What does reading mean for a critical society? A lot! In the latest edition of Digital Empowerment Foundation’s (DEF) dialogue session DEFdialogue with author and public library movement activist Mridula Koshy, importance of free libraries and reading spaces—especially for the children—was highlighted. “A vast majority of people in India have never been invited to read; they still do not have access to books and because they don’t have this access, they have not been part of a reading culture,” Koshy said.
Her initiative The Community Library Project currently has three centres in Delhi-NCR that provides free access to—children and adults—everyone. As of now, the library has approximately 2,600 enrolled members out of which 1,000 have accessed it in last six months.
The project emanates from the idea that all people should have access to books and thinking through books, and that this can be accomplished by creating libraries that allow people to borrow books at no cost. “We are particularly concerned in building a library movement that promotes libraries that welcome all and provide an inclusive space for members to come together to articulate their ideas, opinions, questions and issues,” she said that the initiative welcomes children from all walks of life. A special focus is also laid on creating safe space for them.
In an hour long interaction with the participants, she went on to explain how India’s social fabric—the deep ingrained caste structure and not only the class divide—are the biggest deterrents from access to books and hence education. “It is very important to understand why people are excluded from the reading culture and hence the ability to think critically,” she said that the problem is not because we are a poor country. “The truth about the caste system in our society is that education is only available to some! A majority of people are not just actively excluded from getting education but there also is a possibility of punishment for just trying to attain education of any kind,” she said.
Koshy also highlighted the importance of reading aloud amongst peers and other community activities for better learning. Her fellow librarian Michael Creighton, a poet and teacher, also shared the stage with her and talked about the importance of a well-planned and detailed curriculum for inculcating critical thinking from the early age.