“The research is clear,” says Mridula Koshy, writer and trustee of The Community Library Project (TCLP). “Literature helps build empathy, be kind to our neighbours, and if we lock up books and knowledge, we as a society are shooting ourselves in the foot.”
A fierce advocate of public libraries and engaged with TCLP since 2015 (an effort that has since set up three community libraries i.e. free-to-borrow libraries in Khirki, South Extension Kotla, and Sikanderpur, Gurgaon, with an evolving catalogue of 35,000 titles), she believes that libraries are essential to any functional society. “And that’s why our society has arguably become a bit dysfunctional now,” she adds.
“We don’t have many excellent free-to-access public reading spaces in Delhi,” says Koshy.
TCLP is holding the fourth edition of its book giveaway-cum-fundraiser at Indian Habitat Centre (IHC) on December 3 and 4. The format remains the same as previous iterations held at IHC, Alliance Française de Delhi and, once, even online (“Vidya Balan gave us a saree for the cause and we sold signed Gulzar books!”). Donate anything upwards of Rs 50 and choose a book from thousands of titles, donated by publishers and the public at large. Then, walk over to the pop-up library where you can pick out a book for free, sit in the open on sofas and durries, and read with other readers.
Also featuring a theatre performance by the Aaghaz Theatre group and a storytelling session in collaboration with the Kutumb Foundation, the purpose of this fundraiser is to involve the public in supporting free libraries, because, for centuries, reading has been a privileged activity and “has been kept away from certain communities.” TCLP wants to reverse that project and throw open its doors to everyone.
Of the libraries’ 7000+ members, most are children under the age of 18 but everyone up to people in their seventies is involved full-time in making the effort a smooth operation. “We want people from all castes, genders, and classes to be able to access our libraries,” says Koshy, adding that libraries aren’t just places where “musty classics” are stored. They are crucial to building communities in an age of digital divide and helping people access the information they need, she says.