Speaking volumes!

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 30 August 2018

Helen Silvester, Director West India, British Council, talks about the changing role of libraries, in particular the Pune Library, which has now evolved into a cultural hub

The British Council, formerly The British Library, has completed 70 years in India. To celebrate this milestone, multiple initiatives have been planned to connect with the millennials. Its library in Pune was established in 1960 and has over the years forged an interactive relationship with the denizens through its academic support. The library, which a year ago moved to new premises in Shivajinagar, has evolved into a cultural hub and a digital learning centre. Last year, a whole range of activities were hosted for students from quarterly book clubs to café scientific lectures for science enthusiasts, art activities like dance therapy and makerspace workshops. This year too, some new activities have been planned. 

Helen Silvester, Director West India, British Council, shares with us the goals and the changing role of the British Council. Excerpts: 
What was the intention behind starting The British Library, now British Council, 70 years ago? 
It was to partner India on knowledge, ambition and economic growth and in particular, what we have always avowed to providing opportunities for young people in India and the world — access to quality education, skills and qualification, and access to creativity. The goals remain the same today as they were 70 years ago. 

What was the reading culture back then in India? Were there any libraries? Are any statistics available? 
In terms of statistics, we don’t know. But what we do know is that reading was always popular in India. Way back then, there were limited options and The British Council Library became popular as a great place to go and access reading material, and read books for pleasure. I was speaking recently with Ben Gomes, who is the head of Google Search. He once commented (to Alan Gemmell) that he was a regular at the British Council (Bengaluru) Library as a kid, and refers to the libraries as the Google of his days. 

Can you tell us about the relationship between the British Council and the students and teaching community? 
It goes back to our role of providing opportunities to students to language learning and access to quality education and skills. In our Pune library, we see young learners and we have workshops for them. We have a summer school in May and a carnival which has some English language learning and activities. We have a couple of more courses in the rest of the year to help young people get that edge over speaking in English. 

Primarily, the library in Pune is a source of knowledge, and access to books and study material. It’s a study space and young people use it every day, all the time. Students go in there to study in air-conditioned atmosphere, with free wi-fi. 
We also work closely with teachers across Maharashtra; we are collaborating with the State government over Project Tejas. 
At the end of 2020, we hope to have trained over 48,000 teachers, benefiting around two and a half million students. This is in addition to the 100,000 teachers and five million learners, whom the British Council has already trained in Maharashtra, in the last decade. We are looking at teacher education because that will change the systemics that the Maharashtra government is looking for. It’s a long term plan. 

How do you see the changed role of the British Council? It has become a social space, holding more art workshops etc... 
The main role, as I mentioned about providing quality education, remains the same, and we will continue to do it. The nature of the library has changed because of its digitisation. We have a digital library of 115,000 books and 14,000 journals covering a wide range of subjects. 

Increasingly, in today’s world, libraries are less about having a quiet space to get a book off the shelf and more about becoming cultural centres. This is why we are offering fun activities through our library today. There is something for 

What changes are in the offing? What are the readers demanding? 
We are in a digital age and increasingly, everything is going online. That’s why we have our free wi-fi and we also have activities in the library. We have had many digital campaigns like Mix the City, Mix the Body that engaged young people. We are engaging entrepreneurs through talks and workshops. 

Personally, would you prefer to read a physical book or an e-book? 
This is easy! I like the physical copy. But many people, I know, prefer the flexibility of the kindle. In Pune library, we have physical books and a massive online collection, which you can access from wherever you are. 

Come, celebrate!
It has been a year since the British Council moved to its new premises at Shivajinagar and they are celebrating this occasion with a host of exciting activities for children! 

Saturday, September 1
Get ready for an activity-filled day for kids under 10 years (11am - 4 pm)
Storytelling with Superhero Puppets
·     Create a new hero with an introductory Ballet workshop
·    Dream up a Superhero character with a writing workshop
·    Discover the superhero in you with a screening of Frozen
Sunday, September 2 
Wiz kids of 11-14 years age unite for these events (11 am - 4 pm)
·     Ignite the Superhero in you with a Photography workshop
·     Write a story about Superheroes
·    Dance away like a Superhero with Zumba Fun workshop
·     Awaken the Superhero in you with a Robotics Workshop

Registration:  Register for the workshops based on your child’s age on September 1 or 2. 
Members: INR 600 per child; Non-Members: INR 1800 per child
Address: British Council Pune
Ramsukh House, third floor, Ganeshkhind Road,
Near Sancheti Hospital, Shivajinagar

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