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Kerala: People’s Initiative for ‘A Library in Every Ward,’ 114 New Public Libraries Opened in Tribal & Backward Regions of Kannur

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared the libraries open on Sunday, in a ceremony decorated with dignitaries, including T Padmanabhan and M Mukundan, two of the stalwart authors in Malayalam.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurating the declaration of 114 libraries at Kerala Bank Hall, Kannur.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurating the declaration of 114 libraries at Kerala Bank Hall, Kannur.

Kochi: Kannur in Northern Kerala is one such district with the most number of public libraries in the state, with 1,010 libraries affiliated to the District Library Council. But, there were exceptions to the district's well-known culture of people's libraries and reading rooms. For instance, Kelakam Grama Panchayath, located at the slops of Western Ghats, despite having a population of over 16,000, had only one public library in the Panchayath.

After a people's initiative to ensure neighbourhood access to books and knowledge, the farming village now has a library in its 13 wards. Similarly, a total of 114 libraries have been built and opened to the public prominently in the tribal, coastal, and backward regions of the district, as part of 'Network- People's Mission for Social Development.' Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared the libraries open on Sunday, in a ceremony decorated with dignitaries, including T Padmanabhan and M Mukundan, two of the stalwart authors in Malayalam.

Libraries form a strong socio-cultural movement in the politically spirited Kannur district by organising literary events, gatherings, and debates. Conceived as a 'common-space' for the people to socialise, the 114 new libraries are expected to integrate into the web of cultural centres in the district. Besides a good collection of books and periodicals, they are also equipped with advanced communication technologies to gather information and knowledge. Some of these libraries are also involved in skill development programs and livelihood training, as per the local requirements. Facilities for sports and leisure are also included.

Declaring the opening of new libraries, CM Vijayan underlined the role of the libraries in developing a critical approach to the information we come across daily. In the times we live in where the prospects of fake news propagation are massive, libraries would help us critically analyse the mainstream media's economic interests. Thus, a people's initiative to transform libraries into centres of production and dissemination of knowledge gains significance, Vijayan said.

Farmers' Library in Kunderi ward of Kelakam Grama Panchayath in Kannur

Farmers' Library in Kunderi ward of Kelakam Grama Panchayath in Kannur

Hundred Percent People's Initiative

'Network' is a people's initiative, says Dr V Sivadasan, Member of Rajyasabha and the patron of the initiative

"Though we have a strong library movement in the district, statistics from some backward regions were not so promising. Therefore, a people's initiative was set up to overcome the hurdle, forming organising committees at the grass-root level. Local Self Governing bodies, District Library Council, cooperative institutions, government bodies, noted writers, social-cultural activists, and even some private parties stepped in to take on the challenge. Funds under Local Area Development Schemes(LADS) of MLAs and MPs were also utilised," he tells NewsClick.

'Network' was started as a people's initiative to tackle the digital divide among students in the Kannur district during the first wave of the Covid pandemic. In their pursuit to establish online education facilities for the students in remote areas, 'Network' found the lack of libraries and reading rooms in these regions a major hurdle. That's how the idea to build 'a library in every ward' of Kannur district came to be, Sivadasasn, the former president of the Students Federation of India, adds.

In the primary assessment, among the 1,554 LSG wards in the district, there were 777 wards without a library. One hundred fourteen libraries have been built now in the most backward regions. Network initiative, which initially focused on the hilly areas of Iritty-Peravoor, the settler farmers' belt in the eastern part of the district, later extended their efforts to other parts of the district, including the coastal belt. The goal is to establish a strong presence of libraries in all these regions, helping them meet the expenses to buy land, construct buildings, and equipping with advanced facilities, including internet access.

Funds for the project were raised by clubbing the funds of various government departments, LSG bodies, Library Council, CSR funds of some financial institutions, contributions from voluntary groups, donations from sponsors, etc. Many writers and public figures, including M Mukundan, T Padmanabhan, Prof. B Muhammad Ahammad, and MV Jayarajan, donated their book collection to the advent. CM Vijayan, Local Self Governance and Excise Minister MV Govindan, and T Padmanabhan also serve as the patrons of the coordinating committee for the initiative.

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