February 24, 2021
Millennial professionals organize mobile libraries for children in rural India
by Alyea Canada
Founded a year and a half ago, Dulkal Libraries has been organizing mobile and street libraries to help get books to children in government schools and rural communities across Tamil Nandi. Initially the organization was focused on creating or bolstering school libraries, but once the pandemic hit, they shifted their focus to mobile and street libraries.
This effort is spearheaded by five professionals—Karthikeyan Panchanathan, Leela Karthiga, Mini N, Amirtha and Marian Britto—who come from a wide array of fields including IT, education, and engineering. The five met while volunteering with different NGOs and today Dulkal is buffered by an additional 150 to 200 volunteers. The libraries consist of both English and Tamil books and are stocked through book donations and crowdfunding drives.
The results have been quite positive for such a short period of time. Dulkal has established three brick-and-mortar libraries in Vengaluthur, Anayeri, and Sathiraithoppu with between 500 and 800 books each. In addition, they have about seventy mobile libraries that run in rural villages with about 5,500 books total. The mobile libraries started in response to teachers who were concerned about children not returning to school after the pandemic due to family obligations. “We would send these government school teachers books, which they would get the children to read, and return. In some villages, mobile libraries were kept at residents’ homes; in others, they were operated with pushcarts,” Panchanathan told Prince Frederick of The Hindu. Finally, they were able to coordinate with local officials to set up six street libraries in Pirattiyur. These one-rack libraries were stationed outside of a home and operate on the honor system. The children are trusted to read and return the books without a registry.
Community-managed libraries have been steadily growing traction in the United States throughout the past couple of years with Little Free Libraries being the most visible, but also the Free Black Women’s Library; and mobile libraries have a long history of use throughout the world to bring books to rural communities and those isolated by war. These libraries also don’t charge late fees which is a huge reason why children from low income communities don’t use their local library. It should be noted that some public libraries have started to nix their late fees or have “amnesty days” where all outstanding fees are eliminated for children. There is no doubt that for many children access to books is a window to the wider world and it is even more important to encourage reading now that many children across the globe have lost access to school libraries. If you can consider donating to your local public library, look for community libraries in your area to support, or consider hosting one of your own.
Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.