Gram Panchayat Libraries in Anekal Taluku – A Model for the State

The University team engaged with the panchayat representatives and librarians to emphasise the vital role that libraries play in rural communities and how they can provide valuable services within the constraints of their available resources.

Gram Panchayat Libraries1
The Karnataka Public Libraries Act of 1965 came into force in 1966 and subsequently the Department of Public Libraries established a public libraries network at the state, district, city, and Gram Panchayat levels. In 2019, 5623 of these rural libraries were transferred to the RDPR department for their overall management. This transfer enabled local oversight of the rural public libraries at the Gram Panchayat level.1

Gram Panchayat libraries were envisioned as vital knowledge hubs for rural communities. However, due to a lack of awareness and the provision of limited services, these libraries are not being utilised to their full potential by the rural population, despite ongoing efforts by the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) to enhance library engagement.

Introduction

Karnataka has a long history of public libraries. The 1965 Act, which was enacted largely due to the efforts of Dr S R Ranganathan, the Father of Library Science in India, made provision for the education minister of the state to oversee the public libraries in the state. It also made a provision for collecting tax as funds for these public libraries in the form of a surcharge on all possible taxable units of state revenues. The District Library receives an annual grant from the state government (3 percent of the land revenue). There is also a provision to retain 10 percent of the amount collected towards the cost of collection by the local authority, and the balance to be paid to the library authority concerned.

Karnataka follows a hierarchy of libraries; the State Library is the apex body, followed by the city central libraries, district libraries, and gram panchayat libraries. Presently, there are 5766 gram panchayat libraries in the state, serving a large number of rural communities. In 2019, gram panchayat libraries were transferred to the Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department and renamed Gram Panchayat Library and Information Centres.

A renovated library building.
Credits: https://rdpr.karnataka.gov.in/gallery/Infrastructure/en

Gram panchayat libraries played a vital role during COVID-19 when they served to bridge the gaps in the learning of school children through different activities. Another effort, Oduva Belaku (the light of reading), was a collaborative effort of RDPR, the Education Department and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Azim Premji Foundation, Bharathiya Gnana Vignana Samithi (BGVS), and Sikshana Foundation. Rural library membership was made free for children in the age group of 6 – 18 years.

As a result of a collective effort, the Pustaka Jolige, an initiative that sows the seeds of the public library movement, was launched with the slogan: Naavu nimma mane bagilige, nimma ondu pustaka namma joligege (we are coming to your doorstep; please give us one book for our bag). The initiative resulted in the collection of 1.1 million books in donations, and 1.5 million children (68 years old) enrolled for free, adding to the regular library memberships. The RDPR also rejuvenated the physical structures of the libraries across the state.

About Anekal District

Anekal, situated in the Bengaluru Urban District, is a prominent town and taluk that has been steadily gaining recognition as an emerging residential hub within the city of Bangalore. According to the 2011 India census, Anekal had a population of 44,260 with a gender distribution of 52 percent males and 48 percent females. The taluk has a literacy rate of 67 percent, indicating a relatively high level of educational attainment among its residents. Further analysis of this data reveals that 56 percent of the male population and 44 percent of the female population in the taluk are literate.

Efforts by Azim Premji University

Azim Premji Foundation has been actively involved in this region even before the University established its campus in Sarjapura. Aligned with the Foundation’s social vision, the University has been collaborating with several gram panchayats in the vicinity. Among the various initiatives undertaken, the partnership extends to the development and improvement of gram panchayat libraries. The Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) and the Knowledge Resource Centre (KRC) of the University have joined hands to work with selected gram panchayat libraries in the Anekal taluk.

A session on Library Resources and Services was conducted for the librarians of gram panchayat libraries.

Many of these gram panchayat libraries often face financial constraints, which can limit the librarians’ capacity to offer an extensive range of services. Consequently, the teams initially engaged with the panchayat representatives and librarians to emphasise the vital role that libraries play in rural communities and how they can provide valuable services within the constraints of their available resources. This led to the initiation of various activities that require no additional financial support but can be effectively conducted using the existing resources of the libraries. Some of the proposed and implemented activities include:

  • Storytelling
  • Read aloud
  • Evening classes
  • Yoga and meditation camps
  • Summer camps
  • Computer training
  • Fun activities, such as dancing, singing or making bookmarks, etc.
  • Personality development workshops
  • Drawing competitions
  • Story-writing workshops
  • Celebrating special days, such as Gandhi Jayanti, Independence Day, Republic Day, etc.
Students engaged in a drawing workshop.

These services do not have any financial implications for these libraries, and hence, all the libraries are consistently conducting these activities. Additionally, the University team has monthly virtual meetings with the librarians to review the activities conducted during the previous month and to plan for the month ahead. To facilitate communication and information sharing, a WhatsApp group for the librarians has been created. It enables them to share their experiences and unique activities, thereby motivating and inspiring others in the group.

Impact of the association

These activities have effectively transformed the opportunities for librarians to engage and attract users, particularly children. Hence, there has been a notable increase in library usage in the villages. Many librarians are happy with the progress achieved thus far, as they witness a growing number of children participating in these activities with great enthusiasm. In some libraries, the positive impact has extended to parents, who have also started utilising the libraries and their services, further expanding the reach and impact of these vital community resources.

Implementation in other districts

The efforts have been quite successful in encouraging users to use library resources and services effectively. Librarians in other districts can also use this model without incurring any additional expenses. This will ensure that community-funded libraries are used to their fullest extent.

Conclusion

Gram panchayat libraries are playing a pivotal role in educating rural communities across the country. They serve as inclusive spaces that welcome individuals regardless of their educational background, gender, or caste. They provide invaluable sources of free information for reading and learning.

While many gram panchayat libraries in the state have made significant improvements in their physical infrastructure, the challenge lies in attracting users. Despite commendable efforts by RDPR authorities, including extending library hours and increasing librarian stipends, the lack of financial resources often hinders the implementation of various activities in these libraries.

However, some activities have shown great success in the Anekal taluk without incurring any financial burden. Therefore, libraries throughout the state can consider adopting these activities as a means to attract users.

Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank colleagues of the Community Engagement Initiatives, Knowledge Resource Centre and student volunteers who are supporting the efforts of making gram panchayat libraries vibrant spaces for village communities. A special thanks to all the gram panchayat librarians who serve their communities through the provision of information and other services.