For Rose, pursuing BA Hons in English, the opening of a library in remote Chingmei village of Nagaland’s Tuensang district means more than access to course books. It has also opened her eyes to her own culture.

She says, “I have been reading classics and bestsellers but what I liked best was a book of short stories from the North-East, mostly folk tales from Nagaland. I got to know more about my own culture and literature.” Hilula, a BSc student from the same village, says the library helped her with assignments and inculcated the reading habit in the young. Hilula likes A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking. Library manager Changkhumba says there was much enthusiasm among the youth and children when the library opened. “Books are a luxury in remote areas. The book I thoroughly enjoyed was Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding,” he says.

Target of thousand

Thanks to library project Paper Bridge initiated by Sarvahitey, a Delhi-based, youth-driven non-profit organisation, in collaboration with Youth Online Learning Organisation (YOLO), over 300 libraries have been set up so far across the country. The initiative started in 2017 and the libraries first came up in one of the most backward districts of Mewat in Haryana. The target is thousand libraries, focussing largely on geographically and culturally remote areas. One such library has also been set up for inmates of Dimapur district jail in Nagaland. “Earlier, the inmates used to waste their time chitchatting or watching TV, now many of them are engrossed in their books. This not only helps them increase their knowledge but takes their minds away from the reality of their situation,” observes Nikaho Yeptho, Deputy Superintendent of the jail.

Ladakh too took to the idea with great enthusiasm. A library is now housed in Leh’s Chamste model school, a primary school with just 30 students, mostly from nomadic tribes or children of migrant workers from Nepal. The 700 books donated to the school include textbooks and fiction for children. Library manager Gyalpo says Covid-19 has forced closure of the school but that is only a temporary obstacle.

According to project manager Sidharth Kapoor, care is taken to ensure that books given to schools are in the language and of the level students can follow. The first step is mass procurement of books through donations by individuals, libraries and NGOs, then segregating them according to genre, level and usability. For example, a library in Shopian in Kashmir was given books in Urdu.

Project Paper Bridge is essentially a vision to bind India with a cultural thread through a network of libraries, says Prem Prakash, Co-Founder of Yolo. “The project will achieve its zenith when a kid using our library in Kohima writes a letter to some students in Kashmir.”

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi