Library Aunty

This is the story of a children’s library.

*****

Come evening and twice a week, the library came to life. It was not a big, or even a lavishly stocked one, and was run in the small balcony of a two BHK ground floor flat in a middle class housing society. The membership was open to all children – from those who were old enough to hold a book, to those in high school. In addition to the two rickety slotted angle shelves holding children’s books, there was the large book shelf in the living room holding the spanking new and gorgeous volumes of World Book Encyclopedia!  It was like the reference section in any library and anyone who wanted to refer to them had to sit there and read or take notes for their school projects.

The lady who ran it was not a trained librarian. She was a member and a voluntary home librarian of the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children. The Association lent 25 books at a time to the home librarians, which were then exchanged periodically at the main library. This limit on the books however didn’t work for her, since within days of starting her library, there were more members than the number of books she had brought home! She had to hastily add some books from her children’s collection so that she didn’t have to send away any child disappointed. Her elder son lent his books only after clearly inscribing them with his name to establish ownership! She later got special permission to get more books from the main library.

The subscription fee was a nominal one of Rs.2, which was meant to make the children feel that they were actually subscribing to the library and not getting books for free.

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At first only the children who loved books came in but soon parents began urging their children to enroll as members. Some were shy, others were curious and yet others loved lounging on the sofa and browsing through the books. Some children didn’t want to come and avoided the lady when they saw her in the apartment complex. She simply smiled and waited. Sure enough they began drifting in slowly, for most of their friends were absent on library days and they were also curious about the ‘thousands of books’ that were supposed to be there in the mysterious library! The numbers kept growing and soon there were over 100 children, not just from the society itself, but from neighbouring ones too. Library days were more eagerly anticipated than holidays.

The books were arranged in three sections – picture books, books for the slightly older ones and those for adolescents and teens. The books were mostly fiction, with some reference books but had no comics. She observed the children to see their reading habits, level and interests and gently encouraged them to take books that they would be able to read and would also find interesting. But if they wanted to borrow books that she knew were beyond them, or lower than their level, she still let them take them. They would find out for themselves what worked for them!

She sat with the smaller ones, helping them choose the picture books, sometimes telling them the story or reading to them. She helped the older ones with suggestions about which books to take. Her elder son helped in this and also maintaining the lending register. Since he had to take the books only on the stipulate days like the others, he tried to hide the books that he wanted to borrow on the next library day so that others wouldn’t find them! Of course he was caught and the ploy stopped working 🙂 But it was the youngest ones who came with their elder siblings to borrow books that stole her heart. She knew that they pestered their mothers to read them the stories and the way they acted all grown up, choosing what they liked warmed the cockles of her heart.

Within a few weeks, she came to be known as Library Aunty. Most of the kids didn’t know her by any other name and the elders too soon fell to addressing her as such.

She organized drawing and creative writing competitions for various age groups and invited her friends in the field to judge them and interact with the children. But the high point was the quiz competition conducted by the famous children’s writer and her good friend, the late Dilip M.Salwi. His books on science have demystified the subject for children and he has written all genres, including science fiction and plays. His science quiz books especially were very popular with kids. It was a special day for the children as they got to interact with the celebrity writer, who mingled easily with them without overwhelming them with his personality. It was a great loss to children’s literature when he passed away in 2004, barely into his 50s.

A couple of years ago, when the lady returned to the locality that she had left over two decades earlier, she was greeted enthusiastically by the now grown up children and their parents. They had not forgotten the Library Aunty, who had turned a whole lot of them into readers for life.

****

 Over the years I have earned many sobriquets, but the one I cherish most is — Library Aunty.

I have already told you how I became one. Let me tell you why I became one. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, north-west Delhi was just coming up and schools in the area were more intent on academics than on extracurricular activities especially extra reading. At best they had tiny libraries which were there often as mere tokens than for encouraging the reading habit. Even parents didn’t give reading much importance. Starting the library was for me therefore the most logical thing to do under the circumstances.

