The community library came to me unexpectedly in 2016. I was in the metro with my friend and asked him if there were any free libraries near us because I was fed up of reading books on my phone. I didn’t have money to enroll as a member in a paid library or buy every book I wanted to read. Then my friend suggested the community library. He said it was situated nearby, and was run by Mridula Koshy, who had read to him in the past.
I asked him to show me the library and decided to become a member the very same day. As we entered the library, Shaoli, a volunteer at the Community Library Project, greeted us with a smile. Even though this was my first visit there, it didn’t seem like that at all. She greeted us with so much joy! I will never forget her first words to me – “ye aap hi ki library hain”. When someone says that something is “your own” , you feel some kind of responsibility towards it. I think this maybe the reason why every member helps to look after the books and run the library smoothly. I did not need to do anything to be a member. I just filled up the form with general information (like my name, date of birth, phone number), and that was it! Within five minutes, I became a part of the library.
At the library I saw that all shelves were open and I had access to every shelf. At first, I was afraid to choose books. Then Shaoli ma’am reassured me that I could choose any book I wanted! This was unbelievable! The only library I knew before this was my school library, where, frankly speaking, we did not have access to every book. A few books would be kept within our reach and were to be chosen from, whether or not we liked them. I believe that we should have the freedom in any library to choose books we want to read and not have just those that are pre-selected by others. I got that freedom in the Community Library. Shaoli ma’am even helped me in choosing a book. That was my first experience and it was so overwhelming that it made me gravitate towards it.
Later, I told my friend how the volunteers were so nice. “See how they treat us, as if it matters more to them than to us whether we read or not”. Now I had two reasons to be in that library. First, my love for books. Second, the volunteers’ love towards members. They never made any member feel like they were unwelcome or that they were tired of them—even if we disturbed them a hundred times. They simply helped without complaining. The best part—all books are sorted into different categories, so you don’t need to work hard to find them.
When you enter the circulation room you see a board on the wall. You see some photos of children and now my photo is up there too. But when I first saw that board I didn’t know what it was for. I thought that it might be to honour students who read more books than other, but I was wrong. So I simply went up to Upali ma’am (our librarian) and said, “Mujhe bhi apni photo waha chahiye. Kaise aegi?” (“I too want my photo up on that wall. How do I do that?”)
She simply asked me to talk to Mridula ma’am.
Mridula ma’am informed me that the members in those photos were part of our Student Council. “Student Council? What is that?,” I wondered. But I wanted my photo up there, so I said, “Ok ma’am I want to be on your Student Council. What do I need to do?”
She sat me down and explained. The Student Council is a council of children who help run our library. She insisted that they were not monitors, but helpers. If I wanted to be a Student Council member, I would have to make a commitment. She gave me time to think and answer. Up until then I had only wanted my photo on that board. But now I wanted to help run this library. I had seen Mridula ma’am and other volunteers work hard to provide books to children and nurture their reading habits. They helped members become not just readers, but good readers.
Once my training was complete, Mridula ma’am gave me the responsibility of organizing an event on human rights for the youth in our community and library. That was a big responsibility for me. That’s what I like most about Mridula ma’am—she believes in everyone. For her, everyone in the library is equal—whether they are volunteers or in the student council or a member. She formed this beautiful library, she brought us all together, and she gave us all a new family. Mridula ma’am is a true inspiration for all of us. You should see her working in the library! Even though she is busy with many tasks, she notices every single voice in the library and answers them all—including mine. Even though I was not totally happy with my work, Mridula ma’am appreciated it and I became a Student Council member in 2016.
Becoming a staff member
After six months in the Student Council, I was surprised to learn that the volunteers were all impressed with my work and that Mridula ma’am wanted to offer me a job at our new library in Gurgaon. The job offer was unexpected because I believed that I was unprepared. But my happiest moment came when each volunteer said, “Yes! He can do it!” They were all very happy and the love I got was incomparable. The job offer made me very happy because I wanted to know what it takes to set up a library.
And now I am working alongside volunteers Ritika ma’am and Shubha ma’am to set up a new library. The three of us couldn’t be more excited. I am involved in every decision in the library and the three of us share our ideas freely.
I don’t know what the definition of library is for others, but for our project it is way more than providing books. The community library does not only give books to children but we also inculcate a love for reading. We have various volunteers who take time out from their busy schedules to sit with children, help them understand what books really are, and what role they play in their lives.
The community library helped me become a better person. I feel that change in me after becoming a Student Council and now a staff member. I feel more responsible. There are many times when I am not satisfied with my work, but Mridula ma’am sits with me and teaches me how to improve and do better next time.
Each person associated with the library is important, and we all help each other out. I am grateful to be around the people I have met in the library—every student council member, every volunteer, and every member is like my family now.
(All the illustrations are by Shivani -- a member of our Student Council)