Pandemic is the perfect time to build community libraries, here's why - Times of India


The Coronavirus pandemic seems to have brought our fast-paced lives and the world to a halt, forcing people to stay safe at home. While these are unprecedented and uncertain times, it is also a time to pause, sit back and reflect upon our life and choices. The year 2020 is all about changes– be it in our lifestyle, ourselves or the society. With work-from-home opportunities and decreased commute, people now have more time in hand to explore various indoor hobbies which makes reading a great activity, not just to escape the harsh realities of life but to also grow as a person. While readers are trying to find some solace in books, many people have also picked up this hobby in the past few months. Confirming that people are now reading more than before, Akriti Tyagi, Head- Marketing at HarperCollins India told us, “According to the latest Nielsen Consumer Survey Report – Yes! They are consuming books in all three formats (physical copies, ebooks and audiobooks). There is a lot more off take.”

Indeed, people are not just reading more but are also joining digital book clubs or attending digital events to e-meet their favourite authors from the comfort of their homes. For instance, actress Sonali Bendre Behl not only shares her reading recommendations on her book club, but recently she also hosted a Zoom party for her book club followers. Meanwhile, many celebrities world over are encouraging people to read by sharing their reading lists, discussing books and ideas, or even reading books aloud to young readers. Be it Sonam Kapoor Ahuja who frequently shares her quarantine reads, Michelle Obama who read picture books to children online, Kalki Koechlin who narrated a picture book on coronavirus to young readers, Oprah or Reese Witherpoon sharing their book club picks each month — the list of celebrities inspiring people of all ages to read more is endless.

Meanwhile, there are some other celebrities and authors who are encouraging people to share the joy of reading with others by creating community libraries and donating books. This is especially important these days considering that many people don’t have access to good literature. There are various reasons to it– either some people can’t afford good books, or they prefer to borrow rather than purchase new books considering space constraints, or it’s hard to get book recommendations from people who know your taste, or the simple fact that it is sometimes difficult to get books these days considering lockdown and the pandemic’s effect on various businesses. Whatever be the reason, it is nice to live in a place with lending libraries to fuel your reading habit but unfortunately that’s not always possible everywhere. There are some people who are less privileged and community libraries are great resources in such situations. Recently, news of small community libraries being opened up in different places in Balochistan caught international bestselling author Paulo Coelho’s attention. The idea is to convert unused buildings or places previously misused for drug consumption into small community libraries in towns and villages so that people and young readers get a glimpse of the outside world through stories and books. Impressed by the good work, Coelho had tweeted about the initiative and even asked his followers to “send books to Balochistan”. Back home in India, actor-writer Manav Kaul recently shared a picture of a little free library in his residential area in Mumbai. The little library is a cute box full of books and the idea is to “take one, leave one” book thus maintaining the decorum of a community library. The post had gone viral and actress Richa Chadha also commented on it saying that she has left quite a few books in that library. Kaul’s post about free community libraries sparked a conversation online about the need to build such lending libraries in residential areas across India.

It’s not just celebs who are inspiring people to take up such heart-warming initiatives. Recently there was news about a library on wheels started in Chandigarh. Sandeep Kumar, founder- NGO Open Eye Foundation, started a small library in a minivan to give books to students who are in need of them. A few months back, pictures of a small roadside library in Aizawl, Mizoram went viral when it was posted on social media by IFS officer Parveen Kaswan. His tweet read: “Now this is what every city must copy. Mizoram’s capital Aizawl has a couple of these tiny roadside libraries. Libraries are the best investment for nation building. Northeast showing the way.”

And if you are wondering about cleanliness and hygiene in a community/ lending library, especially in Covid time, then here’s a simple way to sanitise books. Most of them have glossy covers and they can be cleaned by wiping with alcohol-based sanitizers. Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the books.

If the pandemic has made us reflect upon our lives then it has also made us realise that books are one of the essential items needed to get through being at home. We can’t be glued to the screen the whole day; books help us unwind after a long day of work by not just entertaining but by also imparting knowledge. If you already are an avid reader, then make sure to promote the idea of little free community libraries so that more people are encouraged to pick up this habit. As Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has rightly said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”. Afterall, change begins at home. So, how about taking the initiative of building one such free library in your own residential area?



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