And I was paid back — still being paid back manifold — for my efforts. When little children called out, ‘Good morning, Library Aunty!’ it made the day a little brighter. When I saw the kids discussing a particular book or recommending it to their friend, it made me glow. And when parents thanked me for taking pains to keep the library replenished regularly from the main library – which involved 50 km round trip — it humbled me.

Running a children’s library is not exactly tough, but requires a lot of commitment and love – both for children and books. When I read Rachna’s post about the librarian in her son’s school, who was actually discouraging kids from reading, I was reminded of that gentle lady who ran the children’s library at Children’s Book Trust in the 80s and 90s – Kamaljit Kaur. Her unobtrusive presence, her keen observation of children and their reading habits and her gentle demeanour with which she enthused them to read, were qualities every librarian should possess.

Libraries can be unconventional ones, run from anywhere — a park, a home, a school verandah. Innovation is often the name of the game — like Priti Gandhi’s mobile rural libraries. When I recently read about her pioneering efforts to popularize books and reading among poor rural children through her mobile library, I felt a special kinship with her. Do read her story.

The crowning moment for me as a librarian came last year, when a young woman who had been a member in my library, wished me on Teachers’ Day saying that I was the teacher who had taught her the joys of reading. What more can I ask for?

 

The other posts in this series on Books and Reading:

 Falling in love with books

Growing up with stories

Chacha Chaudhary and the reluctant reader

Comics – good or bad for children?

Images courtesy: Homepage- Pinterest.com  This page-Allaboutarchitects.com

58 comments

  1. My dear Cyber Nag,

    Here is a website for U and your readers:

    How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children

    http://www.missmoorethoughtotherwise.com/

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

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    1. Isn’t that wonderful! Thanks for sharing the link Joe.

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  2. alkagurha · · Reply

    What an apt day to read this post. I admire you for walking the talk. Not many have the passion to give back to the society. I am sure the kids will always have a special place for you in their hearts.

    Saw your pic with Mary Kom on Facebook and read that post too. Proud to know you Zephyr.

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    1. The kids remember me alright, Alka. One of them who reads my posts has even commented here 🙂 It feels good to be recalled for something useful that one did in life.

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  3. 🙂 reminded me of the School library, had some good times .. well you see there was this corner which could not be seen unless you walk up to it 🙂 so you can imagine I was always in there .. TWO reasons No one could see me Sleeping in there 🙂 and the other when i was not asleep all the lovely girls would also come there he he he he 🙂

    I do like going to a library to read too.. but sadly that has not happened for a long long time and I regret that sometimes

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    1. Hope kids are not reading your comment else they will try to follow your example of finding a dark corner to sleep too! Good to know that at least at your age now, you have found that libraries are there to borrow books from and read 🙂

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  4. Sadly, the librarian in my school was somewhat of a psycho…she would make all kinds of personal remarks to us girls when it was library day and once she banged two girls’ heads together really hard when she caught them whispering!
    Luckily, she didn’t make a dent on my love for books but she may have discouraged many others! It’s a pity more people like you don’t exist who actively encourage kids to read!

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    1. More weird librarians! Rachna’s post about the one in her son’s school made me write this one. I am not too comfortable about selfie posts, you see 🙂 Seriously, that was such a terrible thing to do to two innocent kids who were whispering and am I glad that she didn’t make you go off books. Read on and make the A’s read too!

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  5. This was indeed beautiful to read! Why do most Indian parents not read to their children? Because they themselves have not discovered the joys of reading. Somehow we have gotten away from reading, curiosity, creativity, and imagination to paper diplomas, ranking, and high income careers. This is why we have people making fantastic salaries but so little original research coming out of India because kids miss out so much when they don’t read.
    Thank you for giving so generously – we need more people like you to revive our culture.

