If you’re a bookworm as I am, then you would just love Vidya Bhawan Society’s (VBS) mobile library. Such a simple but wonderful concept to inculcate the habit of reading amongst children! Post my visit, I couldn’t help but think how this is one concept that so needs to be replicated!
It was a Wednesday evening in Udaipur. Around 5pm, as the harsh October sun was setting, I hopped onto VBS’s brightly coloured mobile library van. Being Wednesday, the van was headed to the slum – Pulla. Seated at the back of the van, amongst 2 bookcases and several baskets full of books, I got many a look from both motorists and passersby; but just smiled at them as they passed by wondering what the van was about.
Set up in 2005, the mobile library visits a different slum every day. All slums have been selected on a very basic but crucial criteria – there should be space to park (at roughly the same spot) the van. In Pulla, the van stops right outside a government school. This spot works out well as kids take books/games from the van and play/read the same, seated in the veranda of the school.
We arrived to find a bunch of kids, right at the school gate, in anticipation of the van. Their excitement was truly infectious! And as the van halted and the driver and librarian got out, the kids literally surrounded them.
“Why didn’t you come last week?”
“We didn’t get a chance to pick up anything last week!”
“My exams got over and I was hoping to borrow two books last week.”
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier, we would have borrowed enough for two weeks.”
The previous Wednesday was a holiday on account of Dussehra. But it was great to learn that the kids had waited in anticipation for the van that day!
Many of the children were dressed in slightly ragged clothes; and most were barefoot. This gave me a sign of their family backgrounds. Most of these children are first-generation learners (hence, readers) in their families. Reading for pleasure is not something their parents did when young; nor do even today. The local/government schools they go to, do not have libraries. And given their parents income, buying items for leisure (especially books) is not a priority.
The effect the library had on passersby was also interesting. The colourful bus, especially when open, with children huddled around the back door, surely attracts attention. A gentleman on a two-wheeler, who happened to be passing by, stopped to ask some questions. He then returned 15 minutes later with his two children!
The library is well-stocked with over a 1,000 books. These have been categorised into NCERT, those with big pictures and less text (for the younger kids), and small pictures and more text (for the older ones). It was good to see that the librarian categorises himself, and so was in a position to advise children on what to borrow.
I also learnt during my interaction with the driver and the librarian that 10-20% of the books are not returned. Sometimes, books come back in a really bad condition. But the wear and tear of the books is looked upon as a good thing by the team. As it means that the kids actually read or at least went through the same. Talk about looking at the cup half full rather than half empty!
Despite its success, this is an expensive project. Maintenance of the van, fuel, stocking up books and monthly salaries of the driver and librarian on board come up to Rs. 1,750 a week. It was for this reason that in recent years, VBS has downsized the library’s reach to 16 slums (from 19 previously).
The next day, I visited one of VBS’s many orphanages. VBS supports a few orphanages, which are not able to take care of any kind of expenditure on books and stationary for their beneficiary children. The children thus require financial support not just for paying their school fees, but also for buying books, transport, stationary and other school material.
VBS’s overall aim is to ensure that poor, out-of school children get a chance to go to schools and receive quality education. In this endeavour, Vidya Bhawan Society runs many institutions ranging from schools to polytechnics and colleges in Udaipur district.