Conventionally, the first lesson you are taught before entering a library is to maintain silence. You even find a notice or a poster – Keep Silence – in all libraries across the world. But not at One Up Library. Here, there is music and there is art. There is almost everything that can help a child bond with books.
“It is a place where we cultivate love for books among kids,” says founder Dalbir Kaur Madan, discounting the fact that a library is just the place to issue and return books. “Apart from what’s in the curriculum, there are many aspects of a child’s personality that need to be groomed. We need learning spaces apart from school and homes. Libraries are those spaces where a child should be guided towards the right books,” she adds.
Kaur is upset that schools don’t pay adequate attention to innovative practices or to make attempts to initiate kids into the world of books. She says sometimes librarians lack vision too and at other times, they do not get support from the school management. For the past nine years, she has been working with different schools across India, helping them set up libraries and develop learning programmes. “I often tell school managements to divert the funds for infrastructural changes to buy more books,” she says.
A one-of-a-kind project, which emanates from the sheer passion for creating child-friendly reading spaces, One Up aims to revitalise the idea of libraries from traditional, quiet, cobwebbed repositories of knowledge to dynamic, inviting and child-centred learning spaces.
“It was in 2011 that I started the first state-of-the-art One Up Library, Bookstore and Experience Centre in Amritsar. The 21st-century kids need spaces beyond schools that specifically centre around critical reading and thinking and promote curiosity, collaboration, conversations and community-building,” says Kaur, who moved to Delhi and opened the second One Up Library, Book Studio and Learning Lab in August 2017.
“Sometimes, your ideas need a bigger city,” adds Kaur, a lifelong learner who supplemented her Master’s in Education with regular professional development courses in reading, language and literacy and teaching methodologies from Harvard University. Kaur prefers working with the privileged sections of society. The annual membership at One Up Library is Rs 13,800. “The words of Dr Harvard Gardner always reverberate in my ear – ‘Privileged need to be raised with responsibility’. There are many who take care of the economically underprivileged – NGOs and other government organisations but the privileged live in their own well. They are unaware of the world around and how their words can impact others,” says Kaur.
In her almost decade-long journey with school libraries, children and parents, Kaur has initiated many young readers to books. “A lot of credit for guiding and advising me at all junctures goes to Bandana Sen, my mentor, who passed away last year. She wanted to open more libraries and have more librarians to guide children to the right books.” In the memory of Sen, Kaur has instituted the Bandana Sen Library Awards. “The idea behind these awards is to lift the community, celebrate librarians as also show them there is so much to learn.”
Spreading the word
At present, Dalbir Kaur Madan is working with The Heritage School, Vasant Kunj and Gurugram; Lotus Valley School, Noida and Gurugram and The Shri Ram School, New Delhi. At Lotus Valley School, Gurugram and Noida, she has set up classroom libraries in all the sections having 60 books each.