoke to Dalbir Kaur to get more insights about this venture, here are a few excerpts,

The Beginnings

The idea of an innovative library as yours is still new to India. What inspired you to challenge the norm with your initiative?

She continues,”The way libraries were existing, when I visited them with my kids I felt there was something wrong, certain things were not allowed and  so I thought about how a library can be made an interesting place while keeping its nature and essence. This is what inspired me to challenge the norm.”

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As a woman entrepreneur did you face any apprehensions before stepping into a field that is both unique and massively male-dominated?

“After being an entrepreneur for 10-15 years I realized we live in a heavily gender-biased society. We were the first in Amritsar and people were hardly ready to deal with women. They would usually ask what is your husband’s business or what does your father do, and would usually get surprised after knowing my work.”

“You do realize it is a male-dominated field. Regarding selling books there are very few females working in that field. There are few women who are book sellers. So these apprehensions were obviously there. But you believe in cause. I believed in books, I believed in my nature of work.”

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Early Challenges

What were some of the challenges you faced when you started your initiative?

“Selling books is a challenge in a world where people use amazon every moment. Making people understand curated bookstore is still a challenge, people don’t understand what curation is like and they are still not clear. There are challenges with the government, a lot of bureaucratic complexities in the business. Then there are a lot of challenges in the field as well. It is a hard field. Publishing industry is growing but book selling industry is not, everyone wants digital/kindle books. So selling books is definitely a challenge.”

Dalbir-Kaur Madan
Dalbir-Kaur Madan in the One Up Library

What according to you are some of the shortcomings faced by school libraries that need addressal by the authorities?

“One of the greatest challenges all librarians are facing today is to redefine their role. Most of the time librarians see themselves as issuing returning books and finding it challenging as to how to motivate a reader. Even after 20-30 years why has the readership not gone up? This is the question that needs to be addressed by the whole school community.

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Why do we look at reading only from the school’s perspective, why do we look at books as only a means to enhance vocabulary? Books teach empathy, compassion, they show you the world that you’ll never travel. So the concept of vocabulary enhancement is a very delimiting definition that we give to reading. Librarians need to open an entire learning segment for children. It is the only place where there is no curriculum and librarians should make sure libraries are made trans-disciplinary and they become the literacy coaches.”

On One Up Library

Tell us more about how OneUp library is different from the traditional libraries and how do you execute the events?

“We do around 200 ‘read alouds’ in a year. Every read aloud is followed by five-six motor skill activities which might involve art, baking or DIY activities. When we are working with kids 6 years or above we have had ‘Just a minute’s in the library,  we had Lego storytelling competition in which children were given 5 pieces of Lego and asked them to create a product that Lego would want to sell and create a story around it.

So you see literacy and Lego getting combined. We give them materials to work with and create things from them. Then we ask them to create a story character for themselves, we run book clubs for children , we work with parents and teach them how to select books for their children, how to read to their children, what are the ages at which different books must be read. We also do teacher’s workshops, we work with our readers day in and day out so that they see the celebration of books in different kinds. Ours is the only library in the world where facilitators read aloud to every single child.”

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How does the Future look like?

Technology has become a huge part of the millennial culture. How do you think can we revive the reading culture and bring them closer to books?

“Books are here to stay. People think that with technology books will go but they are a constant. Even on a kindle you wouldn’t get the same experience as a paperback. Recent research suggests that reading on kindle/ any technological device is more of a surface level reading whereas in print, you are digging deeper into the matter.

So the research states that digital books do not lead to deeper comprehension and today when we want people to be more compassionate and understanding, it is important that we make books accessible in a way that helps the reader grow and form opinions and read between the lines. To persuade kids into reading books we need to start a reading movement. We need to start celebrating books and establish a reading culture among kids where there is greater importance on books. We need to make reading cool.”

How does the future of OneUp library look like? Do you plan on spreading it throughout the country or are you focusing on increasing activities whilst being at one place?

“For us, it was clear that we don’t want to open more OneUps but to change every library or help every library to become something closer to OneUp, where they are celebrated, every school library is open to parents to issue books. Every library is open to access so that children can come even after school hours. For us that would be a bigger goal to achieve than to have more OneUps. If every school library is changed in some manner, if they are well-stocked, welcoming people, learning is celebrated and since every school has a library so why not change every library and empower every librarian so that we have leaders for the future of our country?”

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Advice for women entrepreneurs

What is the one advice that you would like to give women who aspire to be entrepreneurs and take up unique ventures as yours?

“I would advice women to dare to dream, to believe in their dreams. I would ask them to believe in themselves. So that our community can see, that women are as capable as men are when it comes to work. We women are great multi-taskers and if every woman to dreams big, the universe will collaborate to make it happen. Just believe in yourself and give it a shot. We can always learn from our mistakes.”

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Snigdha Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople

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