“Ever since the advent of the internet and e-books, printed books are of no value anywhere now.” So thought this US citizen who had books to give away. An ACP in Tirupur, India, disagreed. The books crossed the ocean and found a home in his police station.
Sometime in 2014, an India-born philanthropist from the US visited India, visiting Coimbatore and Tirupur in Tamil Nadu. In a light conversation with the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Tirupur, he mentioned that he wished to donate books for a children’s library in the area. Kids in the United States of America do not read books anymore, he said. They have access to reading material through e-books, which are easily available to them on any electronic device.
“At one time, if a school child wanted to find out information about something for a project, a trip to the central library in town was an essential requirement. Notes were made, rough pictures were drawn and, once home, all this information was put out on charts or on umpteen sheets of paper, which were neatly spiral bound before being submitted in school,” says Mr. Chakravarty, the father of a college-going girl from Coimbartore, who is also a friend of the ACP of Tirupur.
Today, even in developing countries, children have access to all kinds of information on electrical devices. Just having a smart phone is enough to log onto Google from anywhere — and all the data one would want is available online.
However, in the United States and other western countries, in particular, many children have stopped borrowing books from school libraries. There are some people who feel these books may be of use to children in small towns like Tirupur in Tamil Nadu.
It was in this context that the ACP in Tirupur was made the offer of books for a library.
“As soon as this particular philanthropist went back to the US after his Indian sojourn, he transported 5,000 books to Tirupur. Such beautiful books, such a lovely world of information,” says the ACP, who does not wish to be named. “All the policemen in the North Police Station, Tirupur, were spellbound seeing so many books.”
The policemen immediately got down to sorting out the books in various categories. They numbered every one of the books and almost 2,000 of them were donated to the Rotary Club right away.
Picture books were meant for very small children, larger books for older children, children’s novels, novels for adults, reference books on various subjects, some textbooks and even encyclopedias — there were all kinds of books.
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These books seemed to have been picked up from the libraries of many American schools and sent to India with the hope that children here would find better use for them.
Once the books were sorted and numbered, the ACP began looking for a place to set up a library. Unable to find a suitable location, he rearranged the furniture in the large hall in his police station and put shelves filled with books right in the middle of the room.
“Having set up the place, we contacted the principals of the local schools and told them about the library that we have here,” says the ACP. “School children have to bring with them a letter of permission from the principal of the school and we then allow them to borrow books. A register is maintained with information about the child and the books that he/she has borrowed. The borrower is allowed to keep the book for a period of fifteen days,” he adds.
“As soon as the police station opens in the morning, the library too is declared open, and it remains so until the police station closes for the day. Anyone can come and visit the library at any time on a working day,” says one of the constables at the police station.
During the day, when anyone at the police station is bored and find that they have time on their hands, they pick up a book from the library to flip through.
“Most of the constables have very limited knowledge of the English language. They may be able to understand a little, and may even be able to string a few words together to speak a sentence, but their reading and writing skills in English are virtually nil,” continues the constable.
However, flipping through books in any language, especially if they have pictures, is a real pleasure, and most people spend their spare time doing just that, he adds.
“It has been barely three months since the children have been coming here from the school nearby to borrow books,” says the ACP, “and it will take at least a year before we can evaluate how useful it is to have books donated from across the world for the benefit of our children.”
This library, at the Tirupur police station, is an experiment of sorts. If he finds that it is a success, with children gaining from the experience, the ACP proposes connecting with the philanthropist in the US again and getting him to donate some more books to establish other libraries in the state.