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.

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