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The Library of Congress at Washington D.C. is not just the world’s largest but also the world’s greatest library with a total collection of 151 million items. This library has free access to all. It was created out of a belief that a nation should empower itself with the power of knowledge. Good books can inspire ideas, fire the imagination and enrich the intellectual capital of a nation. The story of a young Abraham Lincoln’s love for books is well-known and indeed, no child should be deprived of good books.

The Gyan-Key Library Movement for rural schools is a publicly-funded initiative driven by Pune-based entrepreneur and social crusader, Pradeep Lokhande.

Ramesh Menon brings you the fascinating story of this rural library movement and the need to replicate it in state after state across the country.

One amazing thing in India is that simple ideas work miraculously and magically. All it needs is a leader with a vision and a plan to get it going.

As time races past, youngsters are always looking for a positive opportunity, grab it and give all they can to make it work, change their lives and transform their future. One such idea struck rural entrepreneur and Pune-based activist Pradeep Lokhande. While on a visit to numerous Maharashtra villages with his wife to ascertain what he could do to drive change, it was clear that children desperately wanted books. There were so many rural schools that did not even have a library worth the name. So, he decided he would start libraries in the village schools. This was in 2009. He called it Gyan-Key. It was apt as “gyan” (knowledge) is the key to a great future. The books, he realised will instil in them values, perspective and critical thinking.

1,000+ Rural School Libraries

On his numerous visits to rural India, collecting market and social data for his company, Rural Relations, he had fathomed that the key was to increase the reading habit as whoever read ended up with a different mentality and energy.

Today, he sits in his modest office in Pune with a toothy smile talking about how 1,039 libraries have been set up in rural schools in 535 working days! How did he manage this? It could be a good lesson for management students. Lokhande scoured the book markets in Pune and found that there were many bookshops with interesting Marathi books on values, personality development, self-help, communication skills, inspiring life stories and fiction that students love. These books were also very reasonably priced. He put together a bunch of 183 books that were varied in nature. He then asked for donations of Rs. 5,000 each to buy the set of books that were actually worth Rs. 6,300 as booksellers offered a discount on every book.

Prospective donors were told that for just Rs. 5,000, they had an unusual opportunity to spread learning among 150 to 200 students in a village. To ensure transparency, he would only accept money by cheque drawn in favour of the publisher. He also assured them that students would report to them about the books received and the response it generated. It worked. The libraries have benefitted over 3,00,000 students.

His only insistence was that the donations should be in the name of a woman. Soon, donations came in the names of mothers, wives and daughters. Initially, not many believed that a school could set up a library that would whip up interest in students with an investment of Rs. 5,000!

Children are exposed to a wide variety of books and subjects to spark their curiosity and ignite their imagination.

With each book comes a postcard. The students write to the donor and other public figures of how they got books worth Rs. 6,300, what their learning from the book was and how it impacted their life. The innocent letters touched the donors. Word spread and more donations poured in.

Jyotsna Patole of Aasre village in Wai taluka of Satara district, sent out many letters to public personalities underling the importance of a library. She was thrilled when she got replies from Union minister Sachin Pilot, entrepreneur Ronnie Screwala and member of Parliament, Supriya Sule. Many school children like her have developed a new surge of confidence and pride.

Says Lokhande: “Libraries are not for reading alone; they also help students develop their writing and speaking skills that are so important for them to compete and do well.”

Girl Students at the Helm

The rural school library is run by a girl monitor who in a register documents who borrows and returns the books. Suddenly, Lokhande saw that many of them were emerging as potential leaders after being given that responsibility. The Kamalabai Joshi Kenjal Vidyalaya in Wai, Satara district of Maharashtra, is just a make-shift shed.  But Payal Jagtap feels very excited that she is the monitor of the Gyan-Key library. She deftly manages the 184 Marathi books she has and sees growing interest in them.

Says Lokhande ,“The girl monitor learns management skills, becomes a leader and icon for others with poor communication skills. She is also in touch with the female donor and gets other students to similarly network with her. As this monitor evolves, it will change the perception of the girl child in rural India and will show them what a girl can do.”

When the Gyan-Key project started, Lokhande identified the schools and went to them requesting that he be allowed to start the library. Now that it has become a state-wide movement, he has changed the rules. He now asks schools to demand a library so that they have a sense of ownership. At least five students have to argue in writing why they want the Gyan-Key library. The principal has also to give a written assurance that if the library is not used for the students, the books will be given back.

Pradeep Lokhande: Man behind the movement

The library is closely monitored by Lokhande’s office. When they found that 12 villages had not used the library at all after getting the books and had just kept it locked in a room, they went and took back the books as it was not used for the benefit of the students.  Lokhande came to know of this as he got letters from students saying that though the books had arrived, they were not given access to the library. 

In one case, Lokhande was shocked when he found that a school had not bothered to respond to 39 letters he sent asking them if they wanted a library. It eloquently spoke of the conditions and management that runs local rural schools. But there are now enough takers as 4000 other schools would only be too glad to have a library.

The Reading Habit Catches On

Says R.B. Kalaskar, chairman of the Shri Bhagwantraoji Kalaskar Vidyalaya in Purna village in Bhatkuli taluka of Amravati district: “After the Gyan-Key library started, both students and teachers have started reading. They are so thrilled that they have donated nearly 250 books. For a small school in the backward Vidharbha region, this change means a lot.”

Lokhande remembers getting a letter from a Muslim mother saying her son’s behaviour had changed ever since he started reading books at the Gyan-Key library started in his school. She said that he had now created a positive environment in the house. Lokhande was touched and went and met that child. When he gave him Rs. 1000 as a sign of appreciation, the boy broke down.

Another girl told Lokhande that she had read a book on Sunita Williams and though she knew she would not become like her, she said that she would definitely learn from the astronaut how determination was crucial to success.

Lokhande says that the idea is not to get them to read curriculum books, but to read other inspiring books which would open up their minds, force them to ask questions and explore. To amplify involvement of students, he has requested them to donate a book to the library on their birthday. Many are gladly doing so.

Lokhande selected the titles. The criteria were that it should have nothing to do with the curriculum and should either inspire or stimulate original thinking. One book, Napas mulaanchi goshta (Stories of children who failed), caught the imagination of students as it details how they overcame their shortcomings and succeeded. The Marathi classic, Shamachi Aai (Shyam’s Mother) by Sane Guruji where the mother imparts varied values in her children, has caught on.  “The right time to inculcate values is when students are in the early years of their school. Reading such books makes a great difference. You can easily make it out when you talk to them. They have so many questions. They have views and are passionate about issues. They also change the family as they talk about these things to their parents who have not had the fortune to be exposed to new thought,” says Lokhande.

His office is flooded with postcards from students thanking him for the books. Some of them have demanded more books. Some are now requesting for English books as they want to improve their speaking and writing skills.

Lokhande now wants to slowly start Gyan-Key libraries in poor rural schools of other states as doing it in just Maharashtra is just like a drop in the ocean. With his drive, determination and passion, this is not going to be difficult.

For more details on the Gyan-Key project, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact: Rural Relations, Post Box 1234, Pune-411013, Maharashtra, India. Tel: 020-26821034, 020-26822529.

Ramesh Menon is an author,  journalist and documentary film maker based in New Delhi. He was the recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism.

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