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Breeding bookworms

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Once upon a time, books used to be a child’s best friend. Unfortunately, over the years these best friends started to gather dust. That’s when three women from Bandra decided to take it upon themselves and start a library to help children rediscover the magical world of books.
Henna Achhpal finds out more...
What are your regular jobs?
Vibha Kamat: Vaishali Shinde works for an NGO, she has done a lot of work in development and disaster management. I teach French at St. Andrews College, the Alliance Francais and in a school. Sonal Bimal was working for GAP and now does sourcing for international brands.
How did the three of you get together?
VK: We actually came together because of our children. My older son goes to school with Vaishali’s daughter and my younger daughter goes to school with Sonal’s younger daughter!
How did the idea of a library come about?
Sonal Bimal: We’ve been looking for a library space for a long time.
VK: We approached some of the bungalow owners in Bandra and even tried to get a garage space but people were apprehensive about giving out their space. During my morning walks, I noticed the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal board but there was only a phone number. In November, last year, I called them and they asked us tomeet them.
SB: This space was reserved by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for a public library and was given out on a 30-year lease to the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal in 2003. They said they didn’t have enough manpower to run the place thus it wasn’t alive. So, we offered to take up the responsibility and told them that we would organise the manpower and other resources required to set up the library. We are under a two year contract and then they will take it from there.
VK: It’s entirely voluntary and a pro bono effort, we are not getting paid for it. Some of the money raised is personal, some has been given by the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal and most of it has been collected through donations.
What about the books?
SB: All our children read so some of them are personal books and a lot of friends have also donated books that are in good condition. People haven’t given books that they wanted to get rid of because they were tattered or torn.
VK: Some of the books have been bought by the money raised through donations. There are some people who volunteered to donate for example, Sameer Patil of Amar Chitra Katha offered to give us the whole collection. Some of the furniture and shelves in the library were made by an architect friend.
Are you focussing only on children?
VK: Since we’re just starting out, we decided to begin with children’s books since it is really the need of the hour. We do have one shelf for parents who come with their kids. Recently there has also been a boom in children’s writing and young adult fiction. Earlier, we had few Indian authors but now there is a plethora of quality Indian writing.

What are your long term goals?
VK: The aim is to get children to discover the magic of reading and realise that everything is not just a click away. We wish to build a community of children and a space for them to interact. Now, residential buildings don’t have playgrounds and children don’t find others of their age group. We wish to encourage them to come here and spend time in the company of other children.
SB: We’re also planning to organise activities that will make the children more interested and enthusiastic about visiting the library. We want to develop a cheerful environment as a result of which their love for books will automatically develop.
VK: We will be organising book clubs for different age groups, a film club for children and adults and other workshops such as creative writing, poetry and storytelling.
Why do you think reading as a habit is disappearing?
SB: Nowadays there are more distractions and the pressure of studies is tremendous as well. The only books children ever read are their textbooks.
VK: Children who have the habit of reading are usually those whose parents also read.
What’s the best way to encourage children to read?
SB: Reading to them is the best way. A warm and encouraging environment like this is a good start as well. It is best to just leave them with the books and allow them to discover their interests. School libraries have a limited time so children are not allowed to ponder over books. They have to quickly decide what they want or often the teachers decide for them.
VK: What we really lack is quality public libraries especially a child-friendly one.
How do you hope to spread the word about the library?
VK: Mostly through flyers in newspapers, posters in churches, schools, buildings and coffee shops in the surrounding areas.
SB: We are approaching schools to talk about the library in their assembly, encourage students and educate parents about the value of books and reading as
a habit.
VK: I think it will mainly be by word of mouth. We simply wish to set up such a good place that people automatically want to talk about it and come and visit.
How can interested people donate books?
SB: It’s best if they check the titles with us especially if they want to donate new books. We want to make sure that our collection doesn’t get repetitive and there as many diverse authors as possible.
VK: We have a wish list of books. For instance, the Asterix set is the most expensive amongst the comic sets so when our friends asked whether we’d like donation in cash or kind, we asked them if they would like to buy the set for us and
they did.

Where: Princess Building, ground floor, D’Monte Park Road, near Bandra Gymkhana, Bandra (West)
Contact: For further information on membership, donations or volunteering, call Vibha Kamat on 9820599549

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