A student reads in the Centre for Learning Library


At Centre for Learning, a school in Bangalore, we have an open library both in concept and reality. This means that  there is free and open access to all material and resources, at all times of day and night, and throughout the year. Mutual trust and shared responsibility provide the ground from which this library functions. The rules and conventions of library interaction evolve out of a sense of co-operation, consideration and care for the community as a whole.

The challenge for the librarian is not one of policing and monitoring, but to perceive   and hold the library and its users as a vibrant functioning whole. This can only be done when the community of users feels a sense of ownership and accountability.

The collection in this library reflects the commitment to quality and excellence. Classics both traditional and contemporary can be found on the shelves. Staff and students are actively involved in the selection process.

An innovative in-house computer programme ensures that all users can borrow, return, search for, reserve, and conduct other library operations with ease. The facility of borrowing has been extended to former students, parents and guests.

The main library is located in a beautiful building which was designed by imaginative architects with ideas from staff and students. Its ambience and aesthetics welcomes and invites all users and visitors. Every student group has a weekly library period which is used for browsing, borrowing, returning and also for various activities to enhance reading and awareness of the library. Helping the library in various ways is an inherent culture of the place. Books in need of repair are restored  imaginatively and lovingly by students.

They also do projects to facilitate use of the library by creating bibliographies, making indexes and labels for shelves, posters and book marks, putting together a short video on the library and a brief computer guide for newcomers.

The open library at CFL is a happy and lively place.

The Open Library:

The presence of an active open library is vital in every school. It supports, responds to, and enriches the community in which it exists.

It is ….“ truly the heart of the school. Stimulating currents go out of it into every corner of the school.”    S.R. Ranganathan.

 What are the elements that make up the open library?

  1. Open Sesame:

To begin with, an open library has open shelves and open access. Children of all ages can walk in freely, look at, handle, read and borrow the books in the library. The librarian facilitates this open atmosphere. Mutual trust and shared responsibility are the hallmarks of such a library. An open library does not mean that there is no care or concern for the place and the collection. The rules and conventions evolve out of a sense of co-operation, consideration and collective awareness. Therefore the role of the librarian is not to police or monitor but to bring about a sense of collective ownership and accountability. This can happen best when there is a good relationship between the users, the librarian and the books. Listen to how a child perceives this openness.

 “I would like to be greeted by wide open doors. And beyond that I see a bright, airy library space. At the entrance, I see a soft board with interesting clippings, cartoons, some of my own contributions, announcements of new books, little notes to highlight key articles in journal issues, poems and puzzles. I enter and check out the display of new books. Sometimes this display has a topical theme,  at other times the theme may arise in my mind so I suggest it to the librarian and help her pull out the relevant books.”

                   What I really love is the way the furniture reflects my reading mood. There are sofas and cushions where I read the magazines or relax with a story book, a large table or tables and straight-backed chairs for me to do reference work and an open space for group activities.”

“ There are displays of projects done by my class or others that I can pore over, little objects here and there which have a story to tell, and art and craft work by teachers and students which make me feel this is truly ‘our’ library.”

“The part I love best is when I am browsing. I call it “prowling” because I feel I can roam around and find all kinds of material; books, CDs and DVDs, maps, photo albums, projects done by my seniors, books made by me and my friends. That is great fun!”

“ I find a shelf that says ‘books in hospital’ and I see repair material next to it so I settle down to give a book some tender loving care.”

“Finally, I LOVE the way I can choose books to borrow and go to the computer myself, borrow and return. I can search for books too. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you that I get a lot of help to choose books. The friendly, helpful librarian is available if I need her but she is not an in-your-face presence! There are bibliographies made by other students, activities that we do like book talks and book auctions which give me a pretty good idea of the ‘awesome’ books we have in our library.”

  1. An Open Library is open to all needs:

What does this mean? Obviously every school or institution library will have an in-house user body. But let’s look a little closer at that. What about the support staff? Are they included and made welcome with material they would be interested in? What about the differently-abled?  Does the structure of the library take such users into account? What about different strokes and different reading needs of your own users given their age, their inclinations and their abilities? What about teacher needs? Can one-size- fit- all really work?

So think on these things:

Be sure to try and have wheelchair access, books in Braille, sign language posters………. books in other languages which are read differently. For e.g. In Urdu, in Chinese, in Japanese ….apart from the languages already taught .Books of music….art, craft and other activities must find a place.

  1. The Library is an open house for teachers:

Teachers are the biggest asset for the library. They hold the pulse of the student and can make a big difference in their (students’) use of the library.

So get to know them, not only their subject needs but their other interests and strengths. Once you do that, you can alert them to any new resources or existing ones of their interest which they may have missed.  Ask them for suggestions of material they absolutely MUST have for their subject teaching, books which would be invaluable for further reading in the subject, and resources of general interest which would enrich the library collection.

