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Digital Reading – Way to Go

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Conscious Incrementalism – 8

By Sanjeev Chopra

Just three days ago, a retrospective of the Mahatma Khushi Ram Library appeared on the pages of the Garhwal Post, wherein the contributions of a public-spirited postmaster who donated his books, savings and time to this ‘public cause’ were highlighted. Dehradun is indeed fortunate in that all its libraries and book shops continue to grow and flourish, and libraries too are open to having exhibitions, book discussions, conferences and browsing spaces – for nothing will grow if it remains stuck to a particular form or format.

Herein lies the significance of the National Reading Month which is celebrated across the country from June 19-July 18 to acknowledge the contribution of PN Pannikar, who laid the foundations of a library moment in Kerala, the most literate state in the country, and the one with the best SDG parameters. Panikkar was a visionary schoolteacher and grassroots social reformer – a true example of one who practised conscious incrementalism – he started the Sanadanadharmam Library as a teacher in his home town in1926. He was instrumental in the establishment of Thiruvithaamkoor Granthasala Sangham (Travancore Library Association) and, in a period of two decades, the Sangathan had established 47 rural libraries. The slogan of the organisation was ‘Read and Grow’. Later, with the formation of Kerala State in 1956, it became Kerala Granthasala Sangham (KGS). He travelled to the villages of Kerala expounding the value of reading and succeeded in bringing some 6,000 libraries into this network. Grandhasala Sangham won the ‘Krupsakaya Award’ from UNESCO in 1975. This award had been instituted by the erstwhile Soviet Union for spreading literacy, especially among those who had missed out/were missing out on formal education.

Panikkar was the General Secretary of the Sangham for 32 years, until 1977. After his death in 1996, the Kerala Government decided to observe this day (19th June) as the Kerala Reading Day – and, from 2017, the Prime Minister directed the MHRD and NITI Aayog to organise it on a national scale. In fact,the PM expanded the meaning, scope and relevance by including Digital Reading! He said ‘digital reading is equally, if not more important, for the present, and it certainly will be in the future.

It is in this context that the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) established the National Digital Library of India (NDLI) four years ago to make digital educational resources available to all citizens of the country to empower, inspire and encourage learning. NDLI is a project of Ministry of HRD under the aegis of National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) to develop a framework of virtual repository of learning resources with a single-window search facility.

NDLI has been developed by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. It is single window platform that collects and collates metadata from premier learning institutions in India and abroad, as well as other relevant sources. It is an open access digital repository with 17 million volumes, including classics, contemporary writings, textbooks, articles, videos, audio books, lectures, simulations, fiction and all other kinds of learning media in 200-plus languages from more than 170 institutions.

It has been designed to hold content of any language and provides learning and research interface support for leading Indian languages for all academic levels, including researchers and life-long learners from all disciplines. The reading material is accessible across devices and to differently abled learners.

Readers will be delighted to learn that Valley of Words is collaborating with the NDLI to promote learning across all genres and age groups, and over two thousand NDLI clubs are now part of our outreach programmes of books and authors. In fact, on July 11, as part of the National Reading Month, VoW will be paying a tribute to the doyen of Hindi literature, Narendra Kohli.

(Sanjeev Chopra is a historian, public policy analyst and the Festival Director of Valley of Words, an International Literature and Arts festival based out
of Dehradun. He was a member of the IAS, and
superannuated as the Director of the LBS National Academy of Administration).