People & Spaces 16 and up

A Library Is A Space For Everyone: A Masterclass On Inclusion In The Library

This post has videos. All of them have been taken on a mobile phone by Ms. Jiggly Hands (yours truly) who was having too much of a good time. Apologies.

Bengaluru was privileged to play host to the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival on 2nd and 3d Sept 2017. A lesser known but vital workshop was organized by Bookaroo in association with Parag at the Delhi Public School, Bangalore North. The workshop conducted on 31st August was titled ‘Booked for Life – A Masterclass on Libraries for All‘ was conducted by doyen Usha Mukunda, founder-member of the Centre For Learning and Librarian Emeritus and author Arundathi Venkatesh. Key facilitators included Swathi Roy (Director, Bookaroo), Saha (Parag, Tata Trust) and Shilpa (Librarian at Delhi Public School, North).The focus of the workshop was understanding inclusion in children’s books through stories, characters and illustration and how to make the library come alive. Close to 70 librarians, teachers, principals, and educators from Bangalore and Mysore came together to learn a lot of new things and make a lot of noise!

The session started with a game and a short round of instructions. Quickly after groups were formed for a team exercise. Each team was given books from a curated set of books and make a short presentation on how inclusion was part of the story. Those who were lucky to get picture books could detail how illustrations were used to help children absorb the idea.

Different teams had interesting perspectives to offer about each book. Librarians and teachers put forth their ideas on the inclusiveness of the stories. Manju George, principal of the primary section at Sri Vidya Kendra -The Smart School opined that children themselves were highly inclusive. They saw each other for simply who they were. It is us as adults who school them about the differences between each other.

Librarians present how inclusion is incorporated in books through stories and illustrations.

Almost all participants agreed that children could be taught about the paradoxical idea about how we are different from each other, yet the same at the core. Special Needs teachers lamented the lack of literature for differently abled children and the general response to them – which varied from pity to a complete lack of understanding of them as full fledged individuals.

Both Usha Mukunda and Arundathi Venkatesh felt that the spectrum of books now available to Indian Children was vast, with authors bringing alive scenarios and situations better understood by Indian children. Inclusion is best taught by not overtly teaching was the takeaway from Usha Mukunda. She recounted how she took pains to read a story about a child in a wheelchair to a group of differently abled children and the children were indifferent to the wheelchair but supremely interested in the story. This she said taught her that stories were king for all children and care must be taken to present stories that show inclusion naturally rather than as some special construct.

The groups then went on to do an interesting exercise – making book jackets with a blurb and a group thought out design. They were given chart paper, sketches, and pencils. Oh, the joy! Like little school children, heads huddled the teams got down to work and came out with beautiful jackets for the books…some even rivaling the original illustrators.

A cross-section of the participants at the workshop

The workshop then proceeded to the second part of the workshop –How To Make The Library come Alive. Attendants were asked for suggestions, and answers were given.

Next, Usha Mukunda walked with a placard that said there was going to be an auction. Bidders were given erasers, pencils, and scales as currency and the auctioneers (workshop participants) started hard selling the books but for borrowing. Auctioneers were given books to pitch.

Discounts, pointing out to the beautiful illustrations and the many attributes of the book were pointed to by the auctioneers. The bidders quickly bought some but were reluctant with others. Finally, an auctioneer offered the book at 50% off! The whole exercise was lively, full of discussion and fun all around. This Ms.Mukunda said was one of the ways to bring the library alive. Don’t tell the children to be quiet in the library she gently told the librarians. Let children read and pitch the book. This will engage their peers and have them trying out different genres.

Arundathi Venkatesh then went on to demonstrate a storytelling session. She read portions of Manjula Padmanabhan’s ‘Unprincess‘ a collection of stories of feisty young girls who did not let their looks, colour or gender stop them from being brave, kind and vastly interesting. She emphasised that the book was a great read for both boys and girls and that there really were no girl or boys books.

Another idea to bring the library alive was to review the book by giving adjectives for each letter of the title. The sum of the adjectives would give the reader an idea about the book and pique the interest of those who haven’t read it.

The floor was then open for questions and workshop participants had several interesting and pertinent questions all answered with great thought and clarity by the panelists.

The session ended and the catalog of librarians marched out happily armed with ideas to get children more engaged with books.

You can read more by clicking on the links.

 You can read Usha Mukunda’s book ‘How To Set Up A Good Library’ here.

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