Invite them to give a brief talk in the library not only on what they read, but also how they read. This is a fascinating glimpse for their students! Recently I attended such sessions where one teacher shared that for some time she has been drawn only to non-fiction and she told us why. Another said he reads two books at a time – one serious and one for light reading, both in fiction and non-fiction. Glimpses like these into reading patterns help students get a wider view of reading habits.

  1. Is the library open to future, past, present:

In the present age of technology, no library should still be a slave to the voluminous “Accession Register.” If your collection is not yet computerised, wait no longer. Start checking out good software programmes, both paid and free. Sometimes a parent or an old student takes it on and creates an in-house programme. As long as you, the librarian, are working with the person and make sure the software broadly follows universal conventions, all will be well. Ultimately it would be good to get onto bar coding as well if the budget permits.

So much for the present. As for the future, who knows? Everyone is excited about digital libraries. Is that the way to go? Can we have an open mind on this aspect?

As for the past, many libraries have started an archival collection. Apart from gathering archives of the school or institution, it would be a good idea to start gathering material which may appreciate in value as time goes by. The man on the moon….pictures of historic events…..people and things of bygone days.

From time to time these can be put out for display with a little background introduction. A learning curve for the librarian!

  1. A library must be open to new ideas and constant refreshment:

New ideas have to be refreshed every so often especially in a school or children’s library. So keeping that in mind, here are a few of my favourite ones:

Book Hospital: In spite of good care, books which are handled by so many people are bound to get worn out. So I have a shelf which says, “Book Hospital” and repair materials are easily at hand. You would be surprised at the number of children who check out that shelf and actually enjoy bringing a book back to health!

Adopt-a-book:  Each child selects a favourite book, series or author, and adopts them. So the health and happiness of the adopted book is the responsibility of that child. Children lovingly take on repair of the book if it looks a little woebegone. They also put up posters to tempt others to read it. Even recently an older child came in to check on his adopted book!

Listening corner:  Group listening to poems, stories and plays is done often but there is a charm about sitting in a corner of the library and be lost in your own listening space. So provide a player and some interesting audio material. We have unusual music, readings from authors, famous speeches and much more. Slowly this corner is bound to gather momentum.

Non-fiction to the fore:  Over the years, I had observed that at the middle school level, there is a sharp drop in non-fiction reading. I do not mean information books per se, but a wider array of true-life stories. So I set about deliberately looking for good material for this age group. The next thing was to ensure it did not get lost in the subject shelves so we created separate racks and called them Junior, Middle Level and Senior Non-fiction. This immediately brought about a spurt in the reading. We also sneaked in a clause that every borrowing should include one non-fiction book!!

The In-Betweeners:  Many of you may have noticed that at the pre-teen level, children feel insulted if you show them books at the junior level but they are also not yet ready to read senior fiction. So, in consultation with them, we recently created a special section called the In-Between Shelf which has worked out very well.

Beginning a rare collection: Some time ago, I got a recording made by George Bernard Shaw on BBC radio on his 90th birthday. That started me off on a quest for more such rare material, books, recordings, facsimiles of original editions. This is an exciting idea for the librarian, teaching staff and students to keep an eye out and add to the Rare Collection!

Talking points: Many times artefacts are brought in from a trip by the librarian, a teacher or a student and displayed for a while. Each of them has a tale to tell. We have a “Pace” flag from Italy from the time of the Iraq war and George Bush, a piece of brick from Lothal, a fossil found while exploring. Each of these engenders a little ‘talking’ to anyone interested, about the where, the how and the why.

Half-way home: After new books are displayed for a week, they are sent to their respective locations. We found that many times, they slip out of the consciousness even though they were so alluring while on display. So we have a half-way home shelf where new books stay together for the whole term before being sent to their respective subject racks. This is done so that any student or teacher who remembered seeing a book she liked can still find it quickly and borrow it. This idea too works well.

In-House publications: Children do a lot of projects in the library and in their classes. Some of them are in the form of books. We have made a special shelf for such material and given it a grandiose name! This is a very popular shelf even for old students who come hunting for their past efforts!

Mini-seminar presentations:  One of the rites of passage in the library is for each senior student to give a short talk on any subject of his choice before leaving the school. These need to be researched well and shown to a teacher before the actual presentation. The students display the resources they used and themselves suggest further readings to the listeners. Younger students and teachers attend this in the library and it has been a great success and gone on to their CVs when they apply for further studies!

There are many more ideas which can arise from your own interactions with students. So do add your own ideas to this list and pass it on.

A school library must reflect the active presence of children…their drawings, their loving efforts at book care, their projects, their ideas and their voices. It must truly be a student centred library.

 That is the spirit of the open library.