Thinking about reading culture generally, I think there’s not much to be denied that reading culture meaning here with the reading of books or spending time in the library, has been on a decline. One of its severe impacts has been declining capacity of people to think critically or think for themselves. Several factors could be blamed for this decline like the government approach towards the promotion of reading or libraries, education system, technology advancement, growing inequality, etc. In this age of information technology, the information flow is more massive than any time before only because the consumption of this information have increased or rather it has been made to increase. No doubt technology advancement has made our life easy, with this it has also promoted an easy attitude towards everything. Book reading and libraries have been one victim of this attitude. With the options available people are seeking a convenient way to fulfill the need of reading which could be through watching a video on the internet or a TV show. Even in the villages where we work, I see television being put at a priority before the toilet in their house keep aside the need to keep books or regular newspapers. To understand this attitude, I think we need to understand it in a larger context of development happening all around us. The constant attempt of converting everything as a commodity of sell by the market players had a huge role to play in this commodification of the utilities of reading. Consequently, less informed or misinformed readers are choosing the easy route to get knowledge unlike the route of reading books which comparatively requires a higher effort.

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A library is a place where reading is nurtured and creation of knowledge take place. For children at a stage where they start to develop an understanding of the world, the library is one place where their base could be strengthened. This base is of thoughts of empathy, understanding diversity and its appreciation, curiosity, etc.  A library with a diverse and thoughtful collection of books plays that role of base building. To understand how important library can play as a teammate with schools for a better academic and personal advancements Sensenig quotes Melvil Dewey (1876)  (Sensenig, 2010/2011) “the school teaches them how to read, the library must supply them with reading which shall serve to educate, and so it is that we are forced to divide popular education into parts of almost equal importance and deserving equal attention: the free school and free library.” But over time we have witnessed a decline in this institutional identity of libraries.

When I read through the papers written by various scholars on the historical perspective on the idea of school education and libraries I find it has been moved on a track comforting the idea of development that we have today. From the middle of the 19th century, we saw a market-centered approach coming from the west was spreading. The idea that the market is a solution of all the economic problem started establishing its legitimacy across the globe.  The market-led development needs an institution to be reformed in a way to complement the development. This model of development promotes homogeneity. Saying this I take the example of how more and more cities are growing and being build in a way to favor the larger products out in the market. The education curriculum is being pushed towards a certain kind homogeneity there leaving less space to think for themselves.

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Victor Sensenig argues with the help of data that how the absence of libraries today is to do with the cuts in funding and the policies unfavorable for the growth and development of the libraries. He explains how the government impeding the autonomy of the library by putting it along with other department has affected it. As more and more space was being opened for markets to encroach including the basics like health and education, it has redefined its order. The privatization has outcompeted the public services at multiple levels. One of the main reason has been the states giving it to the private parties to take over. When such a model of development is dominant it is hard to believe that profit-driven private players will invest in something like libraries with the objective to promote critical thinking. Rather the whole effort seems to be to produce human as resources fit to operate machines, the education idea that emerged from the industrial revolution.

Looking at our own work, we started working in one of the tribals dominant region of rural Assam with the vision to facilitate the empowerment of local voices in the course of development.  For this, the promotion of libraries has been one means towards the vision. The effort is to enable access to books, journals, etc that can connect to the local culture and traditions. The effort is also to bring to them the voices of tribal people who are trying to raise their voices so that they can be heard in the development course of the state. The data is in front of us that starkly points to the fact that the vulnerability of the tribal communities is only increasing. It is extremely sad to see people in remotest villages spending the time to consume the propagandist information flowing on their phones through social media and believing or many times even acting upon it. I think it’s a huge responsibility in this era to the people set out on the path of library activism to bring voices and to empower the voices through the knowledge creation happening at the libraries.

I think to develop or redevelop the reading culture and have a number of effective libraries around us, we library activist have to work in a way to bring a movement around it. By bringing a movement I mean we need to identify and engage the entire stakeholders and get to them to have dialogues over the need of it and also take steps to realize the need of it. As a library activist, we need to be reflective on our action. We should be aware of the global forces that impact our work and the consequences of our action on the larger society unlike taking it as a function in isolation. In the words of Emily Ford, we should have a continuous retrospection on what we do and why do it. As a library activist, we need to practice “reflective and philosophically based practice of librarianship” (ford, 2008).

From the experience of what we are trying, we can set up a small library in villages with books which can connect with them and the ambiance that can be welcoming specifically considering the gender issues. We can talk about a book or a voice from a book or act it out in the presence of the community. We can receive their feedback on what they want to read or like or dislikes on the collection that we have.  For the larger engagement of other stakeholders, we plan to organize literary festivals in schools, community or at the panchayat level where children, local leaders, parents community,  schools teachers and government representatives can be invited. Such platforms could be a milestone in spreading awareness on the need of reading and libraries. These platforms can also be used to sensitize them about being careful while reading and doing inquiry before they accept any information to be a fact.

Libraries being a strong component of school education, the government schools could be collaborated with the objective to develop libraries and build a healthy reading environment in the schools. Books that speak to children play important role in developing an understanding of self and others (Moravcik, 2005) As library educators, we can guide teachers on the selection of books and encouraging them to be thoughtful while having a collection for children. In this direction, a well diverse collection of books in the children’s library is very crucial. Librarians can be encouraged to promote and beyond promotion they should celebrate and encourage diverse books (Overton, 2016). Special attention needs to be given towards the literary programs or library support programs that we may need to undertake in order to develop the habit of reading in children and making reading pleasure and fulfilling. Thinking about promoting reading as part of early childhood programs the ideas emphasized by Paulo Freire speaks to me where he talks about how we learn words or language. “Words should be laden with the meaning of the people’s existential experience, and not of the teacher’s experience” (Freire, 1987). Bringing stories related to the community or book talks on that to speak to society and be a great tool to get listeners interested in reading. We also need to promote writing as part of our reading programs. In the tribal context, there is a great need of writings particularly from people from the community itself. These writings could be one of the most authentic ways to promote the unheard voices. The collection of these writings could then be made available in different other libraries. All these voices collected together can trigger the movement around libraries in our tribal villages.

Written by Dharamjeet Kumar, Co-founder, Ayang

References

ford, E. (2008, August). What do we do and why do we do it? Retrieved May 5, 2018, from In the library with the lead pipe: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2012/what-do-we-do-and-why-do-we-do-it/

Freire, P. M. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd , pp. 20-24.

Moravcik, S. F. (2005). A Window to Understanding Self and Others. National Association for the Education of Young Children , YC Young Children, Vol. 60, No. 5.

Overton, N. (2016, Februrary). Libraries need diverse books. Retrieved from Public libraries online : http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2016/04/libraries-need-diverse-books/

Sensenig, V. (2010/2011). Reading First, Libraries Last: An Historical Perspective on the Absence of Libraries in. The Journal of Education , Vol. 191, No. 3, pp. 9-18.

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