Pune: Akshar Bharati, an NGO, has set up around 1,100 libraries in Zilla Parishad schools across the State over the past 11 years in an effort to inculcate and promote reading culture among unprivileged children in the age group of 5 to 15 years.
“Every child should have access to a library and get a chance to develop an interest in reading,” said Kedar Tapikar, Chief Coordinator of Akshar Bharati. Since April 2007, the NGO has reached more than 2,00,000 children in 13 states. The libraries collectively have in excess of 5,00,000 books.
Tapikar said, “We get requests from hundreds of Zilla Parishad (ZP) schools for starting libraries. However, we have to conduct a proper screening. We usually go for schools where there are no libraries or where there is a room or another appropriate structure for a library, but no books.” The NGO also shuffles books between the libraries at regular intervals to ensure that the children get variety, besides upgraded reading material.
“The interest of children may wane if we don’t provide them with fresh reading material. The number of books at a library depends on the number of students at the school. We also categorise books for primary and secondary students. Most of the books at Zilla Parishad schools are in Marathi as most of the schools are Marathi-medium. However, we also provide English books. The collections include story books, novels, biographies, comics, graphic books, etc,” Tapikar said.
Akshar Bharati also maintains student cards, log books, class reading charts, etc, and also conducts various activities like group reading, story-telling and teacher training to ensure that the books provided are actually being read by students. Apart from the libraries at the schools, the NGO also runs four ‘Libraries on Wheels’ (LoWs) in Pune and nearby areas.
“The main purpose of the LoWs is to support our school libraries. They help us change the books at the libraries. Also, the LoWs visit housing societies around the city every evening and get memberships from the people there. We get a great response from citizens through this initiative, as we now cover 44 housing societies in the city, and have a membership of around 2,500 to 3,000 through this,” Tapikar said.
Akshar Bharati now plans to target the urban sector. Tapikar said, “In our new project, we have contacted some educational societies in Pune and we will be starting Teachers-Parents libraries at many schools in the city. We have realised that while urban students have access to libraries and books, there is a need to take efforts to inculcate the interest of reading amongst them, and this can be achieved by getting parents to start reading.”
When asked about the criticism faced by today’s children for not reading enough, Tapikar said, “What I have seen is that young children want to read. It’s us who fail to fulfill their needs properly, that leads to their interest fading away. Children need to be provided the kind of reading material that will interest them, at the given age, and only then would they retain their interest. Parents and teachers have a major role to play here.”
APPEAL FOR volunteers
Akshar Bharati needs volunteers for initiatives, including ‘Libraries on Wheels’, and for setting up new Akshar Bharati Kendras. Those interested can check details on their website: www.aksharbharati.org.