Children's Libraries in India

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  CHILDREN LIBRARIES IN INDIA Aman Kumar Jha INTRODUCTION Children constitute around 40% of our population under the age of 18 years. 1  Over 250 central and state statutes concerning children guarantee them a number of fundamental rights including Right to Education that was made constitutional in 2009. Despite the right to study, there is decline in reading and math skills. 51.8% of Std 5 children cannot read a Std 2 level text. 72.5 % of Std 5 children cannot do a simple division problem. 2  Almost 41% of children drop out before they finish Class VIII, and 50% drop out before reaching Class X. 3  Among various reasons for this drop out, lack of a proper learning environment, absence of teachers and poor quality of teachers are the most impacting factor, particularly lack of children libraries with adequate literature and reading services. While both Central and State governments have made library mandatory in all educational set up particularly in schools through constitutional obligation, primary and upper primary level government schools have inadequate children’s literature. Children in most villages and slum communities do not have access to libraries. Public libraries in India have been developed for mixed age group of people wherein children hardly get a suitable environment and literature to read. Many surveys have concluded that reading habit among children has been on decline due to lack of proper encouragement and learning environment. There are some scattered initiatives in the private sectors and their focused approach in the development of children libraries in India has given a ray of hope. We have yet to see any concrete effort in this direction. Library system particularly children libraries in India has been a subject of neglect at both central and state level. India is yet to enact a central legislation on libraries to encourage states and central government for mandatory implementation of the libraries dedicated to children. In  India, library is not in the concurrent list of the Constitution and hence there is no hard core  planning for setting up children libraries. Though public library development is a state subject under the Constitution, the legislative framework in many states is not flexible enough to  provide the required legal support and financial backing to libraries 4 . The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has made several commendable recommendations to reform the library sector in its report. Its Community Knowledge Centres would play a crucial role in the development of libraries for children in rural areas. NKC’s further recommendations towards making school libraries open for rural population is a step in the right direction. This will optimize the resource utilization by the local children as well. 5  Prior to NKC, several commissions & committees were set up to reform library sector and their recommendations were submitted to the government stressing the need to constitutionalise library system in India. But no concrete steps were taken by the decision makers to prioritize children libraries in India particularly in rural areas. Many countries have constitutional provision of having a national library for children and young adults. Russia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Australia, USA, Canada and the European countries have well established children libraries both at national and local level. Central Government Initiatives Central government has tried to encourage its centrally funded schools to promote learning and reading culture among children and to have appropriate libraries for students. A functional school library with an appropriately selected set of books has been made a must for every school in the 11th Plan under Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). 11th Plan Working Group Report on SSA and Girls Education however, emphasizes on the capacity enhancement for libraries at elementary school level but the fund allocated seems insufficient to run these libraries smoothly.  Central Schools, Navodaya Vidyalayas and Public Libraries set up by Central Government have a dedicated sect ion of children’s literature including textbook in their libraries for children between the age group of 5 to 15 years. These schools have appointed professional librarians to inculcate reading habit and provide information services to children. Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation (RRRLF) gives financial assistance to Central/State Government sponsored children library or government run public library with children section. Government has established Jawahar Bal Bhavan in remote areas enhancing creativity among children in the age-group 5-16 years especially from weaker sections of the Society to supplement the learning system. There are more than 100 Bal Bhavans spread all over India. More recently, the Right to Education Act passed in 2009, mandates that each recognized school must have library facilities, with Library providing access to newspapers, magazines and books on all subjects available. There continues to be a significantly large proportion of schools without library facilities. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2010, only 63% of rural schools in India comply with RTE norms on the availability of library  books. State Governments Initiatives Till date 13 Indian States have enacted Public Library Act. Among them are: Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Manipur, Kerala, Haryana, Goa, Mizoram, Orissa, Gujarat and Rajasthan. However, these states do not conform to standard legislation and therefore follow a varied pattern. The remaining states and territories maintain state libraries, district libraries, and their branches either directly through a government department, or through a system of grants  –  in  –  aid to private libraries. There are 28 State Central Libraries in 35 States and Union Territories and only 30 thousand rural libraries in around 6 lakh villages in the country. 6  This means only 5% villages have access to libraries. Moreover, one can hardly notice good children literature in these libraries. Public Library   The Public libraries in India particularly national and state central libraries have introduced children section dedicated to children’s literature. The National Library, Kolkata has a separate division for the children with 28,000 children books, which are not lent out. The Delhi Public Library has a separate children section in all the service units including mobile vans. Membership is open to children of age 5-15 years and children can borrow two books for 14 days. There are many state public libraries and their branches, which provide library services to children, however infrastructure and resources in district and rural public libraries are in an extremely poor condition. School Library Currently there are more than 10 lakh recognised schools in the primary and upper primary level and 1.5 lakh in the secondary and higher secondary level in the country. 7  Government claims that no schools to be given recognition without a proper library infrastructure in place. However, if it is assumed more realistically that a collection with 500 volumes, 1000 volumes, 5000 volumes and 5000 volumes constitute primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary school libraries respectively, then only 3.22% schools have libraries. 8  This means 97% schools are either without a library or do not have adequate library infrastructure. According to 6th All India Education Survey report ‘as the stage of school goes up corresponding percentage of libraries also goes up, i.e. primary, it is 40%, the respective  percentage of libraries for upper primary, secondary and higher secondary are 80%, 80% and 90%’.  Private schools in comparision to government fare better in terms of library services for children. They however, need to maintain a high standard in the library even after affiliation from agencies like State Boards and CBSE not just on paper but on actual. Most private schools have benchmarked the libraries for children in the country as they maintain separate libraries for different age groups of children with rich collection of children literature and organize various activities to promote reading habit among them. The conditions of library
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