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    1. I loved your observation about our children going further and further away from creativity, curiosity and imagination and so not becoming researchers or inventors. Even in the earlier generations there were parents who never realised the importance of reading, books and creative pursuits. And apart from those who still managed to turn to books, there are all those young and old adults who have no value for books out there. That is a scary thought, isn’t it? On top of it all, we have terrible librarians and teachers who actually put off all except those kids who are seriously hooked to books 😦

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  6. Hi Zephyr, It is great to know that you ran a successful home library. I have been thinking about it for some time. I was thinking whoever joins the library should bring 5 books and keep it in library for 1 month for others to read, and replace by 5 other books. That way variety of books will be there to choose. Most of the books are one time read and children wouldn’t mind sharing. After reading your post, I’m finding lot of enthu of start. Not worried about success of the library. At least few children will definitely find it interesting.

    My younger son gives read book as birthday gift to his close friends. He enjoys giving his best books and is happy built up suspense and wait for his friend to finish reading and discuss, share jokes!

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    1. Great to know that this post has revived your idea of starting a library for children. A home library is mostly run by instinct, with a lot of love and passion for both books and kids. I am sure your book-loving son will come up with ideas to make it run well and also help you. My only suggestion is for you to keep more books because it will attract children to come and browse and pick up a book. Wish you all the best.

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  7. Your wonderful post triggered something. I grew up in Pune at a time when there were libraries in every locality. More of Marathi literature, given the area in which we stayed, and our school had a great library where we could borrow English books to take home every week, during a library period. And I had a secret ambition about starting a lending library after I retired. The idea of being amidst so many books , to be read at will was just too attractive. While other life commitments have taken precedence over the years, your timely post has strengthened my resolve to follow my ambition once again. I despair at modern kids going click click in their spare time.

    I want you to come and inaugurate it, and talk to the kids. We will revive the Library Aunty once again, and after everyone has chosen books, and left, you and I will enjoy a decent cuppa and pohe amidst the books ……

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    1. Wow Suranga! You have made me feel so important 🙂 A library with reading kids is a pleasure to behold and be part of. If for me libraries held so much attraction after just spending those summer vacations in my grandparents’ house books room (magic room), it must surely have motivated you to run a library after being part of several libraries during your growing years. Looking forward to the books, chat and of course the cuppa and pohe 🙂

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  8. You are and always be an inspiration to all of us. You touch and enrich so many lives in your unique loving way. I don’t know why, but by the time I finished reading your post, I was misty eyed.

    I’m so proud to have you as a friend.

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    1. Thank you for the lovely comment, Purba. As a teacher you must have touched so many young minds and hearts too, the memories of which must have made you misty eyed 🙂

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  9. This is something that I have been dreaming about doing. I want to convert one of the rooms in my house into a library. Running a library is not easy by any means. You are awesome.

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    1. If the children in your neighbourhood are parched for books and reading, go right ahead! Kids always love an involved person who interacts with them freely and makes them feel at home. Oh yes, you are right. It needs a lot of hard work and commitment.

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  10. Wow. You’ve inspired so many people to take up reading. Salute you for that.

    I’m sure all those kids, who were at the receiving end of your gesture, would be eternally thankful to you for having introduced them to the world of books 🙂

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    1. All I know is that the society and its residents still remember me as Library Aunty and one of the readers has commented here (Deepta Vivek) 🙂 I feel blessed many times over, Ashwini, more than I have inspired the kids.

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  11. How heart-warming it must be to have contributed so much to so many. What better gift to others than the gift of a joy of reading and what else is teaching all about but a kindling of curiosity?

    Apropos Rachna’s librarian – I have mentioned there as well. As a person, she needs to be better than she is. But a system that respects people only on money/possessions will never ENSURE that people with dedication to what they do will come in to teaching OR as librarians, unless they become better paid than they are. People with ability and dedication tend to be drawn away to more lucrative areas, leaving time-servers AND people with personal passion to fill the slots. It appeared like THAT librarian was one of the time-servers.

