Starting a school library

by Sahadev Komaragiri

When we started at the school, there was a shelf with some books in it. Children did not know what it meant to borrow a book from the library, read it and return it. There was no such thing as a library period. Book reading, storytelling, story writing are alien subjects. So, we embarked on a project to start a library in our school. For some reason this happened to be the first and foremost task to take up in addition to another pet project of mine which is sports development.

This article is from the series on Making a Difference

I like to read books and I was a regular at our local libraries from the time when I was in high school to all the way when I was in the US. I always have at least one current book that I am reading. I have met several individuals who developed a reading habit at a very early age and they turned out to be sharp intellectuals, good citizens and generally good people with whom one can have a long meaningful discussion. So, it is obvious that we think it is important for any good school to have a library and a dedicated time slot every week for book reading.

I did not have any experience in starting a library nor do I know what kind of books children read. I am not aware of any official school library books list that the government publishes. The school did not have a separate room that can be designated as a library room. We literally did not know where to start except that we had to start somewhere. I informed the management that I would like to create a library, fund it and even manage it. I visited some of the schools that I know and promptly rushed to see what they have in their libraries. Most of those libraries I visited were in cities and those were obviously designed for city children. Rural schools do not have anything that can be called a library. Rural school children have relatively poor English language skill, but like children of all regions they too have a strong interest in listening to and reading good stories.

So, we pretty much started on our own. First thing, I placed an order for a bunch of Amar Chitra Katha comics. As a child I enjoyed reading comics, so I thought these children will also like to read comics. Whenever I visited Hyderabad or any other city, I visited book stores to see what kind of books they have for school children. If I can find a few books that I think are useful to children I just bought them.

I had enough number of books to give and I was ready to open the library for the children. In my office, I created a small space for a table and on it I placed all these books in separate categories such as biographies, epics, fables and humor among others. I opened up the library initially to just one or two classes. During the school recess time, that is three times a day, I asked students from various classes to come and check out some books from my office. It was their first time to the library in this school. They all came in droves and I had a difficult time containing them. Initially it was a little difficult to handle, but soon I was able to make amends and bring in changes to regulate the timings and check outs. I realized the need to create a time table where in only one class will come two times a week to exchange their books. Things started falling in place soon after. I started using a fresh long book for registering the check outs and returns. There was still not going to be a separate library period for the children. It is a battle that could not be won.

I expanded the library collection to add a number of comics from Wilco publishers. We visited Vishalandra book house in Vijayawada and bought a number of books both in English and Telugu. I asked children what they needed and some of them mentioned a few names. I also got some books written by Maths wizard Shakuntala Devi, a few books on quiz and a biography series from Rapid Press.  Two of my sisters donated a few books. A few months later I visited a book exhibition in Vijayawada and bought some more books. The library now has a decent set of books.

“Story Books”

There were times when I was away from school during school recess times or on certain other days. Whenever this happened, children invariably rush to me when they see me back and demand “story books”. It was going great and children enjoyed reading books. I would quiz some of them on the books they read and they would answer my questions with a glee on their faces. Whenever I found time, I would myself read a few of the comics. Comics don’t lose their sheen to any age group!

The books were available only for classes 6 to 9. It was difficult for me to handle lower class students who wanted to read the books. Boys and girls from lower classes come in groups and demand “story books”, when I told them that I do not have books for that age group, they would calmly leave but come back again on another day demanding the same. There was one girl who would not leave until she was given a book. She said that she does not want to check out a book but she will read a book in the room itself and put it back after she is done. After some haggling I agreed to give her one book. Quietly, I was observing what she was doing; she was going through each and every page in the comic book. She was not reading, but simply appreciating the drawings in the book. I realized that she is not too ready to read comics in English language. She would be happy to open and read comics in Telugu language. She became a regular to the library. Then we ventured to buy some more comics in Telugu language.

As we made progress on the library front we had to face some challenges and seek out some opportunities. That will be the subject of discussion in the next post.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jaya Kothan September 5, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Great project Sahadev….this library project will help you with your other projects as well. Lot of us have so many books at home which our kids are done reading and usually donate them to the library. Won’t there be people around – your friends/ aquaintance who would want to donate books – for casual reading and for studies who may want to do that? If there was a way to send books from here I would collect them here and send them over…


Sahadev Komaragiri September 6, 2012 at 2:56 am

Jaya, thanks for the offer to help. A sustainable school library must be set up before we can start supplying the books. Most schools just collect books from donors and not use them. They do not have staff to manage a library. There are many ways to help and I will discuss that shortly.


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