In Hoshiarpur, a green district of Punjab otherwise known for its natural beauty and serenity, two mobile libraries launched amid pandemic to keep residents occupied during lockdown and inculcate reading habit, have now become a regular feature.
Barring a few exceptions, the concept of taking books to every nook and corner of a city or a village on a vehicle aiming to create friendly reading spaces for common people remains an alien one in India.
However, thanks to pandemic that changed nearly everything, a Punjab district is taking a step forward when it comes to reading, book by book.
In Hoshiarpur, a green district of Punjab otherwise known for its natural beauty and serenity, two mobile libraries launched amid pandemic to keep residents occupied during lockdown and inculcate reading habit, have now become a regular feature. The two libraries are taking books to the common people who otherwise cannot access or afford them. From a rickshaw puller to tea-stall owner, a domestic help to a daily wager—these libraries on wheels are making common people pick a book.
The project was started by The Hoshiarpur Literary Society (THLS) when Covid was at its peak in July 2021, and two mobile libraries were rolled out, one each in Hoshiarpur city and surrounding villages. Incidentally, Hoshiarpur district has the highest literacy rate (84.6%) in Punjab as per 2011 census.
Seeing the good response that the two mobile libraries received, it was decided to carry on with the project, says Khushwant Singh, a noted author, Punjab’s State Information Commissioner and mentor behind the project. “The aim is open such libraries in each district of Punjab now,” says Singh, a native of Hoshiarpur.
Currently, there are two libraries which are part of literary society’s “Padh daa Punjab vadh daa Punjab” programme which was started to promote reading and literary activities.
Each mobile library, fabricated on an e-vehicle, has a collection of around 250 books each. The books are in three languages: English, Punjabi and Hindi and these include fiction, biographies, non-fiction, self-help, religion, philosophy, history as well as books for students preparing for competitive exams. “The electric vehicles were chosen with a purpose to make the whole experience eco-friendly,” says Singh.
The libraries have a schedule and each day they are parked at a spot (one each in city and a village) where maximum people can access them. At a nominal fee of Rs 200, one can take lifetime membership and also take books home after getting them issued.
Sanna K Gupta, president of the society says that libraries operate for five days in a week. Different parking spots have been earmarked to make the mobile libraries approachable to as many people as possible. We had started these libraries in July 2021when people could not gather for literary activities due to Covid restrictions. One library is parked in the city and one dedicated to rural areas. The support for the library has come from various quarters including the district administration, NGO Sehyog among others,” she adds.
Singh says that their society would be elated to collaborate with like-minded people, organizations or even administration in other districts who want to open such mobile libraries in Punjab. “Our aim is to bring knowledge to every doorstep. It takes around Rs 2.25 lakh to start a mobile library which primarily includes vehicle cost and salary of the driver. Books can come through donations and some titles also need to be purchased as per demand from people. For instance, in Hoshiarpur, there has been great demand for books related to Dr BR Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh so we had to buy some new titles. What makes this project heart-touching is when we see common people like laborers, rickshaw pullers, auto drivers, domestic helps etc coming forward and picking a book to read. We need to make books accessible for all,” he says.