    The system, therefore, ensures that we depend on people with a personal passion to come in to fill the gap. It is luck that we still have so many of people like you but how long can we expect to sustain on this basis? To gain respect exclusive of the money you make, you need to devote a lifetime of passion and be considered good at what you do – and so long and unrewarded an effort can only come out of personal passion that disregards social reactions.

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    1. You are right about teaching having become a second or sometimes even the last choice of a career today, since the burden and recompense don’t even out. Don’t you think we lack commitment to what we do as a people? Very often it is not the joy of the work one does but the fear of losing it or the need for the money that makes us give our best to our jobs. That being so, it is no wonder that teaching and allied jobs have become just that — jobs. Unfortunately we have nothing called an aptitude test for any career, which I feel is a must for such jobs that deal with children, be it teaching, running a library or being a counsellor. So we have the handful of them giving their heart and soul to their vocations and making a difference in the lives of the children they touch.

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    2. Yes! Zephyr! The ‘What’s in it for me’ syndrome drives all that we do. A subject that I can get rather tiresome about on my blog with my repetitions of the same theme and the allied theme of how the only answer to ‘what’s in it for me’ has turned out to be money these days. A sort of oxymoron but I feel that a life chasing money is such a poverty-stricken life

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      1. That is part of the I,Me,Myself syndrome, Suresh. Getting something out of everything is the logical extension of this. I agree that a life chasing money for the sake of money is completely counterproductive.

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  12. You’re a rock-star! Loved this post as it brought back memories of my school Library. Fortunately, they stocked a huge collection of books and I was always looking forward to the ‘Library Period’. The Librarians kept changing and I can assure they were only bothered to keep the noisy kids quiet by hook or crook. Not sure if they had any interest in reading or inculcating the habit in children.

    But, I always looked forward to this 30 minute break where I could choose two books to take home and indulge myself. Many a times, I found more than two – and just like your son I used to hide them in shelves no-one usually bothered to check- so that they could wait for me without being touched.

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    1. I can just visualise a little Akanksha stealthily pushing her favourite book into the far corners of the library to take the next time around. When one is crazy about books, such sly behaviour is perfectly normal 😀 Would you believe if I told you that the librarian (now deceased) of a premier technical institute in Delhi couldn’t even write a para in English or even speak that language? Mind you, it was a technical institute with all English language texts. Most librarians think that it is enough to know the technicalities of librarianship. Maybe it was true in her case as it was more important to keep the books in proper sequence and order. But unfortunately that is the case with other librarians too, even in children’s libraries. You were lucky to be in a school that actually had a library where children were encouraged to take and read books.

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  13. Kudos to one who has been instrumental in reviving the dying habit of visiting libraries and reading books, from from the Elementary School level. Reading books is not a past time, but an investment in acquiring invaluable knowledge in subject of one’s interest. Really, hats off to you, for fostering this, which pays dividends, only after, one acquires the habit and becomes an avid reader.

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    1. How rightly have you pointed out that reading is not a pastime but an investment for acquiring knowledge! I used to encourage even tiny kids hardly three to come and borrow books. Some even cautioned me that they might tear them, but not a single book came back damaged or even dog-eared. Tney were so proud to be members and responsible ones at that.

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  14. That was a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing this wonderful facet of your life with us.

    As R’s Mom said initiating children to reading is one of the best gifts one can possibly give.

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    1. You are welcome, Deeps. I thought it logical to write about my library after doing that series on books and reading. Do read the other posts to which I have given the links at the end of this post. You might like them.

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  15. You are a rock star..but you already know that eh? How cool can you get..no really!

    I am so astonished you never told this story before to us…what a lovely lovely lovely thing you have done for the world…Initiating kids to books is one of the best things people can do to children..and you just did that *salutes and so proud of you*

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    1. There are many stories I have not told the world, R’s Mom 😛 I am glad you find me a rock star, provided it does not mean a Rock as in stone 😀

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  16. That was indeed an admirable work by you undertaken voluntarily by investing your time and energy in running this library. I am sure the varied books you painstakingly collected and the gentle guidance you gave must have shaped the young minds and stoked fires that lay latent in their hearts..You had acted somewhat as a trigger, letting the children roam free in their minds amidst the books you exposed to them and develop an interest in reading. You must have for all the efforts put in rejoiced at the discovery of kindled spirits and there lay the reward for all your good work. You had richly earned the sobriquet ‘Library Aunty’ and gone several notches up in my esteem.

