(October 13, 2021) Residents of the remote Kalyanpur village in Uttar Pradesh now have access to some of the best books in the world thanks to a library set up by Arun Kumar, a historian at University of Nottingham. A Kalyanpur lad himself, Arun had himself been unable to access books as a child due to his family’s financial constraints and the lack of good libraries in small towns in Uttar Pradesh. The Rural Development Library is one of the first privately-owned village libraries in rural North India and serves over 4,000 farmers, small shopkeepers, homemakers, and service providers in the vicinity.
The well-stocked library has titles spanning science, math, history, and literature in Hindi and English. Readers can borrow the books for a period of one month with no fines being levied for late returns. It also offers entrance exam papers, textbooks, and children’s books for a variety of age groups.
Talking about the library, Arun, who is University of Nottingham’s historian of modern India, and Assistant Professor in Modern British Imperial, Colonial, and Post Colonial History, said, “I grew up with only the textbooks my parents could afford. When I went to Delhi University, I felt there were big gaps in my knowledge; so my mission is to make sure the children and young people living in Kalyanpur today have access to a much wider range of books and literature.”
He went on to add, “Reading is a privilege that few can afford in rural North India. It’s a region marred by social inequality, a lack of up-to-date and relevant learning resources and wide-spread poverty. The villages don’t have libraries and reading materials are generally limited to out-of-date textbooks and religious literature.”
When Arun was researching the educational aspirations of the working-class poor in India he discovered a network of libraries in a few urban centres in the region. That prompted him to tour villages in 2019 and deliver motivational lectures to encourage the local communities to set up their own libraries. He then founded the library in his hometown, which has received very good response so far.
The library is currently managed by 22-year-old Sunil Kumar, a local youth with a physical disability, who quit his local grocery store to become a teacher as well as run the library. The Rural Development Library is stocked with books that have either been donated or been bought by Arun himself. He now plans to continue expanding the library space, the number of books and learning activities being conducted at the venue.