UCL News


UCL sponsored Indian library opens its doors

7 December 2009


Pupils in the classroom ucl.ac.uk/library/" target="_self">UCL Library Services
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  • A small public library supported by UCL Library Services opened in India this year. Here Liz Chapman (Deputy Director, UCL Library Services) tells us how and why the department got involved in the project.

    How did the idea for this project begin?

    "The idea of supporting stock for a rural public library in India was really a team one. Children must have access to books that stretch their imagination and expand their horizons. Setting up rural libraries aims to combat illiteracy as well as encourage early and lifelong reading.

    Good Gifts, a charity in North London, acted as an intermediary for us with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), which has so far founded around 1,500 rural libraries in India. 'Our' library is in the Barabanki area of Uttar Pradesh, some 40 minutes' drive from the state capital Lucknow, in northern India near the border with Nepal. It has been set up in one room of a village school."

    What is the aim of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation library?

    "The RGF-founded libraries are, for the most part, in rural areas and become a focal point for literacy training and children's reading in the areas they serve. They are usually placed in refurbished village buildings rather than new builds. Our support as library staff is for the community wherever it may be. We do not propose to send any UCL library materials to them, believing that the RGF know best what is needed. A 'librarian' has been appointed and trained with our funds."

    How did you raise the money to found the library?

    "In December 2006 UCL Library Services staff sponsored me and two colleagues to dash around all the UCL library services sites in London by public transport in one day. I hoped that we would raise enough funds to buy materials for a library, but we outperformed our expectations.

    "We raised £1,200 by 2007 through this exercise - enough to support actually setting up a library. Further funds from staff in 2008 meant we could send money for at least 100 books for the library and members of UCL's library committee also contributed funds for the project.

    "Money is disbursed by Good Gifts once a year in January and in Spring this year we heard where 'our' library had been set up, by a local charity called Lok Mitra, based in Rae Barelli."

    How does the library support the work of Lok Mitra?

    "Lok Mitra started work in 1997 to upgrade primary school education. It advocates greater parental interaction with the government and administration so that primary education and health services can be effectively delivered to women, children and the weaker groups in society. Lok Mitra also supports the idea that children who learn to enjoy reading at an early age continue to read throughout their lives and develop a love of reading."

    How did the local community get involved with this project?

    "The community gave full cooperation to setting up the library and activities with children in the region have already begun. There is a library committee made up of local people, representatives of the school and Lok Mitra."

    How have the children responded to the opening of the new library?

    "I was very lucky that after giving a paper on academic libraries at a conference in the University of Delhi I was able to travel to visit the library. I could see from the records that it was already being well used. There were substantial numbers of books going out on loan as well as being used in the library. There have been various activities to advertise the library; a competition to design the children's dream home, an essay competition and a Mehendi [henna skin decoration] competition.

    "The schoolchildren and their teachers were very welcoming during my visit and it was good to be able to give the kindergarten children pencils from UCL Library Services. I also took along a photograph of my library colleagues for the library to show who had provided the funding. This was immediately taken up and put in the school staffroom.

    I have to say it was a genuinely joyful day and I have been able to thank my colleagues and show them pictures of the library and the school. I know that the users of the library are very grateful and hope that we shall continue to support them."

    What are the aims and ambitions for this project in the future?

    "The aim of the project is to provide a facility for the whole village. For us the exciting thing is that this library sits in a room in the village school so it has an immediate user group. However it is open to all the community as was made clear when I visited in October.

    "We hope to continue to raise funds to keep the library well stocked for the future. I am making another 'dash around the sites' on Monday December 14th this year. This time the itinerary includes our remote store in Essex. Any UCL staff or students who would like to contribute to the library collection before Christmas are very welcome. Please give your donation however small to your nearest UCL Library. We plan to make this an annual exercise to meet the January disbursement date.

    The project could be widened across UCL to found more libraries in India. Students may well be interested in working with us on this as it chimes well with our strategic aims of International Strategy and Global Citizenship. However we hope to keep the initiative running from a Library Services base, recognising the original and generous efforts of UCL Library Services staff and providing some continuity of funding."

    Images from top: Pupils at the library; the school where the library is located; Liz hands one of the pupils a pencil; pupils in their uniforms. See the gallery of images for more.