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    1. Those were the days, KP! They were worth the time and energy, as you can see from the comment by Deepta. She was one of my best readers in that library and also the girl who crowned me ‘teacher’:) I am not sure that all the children became readers when they grew up.but they certainly had good exposure not only to books but the world of books, writing and writers. I feel fortunate that I belonged to a community that helped me in my efforts by coming for events organised by me and gave a glimpse of that world to the children. I feel blessed to have made the cut in your estimation 🙂

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  17. What a beautiful post and its really a pleasure knowing you ! I wish we had more Library Aunties in every neighborhood who can inculcate the joy of reading in young children !

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    1. Thank you Moonstone. But as I said in another reply, home libraries might not work in modern housing societies of the metros anymore for various reasons. But they still have great scope in smaller places, villages and remote towns where libraries are hard to come by and books even harder. Come to think of it, it is those places that we need people to set up such libraries. Kids will simply love them — even in today’s age of gadgets and google.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. In the 80’s I was also running a library and had good readership, but today in my building one of my retired friend has been working hard to run it, we have extensive collection but no readers and inspite of many activities we couldnt bring the children to library..though its free…

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    1. Those were the days when reading was taking roots, Renu. That is when my library had run well too. Also, now there are too many distractions for children in the form of TV, computers and other gadgets to hold their interests. So the kids who read then, are bringing books and reading into the lives of their own children. This generation I am afraid has to find the charm of books or miss out on something precious in their lives. Fortunately e-books are making a big splash and might just lure them. It is indeed sad to see your efforts come to nought.

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  19. Zephyr, I never had the privilege to stay near a Library Aunty, but fortunately there was a Delhi Public Library nearby and a one little further, where I would take my younger brothers to read all kinds of books and bring two books for a fortnight and return them to get another lot! A sheer blessing, that habit formed early has stood by me! I also am doubly blessed to know you now!

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    1. Home libraries are a success only where there are no other library nearby as mine had been. Besides I had a readymade readership, who lapped up the books and facilities. Didn’t I say that West Delhi was just coming up? South and central Delhi by comparison had all the best schools, libraries and events. you were indeed lucky to be near a Delhi Public Library branch. I used to think that they had a wonderful collection.

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  20. Wish I had lived near you then!!!

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  21. Found In Folsom · · Reply

    That’s why I love you, Library Aunty! Having a home library is one of my long term/time dreams. 🙂 You know BM, whenever I go to any garage sale or rummage sale, all I look for is books first. Whether I read them or not, is a different story. I buy them and keep them 😛 I wanted to start a Telugu home library in Folsom as there are plenty of English libraries everywhere here, but couldn’t materialise it 😦 I even tried talking to the Library people to open a section for Telugu books but that didn’t succeed either. Now, something is itching me inside to start something on a very small scale. How about maintaining books by Indian authors like Ruskin Bond and such…we don’t get them in the libraries here. You have planted a seed…long live Library Aunty!

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    1. Good idea, Lata. Starting a library is easy, but to keep it going is hard. You see, a home library can only have so many books. Even when I had the facility of exchanging my books at the main library, the numbers seem small especially when you have many readers and discerning readers. I have recommended many not-so-popular books to children, selling them so enthusiastically that they ended up loving them 😀 I think my Association was more exasperated with my demands than pleased that one of their members had such a successful library! So unless you have at least a ratio of 1:10 readers:books ratio to begin with, it might not be a full fledged library. But why do you need a full=fledged library? Have a Telugu library for like minded friends and turn it into a book chat club. How do you like my idea? 🙂

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  22. I picked up the reading habit because of your library. Before your library, I was hooked only to Chacha chaudhry. But your library opened up a wonderful new world for me. Tom Sawyer, Alice in wonderland, The wonderful wizard of oz and the list is endless.

