A New Age Library as Hub of Social Change

Kochi: Dwindling small libraries, which once dotted our rural landscape, often serving as incubators of political, social and educational reformation initiatives, are getting a new avatar thanks to a group of three young entrepreneurs.

In a novel technopreneurial initiative, the team led by Sujai G Pillai – which includes Harikrishnan and Arijit – has launched a startup, One Library Per Village (OLPV), which has the potential to transform the educational scenario in the State.

“One Library Per Village, established in June 2014, aims at reducing the digital divide between urban and rural India by networking libraries, empowering readers with latest technological tools and creating a vibrant community of users and volunteers in villages. OLPV is not just a building stacked with books; it is a repository of information spurring ideas for the future, a community space for learning and inquiry, and an interactive space for divergent thoughts,’’ says Sujai. “Our motto is ‘Each One-Reach One-Teach One,’ until everyone acquires knowledge, and that’s what drives us at OLPV,’’ he adds.

OLPV was started as an incubatee of Kerala Startup Mission (formerly Startup Village). It has been set up with a vision of creating community spaces that will rekindle the social and educational spirit once nurtured by the fast-vanishing rural libraries and Sujai’s efforts in this direction are based on the three cornerstones of equity, lifelong learning and access, which lead to empowerment. The initiative draws its strength from the realisation that education generates substantive benefits only when knowledge is coupled with network and access.

Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) is the functional unit of OLPV which involves teaming up four to seven students into small groups according to their level of digital literacy. These groups, assisted by volunteers, learn to use computer in the local language – here it’s Malayalam – with the help of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) software. The participants get free access to internet through computers and tabs provided in these libraries. Their learning efforts are further supported by apps, software, e-learning resources and 35,000 tutors registered with 2tion.com, another one of Sujai’s startups. So far, OLPV has been successfully implemented in seven libraries in Kerala. For many of the participating children, OLPV provided their first internet experience. ‘‘The course taught me the basics. It helped me understand how technology could be used in everyday life. I am hopeful of using the exposure as I plan to join BSc Agriculture course,’’ says VHSE student Suryan, who is a member of Thrikkannamangalam Library at Kottarakkara. Apart from children, women, mostly housewives, are also major beneficiaries of this programme. “While the youngest beneficiary is around seven years old, the oldest one is nearing 72,” says Sujai. Interactive learning also has its value-added benefits in the form of social interaction and quicker learning. ‘‘OLPV has been successfully running the course for over a year now. About 180 students had registered their names in the first phase. Now there are women and children learning the basics of computers from 10 trained volunteers using a PC provided here. We are also hosting a 13-day skill development course for children during the vacation period organised by OLPV. The impact of OLPV is not just in literacy, it is even rekindling the public spirit,” says Sreeraj, librarian, Thrikkannamangalam Public Library.

The NGO reaches out to its target sections with the help of social media, especially Facebook, and through word-of-mouth publicity. The extent of their social media presence can be gauged by the success of their #BookBucketChallenge that went viral. Fashioned along the lines of the #Ice BucketChallenge, the initiative was aimed at rebuilding the treasure trove of five lakh books which was damaged in the Chennai floods.

Several libraries, including those in urban areas, have expressed interest in collaborating with OLPV. Many companies have approached OLPV with offers to fund the project as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Offers have also come in to include the project under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) and MLA Fund.

OLPV was in the news recently for organising the first-ever Digital Kerala Week, as part of which three million students from 15,000 schools across Kerala took a pledge to promote internet safety, in collaboration with Kerala IT Mission and [email protected]

The initiative has also caught the attention of the local body administration of Kolkata which, in turn, invited Sujai to launch a pilot project in the city soon after the Assembly elections. It has already launched a skill building initiative and will embark upon a mission to provide one computer each to groups comprising 100 children in rural areas.

One Library Per Village was among the 20 ideas selected as part of the Digital India MyGov Samvaad which saw Sujai being appointed as MyGov Ambassador. Apart from being selected as Programme Facilitator for United Nation’s CTAD Entrepreneurship programme in India, he also attended the ‘Start Up India-Stand Up India’ programme held in January 2016 in New Delhi as a special invitee.