“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!
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.
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!
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.
I have been on the margins of the Government system for all of my life – both personal and professional until the last decade. It is a comfortable, easy place to stand and watch and intersect when and if necessary, driven always by my own needs.
My Professional intersections have begun to grow more robust as I learnt more in my educational endeavours about the role, the magnitude, the enormous responsibility the state has in the sector of education, amongst all other. My gaze of the state has been changing, is becoming more balanced and I find I am driving harder to engage in spaces that offer me the personal – professional mix of understanding and learning.
This seems kind of muddled, given that I have been a part of Civil Society for over twenty years now, and am driven deeply by a need to contribute to society beyond the personal. However, I do realise that my engagement even from the space of the ‘third sector’ has been one of non – interference in the state and non – engagement with what emits therefrom. This was in the past. In the present, I am watching, listening and also interacting, having found a space that demands my presence and allows me to learn more effectively.
This year, with support of Parag ( an initiative of the Tata Trust) Bookworm, offers the Library Educator’s Course in English. I have been very closely involved in designing this course for the past five years and feel a sense of ownership on it’s outcomes, it’s possibilities and it’s impact.
In every state in India, the library ails. It appears to be receiving a pump in the arm by a revival and renewal of energy through world wide funds but we will cast this aside for now. To return to the Library Educator’s Course, it is imagined as one that fills the significant gap of what must and can happen in a children’s library.
And so when we launched our course in Goa, my colleague and friend Amrita Patwardhan and I decided to write to the state departments, seeking their interest in our course. Our intention was mild, we wanted to inform and leave. The response we received from the Directorate of Art and Culture, responsible in Goa for Public Libraries was far from mild. There was a deep interest in our objectives, our purpose and the space for engagement.
Five librarians from the Department of Art and Culture, Government of Goa have been deputed to the Course. A very significant step for LEC and for our relationships of intersection. We are now more formally engaged and it is a celebration for me.
On the 12th of April, 2017 five unsuspecting libraries deputed by their superiors arrived at Bambolim Beach Resort and they may never be the same here onwards.
Vinda, who was deeply questioning her presence and need at a contact course like this, began a count down of how many days to go home. While this did not change what changed was her engagement. She began to listen and be aware that people in library work think and question and do not just do. They appear to feel and become passionate about aspects of theory that she had previously never had reason to think about and she decided , she would engage. She reached for some stitching material displayed on the Library Activity Table and spent late evenings stitching herself into the course.
In a brief write – up about libraries, Vinda writes, ” Library is like a river . Knowledge and information cause it to flow and this flow makes the river meet the sea. Knowledge and information never ends, like the water cycle, it gets turned into rain that adds to the river and the sea “
Dattaraj, was quiet and shared that when group sharings were on, he always passed the mike. On the last day of the contact, he shared that he was waiting for the mike to come to him so that he too could talk. He organised a dumb-charades game for all the participants to bring the collection alive and wrote , “Library is a heart of an institution.”
Kedar, quiet and gentle lifted us up at an assembly in song. He sings beautifully and he listened with deep care and attention during sessions and wrote that for him, ” A library is like a warehouse – filled with different kinds of books that are carefully arranged for use”.
Reena, the most confident of the group found her voice when she did a wonderful booktalk on The Girl Who Hated Books, by Manjusha Pawagi. In preparing for her booktalk, Reena interacted with other participants who all supported her preparation and strengthened her confidence. Reena expressed a library as ” a market for everyday reading and a garden where you can go and pick up the best flowers for yourself”. With metaphors like this, we are filled with hope and confidence in Reena.
Padmaja, is still finding her place in our group. She is comforted by the presence of her colleagues who are very supportive and nurturing and we look forward to hearing more from Padmaja as the course progresses. Padmaja, clearly loves her work because she writes, ” Library is a beautiful work place, where librarians work happily .”
My engagement with these librarians will grow stronger because I am also their mentor on the course and as we meet , I learn more about them and their work. I am learning how hard the system is trying to provide a library facility, opportunity and engagement with reading and how only if we work together we can strengthen each other. I am now in the system, my gaze is inward and I await the learning.
When I was first asked if I wanted to do the Library Educator’s Course, I felt excited at the opportunity to learn more about library work. I was also a bit apprehensive about managing my work and the course simultaneously. But Sujata, my director, put all my fears to rest when she told me that I have her full support.
So with butterflies in my stomach, I went for the first contact session. I did not know what to expect. I was astounded at the diversity in the participants; there were people all over the country and most interestingly, of different academic backgrounds.
I have been to many academic conferences before; most were very dry and I just couldn’t wait for them to end. But LEC redefined it for me; a complex topic like Rosenblatt’s Reader-response theory was explained by incorporating drama in the session. The essential elements of a library were imparted to us through a game with woolen yarn. We learnt about the library movement in India from the ancient to modern times by making chronology charts.
But the best part was the discussions that I had with my fellow participants. I was exposed to many new ideas and ways of thinking; whether it was a poem on caste discrimination or a book review, whether it was deconstructing a research paper or building a mini library, I was fascinated to just listen to their perspectives, and how different they are from my own.
I felt honored to meet the author of the book ‘Under the Neem tree’, Anuradha Rao. Our book review exercise was enriched by the thoughts of this humble and gracious writer. I learnt about the troubles faced by the tribal children in Chattisghar and Jarkhand through Neeraj and Divya who have worked extensively in those regions. I was delighted to meet Namgyal and know her plans for children that come to her library in the Tibetan settlement of Mundgod.
Through JoAnn, who had come from Chennai, I was familiarized about the history of East Indians and the works of Neil Gaiman. I had a very interesting conservation with Parveen about Emotional Intelligence, and learnt about ‘Namma Library’ (‘Our Library’ in Kannada) from Padma and Vinitha (who also happens to be a certified flight instructor).
On the last day of the conference, I was sad to say goodbye to all these remarkable people. For me, this LEC experience was one- of- a – kind that enriched me both personally and professionally. I look forward to meeting all the people again for the next session.
Libraries have an enormous potential in nurturing an active and vibrant learning space, wherein children with diverse interests can engage with books, access a rich collection of literature and engage with collaborative as well as self-directed learning. However, such active reading communities in school libraries are few in India and the discourse around libraries needs to be enriched. Parag’s Children’s Library unConference aims to create a platform where library educators and others engaged in the library space, with reading and children, get to meet, exchange ideas, present best practices and challenges and learn from each other—with the vision of enriching the library discourse in India.
(un)Conference 2017: Parag’s annual Children’s Library (un)Conference aims to create a space for children’s library discourse in India. The (un)conference will act as an avenue where library educators and others engaged in the library space, with reading and children, get to meet, exchange ideas, present best practices and challenges and learn from each other. For the inaugural (un)Conference, Parag will bring together thought leaders in the library and children’s literature space. Moving away from the regular panel discussion and presentation format, (un)Conference will host displays by eight organisations doing significant work with children’s libraries (one best practice around use of library/children’s books and its impact). Panelists and participants will do a walk-through of the displays. Post lunch panelists will share observations followed by reflection and discussion that takes the dialogue forward. The discussion will actively involve participants in the audience to share thoughts and observations. We hope this format will lead to a collaborative discussion that includes all members who are attending and enable us to build a shared vision for children’s libraries in India.
(un)Conference Venue – New Wing, India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi