University of Nottingham: Nottingham historian founds public library in his home village in India

People living in a remote rural village in northern India now have access to a range of world-leading literature after a University of Nottingham historian founded a library in the place where he grew up.

Dr Arun Kumar is the university’s historian of modern India and Assistant Professor in Modern British Imperial, Colonial and Post-Colonial history. He was inspired to open the library in his family home in Kalyanpur, Uttar Pradesh after his experience of book poverty in his early years and his recent research on workers’ libraries in India.

© Sunil Kumar
The Rural Development Library is one of the first privately-owned village libraries in rural North India. It serves a population of 4,000 farmers, small shopkeepers, homemakers, and service providers. The library offers books in Hindi and English in its one-room space and people can borrow them for one month with no fines for late return. Subjects include science, medicine, maths, history, and literature, as well as entrance exam papers, textbooks, and children’s books for a variety of age groups.

Dr Arun Kumar, Department of History, University of Nottingham
Dr Kumar said: “I grew up with only the textbooks my parents could afford. When I went to Delhi University, I felt there were big gaps in my knowledge so my mission is to make sure the children and young people living in Kalyanpur today have access to a much wider range of books and literature.

“Reading is a privilege that few can afford in rural North India. It’s a region marred by social inequality, a lack of up to date and relevant learning resources and wide-spread poverty. The villages don’t have libraries and reading materials are generally limited to out-of-date textbooks and religious literature.

“During my research into the educational aspirations of working-class poor people in India I came across a network of libraries in a few urban centres in the region. It prompted me to tour villages in 2019 and 2020 to give motivational lectures encouraging local communities to set up their own libraries. I then founded my own in my village of Kalyanpur. The response has been very good and gratifying and I hope it will make a real difference to people’s lives and educational aspirations. The most regular visitors to the library are also the poorest and socially marginalised members of the village community.”

© Sunil Kumar
The Kalyanpur library is managed by Sunil Kumar. Sunil, 22 years old with a physical disability, left his small make-shift wooden grocery shop to join the library and prepare to become a schoolteacher. The library is stocked with donated books or books bought by Dr Kumar himself and the collection is growing. During the Covid-19 pandemic the reading room was closed but books were issued on loan for home reading. This year the library has held public talks and debates on education and reading culture in low-income villages in India. Hindustan, the local Hindi Newspaper, ran the headline: ‘Through the Library, the Professor has lit the torch of knowledge in rural areas.’

© Sunil Kumar
Jatin Lalit Singh, who runs the Bansa Community Library, has been critical in helping set up Dr Kumar’s library. He said: “It is really commendable of Dr Arun to start a library in his village and also in his own ancestral home. I have played a small part in helping him set up the library. We hope that these libraries in villages will inspire more people to use them and understand the importance of and need for free community libraries in villages. As a result more libraries will born and be the part of #RuralLibraryMovement. I firmly believe that one book, one pen, one student, one teacher, ONE LIBRARY will change the world.”

© Sunil Kumar
Sushant Patel, a 20-year-old student, from Kalyanpur, said: “I love visiting the library. It is peaceful and quite here. The best part is that I get books that I cannot afford to buy. I am competing for various civil services competitive exams and the library has come to act as a boon.”

Rajesh Kumar, a 55-year-old farmer, added: “The library has offered an alternative space of learning to my kids. Earlier kids were to roam and play in streets but now they have a place which they can avail if they want to study. The library has improved the overall environment of the village where a number of young children were getting exposed to alcohol addiction and gambling due to bad socialisation.”

© Sunil Kumar
Dr Kumar plans to continue expanding the physical space of the library, number of books and learning activities. He believes that in this age of digital literacy and misleading information, libraries have a crucial role of building a positive learning culture at local and global levels. Libraries are not just spaces where you get your books, but they are also spaces of solitude learning, meet up, and new ideas. If you wish to donate books to the Rural Development library, follow this Amazon wish list,

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