    Only recently I got to know your real name, till then you were library aunty.

    I still remember those days with a smile. The story telling competition and the quiz competition, it used to be so much fun.

    Thank you Library Aunty 🙂

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    1. Hey Deepta! It means a lot to me to have you here. You have a special place in my heart for more reasons than one including passing on your love for Chacha Chaudhary comics to Vinni 🙂 Sometimes when I feel down, I hark back to those great days and instantly perk up. I remember how disappointed one or the other of you would be when you couldn’t find the book you had wanted to borrow and tried to come early to beat the others 🙂 I was totally thrilled when the elderly ladies continued to address me as Library aunty recently when I was there 😀

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  23. I am giving away some of my books, since my home is too filled with books. Would U like to have some for your library? — Joseph M. Pinto.

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    1. My library closed when we moved to another neighbourhood, Joe. But I am sure there are many such libraries which could do with your valuable books. Perhaps you could start a library yourself? 🙂

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  24. Wow I wish I was your neighbour! But I am glad I had a similar experience at least. We had an English Professor put up her entire book collection onto shelves in her balcony; she opened it up as a circulating library and later moved it to a small shop that she rented out. When we grew older, in our summer vacations we would work as part time librarians just because it gave us an opportunity to sit there for hours to read any book we felt like 🙂

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    1. That must have been a wonderful time, Seeta, being librarians and reading books! Running circulating libraries with one’s collection means she must have had an enormous one. How I wish I had been her neighbour 🙂

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  25. This one warmed my heart. Made me tear up perhaps the after effects of being sick ;-). I am a member of a library called JustBooks. We select online and the books are delivered home. You remind me of Sid’s previous librarian. She was so warm and encouraging. She loved Sid and some of the affection was transferred to me. I always met her when I went for PTI just to chat. I feel so sorry not to see her anymore. I am sure Sid and other students will remember her for a long time. Library Aunty — I love that!

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    1. Never mind tearing up — by the post or because of your cold 🙂 I am glad the post touched a chord. As I said, a children’s librarian needs to love children as much as she/he loves books. Because it is important to be with the child to guide and help and encourage, especially if he or she has not had much exposure to books. Not that the avid readers don’t need some help. They do too and here is where a sensitive and gentle person is needed. I am sure Sid’s previous librarian must have been a wonderful person. And I love being the eternal Library Aunty too!

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  26. Super, Library Aunty 🙂

    For the first time, I find a librarian who is actually interested in reading and books! 🙂

    Destination Infinity

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    1. There are many librarians who like both reading and books, (which go hand in hand, don’t they?:) ) but not too many who love books, reading AND readers, because they are the ones who interact with the readers and make for an enriching experience.

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  27. You are incredible, Zephyr! Running a library needs lot of patience and your children also were involved, great! Many children must be talking about you to their children now…about the library aunty. Great post!

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    1. The kids were incredible, Sandhya. Deepta is one of my members and she has commented here. Her comment is my testimony 🙂

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  28. What a wonderful post, Zephyr. While I love libraries, I don’t think have ever been a member of or even visited a home library ! I did read Priti Gandhi’s mobile libraries and had shared it on TSBC FB wall.

    You are so right when you say that “running a children’s library is not tough, but requires a lot of commitment and love…”. This post of yours gives me added inspiration and encouragement to convert my own collection of books into a library, something that I have been thinking about for a long, long time.

    Just curious about one thing: Did you nag the children to read ? 😉

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    1. I think in today’s day and age, a home library might not be as successful in a modern housing society as it had been in those far gone days when access to book were limited for children. But one should endeavour to provide books for children who have no access to them and kindle the joys of reading in them, which is why the Priti Gandhi story struck a chord in me. Turning your collection into a library is a good idea. But hey! You stay too far away for me to become a member 😛

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