Reflections on LEC Yatras

“Oh! You’re going to Goa?” “You’ll have a grand time there with the sea and the sand and the food,” said everyone a bit enviously when they heard I was off to Goa for a week. It’s true- Goa is a very special place. Its unique history, its natural beauty, the friendliness and open-heartedness of the locals make it so. And for me, it’s even more special because it is the home of Bookworm!

As the plane dipped down to land at Goa, memories of our earlier LEC encounters swooped into my mind. Udaipur was the first. How eager and yet unsure we were. It was all unknown territory. Why did we want to take this on? Who would it be for? What should we cover? When should it happen? How would it work?! There were only questions. But it is ‘a truth universally known’ that working and thinking together makes things happen. And so it did! We were off and running.

The Udaipur course began and the camaraderie at our living quarters was unmatchable. Faculty and participants share rooms, sometimes with bats as well. The baked rooms were a challenge to sleep in at night but the fellowship was paramount. In winter our bathwater steamed over a gas fire at one end of the corridor. But nothing was a problem. There were always ready hands to carry my bath water to my room. At night those who were game gathered on the terrace to sing, laugh and mingle. On the last night, Sujata and I were ceremoniously escorted to the terrace where two rickety but stable chairs had been found for us to sit back on, and enjoy the entertainment.

We discovered that language was no barrier to a group of eager and committed library educators to immerse themselves in the course. Many of them picked up the torch and kept it alight in small communities where they work.

In each space and with each batch it was a course for all seasons. Intolerable heat, welcome rain and cold cold nights.

On to LEC 2 and to Sirohi in Rajasthan. We were ensconced in a luxurious hotel this time but nothing could keep the scorching sun at bay during our sessions. The hall was not too spacious and we were all too close to each other for physical comfort. But never by word or gesture did we hear a complaint. Enthusiasm and total involvement were paramount- from faculty, mentors and participants. This group of library educators was a bit more experienced and articulate perhaps, but the eagerness to learn and share was all too visible. The close bonding between the participants was evident again when Sujata and I went to their floor one night. The corridor was alight with laughter, song and chatter. What fun it seemed. The faculty had their fun too- sneaking out during sessions to have Kulfi at the roadside cart!

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All of them are back at their places of work hopefully carrying a part of what we have shared. But without close mentoring will it get diluted? And how is mentoring to happen across such diverse spaces? These questions remain.

A gentle bump brings me back to the present. We are in Goa and it is time to embark on LEC No. 3 in English A new set of participants and for me – new challenges. I have been a practitioner all my working life, using instinct, observation and a strong bonding with books and children, to guide my actions. Now a strong academic element deepened and directed the course. Would I be able to rise to these new and exciting challenges? The participant group too had impressive backgrounds of research and writing. Then there was Moodle. But that is another story! But as I stood on the first morning in the circle of connection, I felt a deep sense of communion. We are all in this together and there will now be many more strong voices to speak and act on behalf of children and reading. We may be at different levels and stages in our learning but we are all one in this quest. Each of us is flowering in our own little patch but also slowly but surely putting out tendrils to reach out further and further.

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Quiet time for reading. Quiet time on the beach. I felt invigorated and soothed at these times. I think I went through a whole gamut of emotions during this contact session but looking back, I feel each was a tremendous learning for me as my LEC yatras continue.

I am sharing a poem called “Home.” Read library as home!

Home

Give me a home
that isn’t mine,
where I can slip in and out of rooms
without a trace,
never worrying
about the plumbing,
the colour of the curtains,
the cacophony of books by the bedside.
A home that I can wear lightly,
where the rooms aren’t clogged
with yesterday’s conversations,
where the self doesn’t bloat
to fill in the crevices.
A home, like this body,
so alien when I try to belong,
so hospitable
when I decide I’m just visiting.

Arundhathi Subramaniam

Usha Mukunda May 7th 2017.

The Best of Times

The present time is a very exciting one for libraries and library educators. When I started out 30 years ago, school libraries and children’s libraries were very low down in the hierarchy of libraries. Each time I attended a professional gathering, looks were cast askance at me wondering why I had taken on such an insignificant area. Slowly as I began to share and talk with passion about why I felt that libraries for children were at the heart of the library movement, my colleagues began to listen and even showed a curiosity to understand why.

Now school managements, government bodies, NGOs and librarians themselves, have rediscovered and redefined their place in the library sunlight. The only laggards seem to be the Departments of Library and Information Science which still do not have a respectable unit in their curriculum for school and children’s librarianship. As a result, there is a serious dearth of capable librarians at the school level. Not a week passes without my getting an S.O.S. message from an institution or community, asking for a ‘good’ person to take care of their library. As a result of this gap, there is a growing trend to look for enthusiastic persons (with no library degree) but love reading and children, to take on this responsibility. This has become more attractive because when library degree holders are appointed they seem to bring in too much of the theory they were imparted and do not easily adapt to the spontaneity and flexibility needed when interacting with children.

Against this background, the Library Educators’ Course came into being with refreshing inputs from practicing librarians, teachers and NGOs working with children in far-flung areas. From the start, this was envisioned and executed as an interactive course. Library educators (this phrase was coined during the planning sessions!) came with their own experiences and insights of children they were in contact with. We as teachers, listened, learned and shared our ideas. The design of the course was flexible enough for us to respond to feedback and factor that in for the next contact sessions. The participants too were challenged in various ways from refiguring their vision of a library to reading, absorbing and debating excellent readings on education, children’s literature, libraries, and early learning. Assignments were given that emanated from the readings and the sessions. A field project rounded off the 6-month course.

Group work
One of the most wondrous things we can do with children is to tell stories and listen to theirs. As they gain strength in their reading skills, we librarians have the enviable opportunity to help children discover books and more stories. Starting from showing them how to handle and care for books we can accompany them on their journey of reading and discernment.

I started by saying that these are exciting times. As library educators we are fortunate to be right in the thick of the excitement!

Usha Mukunda | usha.mukunda@gmail.com  | June 30th 2014.