The afternoons are a special time for the children of Chagaletti, a tiny village located 23 kilometers from Bengaluru. While the elders take a quick nap after a heavy lunch and the village atmosphere turns placid, the children get busy reading and discussing stories in their “favourite place” – Chagaletti Makkala Granthalaya (Chagaletti Children’s Library).

The 10-year-old establishment, inaugurated on August 14, 2010, is a “truly unique space”, said Shalini PV, one of the six founding members of the library, who was a class eight student at the time. Now, Shalini works for a Bengaluru-based software firm and has her reasons to be proud of the library she helped start.

The award-winning library is run entirely by children, who are also its readers. Within eight months of being established, it won the prize for best community library, an annual award given by the Hippocampus Reading Foundation, a Bengaluru-based NGO that works in the field of education and libraries.

“First, it’s hard to find a library in an Indian village,” said Shalini. “Second, it’s a children’s library. The children take care of the management, from borrowing, returns, inventory and maintenance, they do everything,” Shalini’s words are echoed on the graffitied walls of the library – “By the children for the children of the children library.”

The writing on the wall.

Like everything else across the world, the library too “took a pause” in 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “But it was a brief lull,” said children’s rights activist Nagasimha Rao, stressing that all Covid safety measures are maintained. “A difficult one, though. We reopened it. It was a collective decision. We can’t keep the children away from books for long.”

In fact, the library is lodged inside Rao’s ancestral house in Chagaletti. After Bengaluru-based child rights activist Padmini suggested he open a library for the children in his village, he literally turned his bedroom into one. Padmini and Rao work together for the NGO the Child Rights Trust.

Since then, Rao and his younger brother Narasimha Prasad, an artist, have acted as the “guiding figures for the child librarians.” During the pandemic, Rao and Prasad encouraged library members to “invite children of migrant workers living on the periphery of Chagaletti to the library.”

“These are difficult times and we want to help the most vulnerable children,” said Prasad. The children from the library visited the families of migrant workers, most of whom worked at construction sites. They asked them to send their wards to the library.

Manasa V, Shalini PV and Narasimha Prasad (from left to right) pose with the award certificate given by the Hippocampus Reading Foundation

Today, 18 children of migrant workers have become a core part of the library, which consists of around 5,000 titles. Most of these underprivileged children have never been to a school. So, the library doubles up as a school to teach them the alphabet (both English and Kannada) and numbers.

The teachers, of course, are students themselves. “We teach them English, Kannada and Mathematics,” said Tanmayee CP, a class six student and an active member of the library. “We also teach them the basics of spoken English. After studies, they go through story books for beginners. In the end we play games together.”

Six-year-old Krishna K, whose father is a daily wage earner, is happy that he gets to meet so many friends in the library. “I like books with pictures,” said Krishna, showing off a nursery rhymes book. Krishna’s father Satish, who is from Raichur in North Karnataka, is glad that his child is getting to learn. “I know education is important for my son,” he said, “but we are poor people and we don’t stay in the same place very long. I will try my best to send my son to a school.”

The library members are hoping to enrol the underprivileged children in schools in the coming months, said Manasa V, one of the founding members of the library. Like Shalini and Manasa, the four other founders – Meghana CV, Vedhashree CK, Vanishree CK and Karthik N – who started the library as children feel that the “joy of reading should reach one and all.”

“We are lucky that Rao sir and Prasad sir trained us as children to run a library,” said Manasa. “It changed our lives. We not only love to read books of different genres, but also want every child to experience the joy of reading.” She has joined her family business – a small-scale food enterprise – after completing her education.

The library children with Nagasimha Rao.

The Chagaletti Children’s Library has 250 members, most of whom live in the neighbouring 11 villages. A child has to pay Rs 10 as a one-time fee, to become a member. Shilpa Anil, the newly-elected gram panchayat member of Chagaletti, has recently promised support. Her twin daughters are also members of the library.

“I am proud of the library and a tad jealous because growing up we never had storybooks and illustrated books to read,” said Anil. Rao and Prasad echo her. They missed reading story books during their childhood.

Before starting the library, Rao and Prasad got comprehensive training on managing and maintaining it from HRF. The brothers then trained the six founding members, who have now passed on the baton to a younger set. “We run the library in a scientific manner,” said Shalini. “We follow the Grow By Reading or GBR model designed by HRF.”

With the passage of time, the children of the village improved their reading skills and their appetite for books grew as well. After the initial collection of 200 books increased to 1,000, Rao built a separate room in his courtyard to host the library. “Our collection includes children books, illustrated books, novels, dramas, encyclopaedias and religious books,” said Vijay A, a class seven student.

The library is run on of donations and grants from individuals and organisations. “Generally, we receive books from donors,” said Rao. “We have received financial aid from individuals, mostly foreigners, who have visited the library. During emergencies we spend money from our pockets too.”

The success of the Chagaletti Children’s Library has motivated the CRT to open similar libraries in several villages of Bellary, Kolar, Gadag, Chamarajanagar, Chitradurga and Dharwad districts. “We are now working with the rural development and panchayat raj department, Karnataka, to have a children’s section in every village library and make every library fully functional,” said Padmini.

This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.