The set-up of a National Digital Library for Children and Adolescents

Adolescent readers' books need to attract them to gain knowledge rather than just information.
Keywords: Readers, Books, Library, Adolescent, Digital, Curriculum, Pandemic
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In the recent budget on 1 Feb 2023, the Union Finance minister Smt. Nirmala Sitaraman announced that the Govt. Of India was planning to set up a National Digital Library for Children and Adolescents and the books to be written to cater to these age-groups. Another point, the books have nothing to do with the curriculum. Such books are entrusted to be published by the National Book Trust (NBT) and Children’s Book Trust (CBT). This step is in response to the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022 conducted by NGO Pratham that showed children’s basic literacy during COVID-19 had taken a big hit and their reading ability worsened. Even before the Pandemic, report after report of ASER amply made clear that a fifth-class child in rural India was not able to read a second-class book fluently. To be able to read well is the first step to progress in education. And understanding what is being read (for some children don’t understand what they read) is the following/next step. Reading is a life skill. As far as children are concerned, they should be allowed free-reading more and more. For free-reading to happen they need to be provided with the different genres- books viz. books on history, adventure, family values, science/scientific fiction, ethics, civic behavior and mannerism, stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata and novels of their standard.

Undoubtedly, children would love to read any books other than the superimposed curricular books. For, the books provided in the National Digital Library are for enjoyment rather than for testing and grading. Of course, the books should have “comprehensible input” i.e. the input provided in these books should be understandable to the child. To be ‘understandable’ meant: the vocabulary, the text or diction in it and also the background knowledge of the text has to be of their level. Because what is not understandable is uninteresting to read. Hopefully, the National Book Trust would look into all these aspects while preparing the National Digital Library. This Digital Library is to build a “culture of reading” in general among children and also to make up for pandemic-time learning losses.

In India, only parents of affordable sections in society buy books for their children to read. Since the children of that section develop their reading and understanding capacities their progress in education is rapid. In addition to that, their imaginative and creative capacities increase. Lamentably, in the poorer sections of society children lag behind, as the parents cannot afford to buy the extra-reading material (other than their school books. Of course, all state governments and the Govt. at the Centre provide textbooks free of cost to the poor in the country). This deprivation of extra-reading material becomes a disadvantage to the poor and unaffordable. Hence, the proposal to set up this National Digital Library for Children and Adolescents for facilitating the availability of quality books across geographies, languages, genres and levels, and their device-agnostic accessibility is a well-thought-out step by the Govt. of India. But this step is not enough to motivate the children to read. Nowadays, many children and grown-ups are losing the habit of reading because they are viewing things they need on multimedia.

For children, the interest in reading develops over a period with the encouragement of parents and also teachers to an extent. Not all schoolchildren have reading habits. Because reading requires a lot of effort on the part of a child to do by himself/herself. This has to be acquired. It begs a question: how many children would spare their time to read although it is useful to them? In this digital-age, children have moved on to viewing pictorial stories on-screen or listening to them rather than solitary reading. Undeniably, reading is a lonely activity, it also gives pleasure to the reader in understanding and contemplating what is written in the text. Eventually, the Digital Library for Children could be another text with the multimedia effect to attract them. In the Digital Library, children find umpteen books from which they can select the one they would like to read. This kind of “self-selection” of reading material encourages the child to read more and more. As grown-ups, we all experienced that if someone gives us a book as a gift, we tend to pile it up on our book-shelf. On the contrary, if we go to a book stall and select a book on our own, we would like to read it. Because our own selection would suit and compel us to read. Unless we have a compelling desire to read (sometimes because of the narrative i.e. storyline, the theme and characterization would appeal) no one reads a book.  

Reading is for life. Adolescent learners need to read any reading material cleverly and smartly. They cannot read the entire library in any case. Hence, they need not waste time reading all books from beginning to end. Not all books need the same attention i.e. to completely read them. Here, the selection of books works depending upon the reader’s interest. Adolescents should also learn the techniques of reading viz. skimming, scanning, intensive reading and critical reading. Whereas, these skills are automatic to adult readers. Adolescents need to skim the text in the book in a superficial or cursory way to get the gist in some books. They need to scan for particular points minutely i.e. the items of importance they need. Some books have to be read intensively i.e. between the lines to infer. In some, they need to go beyond the lines to evaluate or make a critical analysis. This way, they learn more from each other. As Francis Bacon aptly said in this regard: …’ Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.’ Adolescent readers’ books need to attract them to gain knowledge rather than just information that they get outside. India i.e. Bharat has been a knowledge hub from time immemorial. With this introduction of the National Digital Library, the country would again develop by leaps and bounds to acquire that status once and for all.     

3 comments

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  • A very apt article, insightfully written.

    I think parents have a role to play in helping children develop this habit, kids learn by observation hence parents/anyone within the family should start reading and then ask the kids to follow.

    The government’s move is in the right direction, we can then have access to a one stop shop for all books for kids/teens.

  • Thank for the details and highlighting the importance of libraries in developing reading habits in our school children and young adults. It’s known fact that reading habit is limited to few section of people in our Indian society. Our entire education is moving around examinations and marks/ grades, instead of sharing knowledge society. As we know that the knowledge society would be realised only through reading. The global north is always ahead in reading or providing reading material to its young generations. We could find children sections with number of titles in western community libraries and each community has its own library and all its families will become natural members of those libraries. We need to establish such libraries to encourage reading habit in all our Indian habitations/ Gram Panchayats in addition to Digital libraries. Most of the families are not access to internet to access the digital libraries hence, establishment of physical libraries are immediate need to improve reading and writing skills in our young generations. Our schools have failed to imbibe reading habit and hope to witness the changes through our NEP 2020 in strengthening of school libraries and community libraries towards read India and knowledge India.

  • The set-up of a National Digital Library for Children and Adolescents
    —-———————
    Before an attempt is made to state NDLI and its advent in India, covid19
    and its ill effects on children/adolescents need a special attention.
    In attention,clinging,distraction and hesitancy or fear to ask questions was noticed among them.less than fifty percent were not able to catch up with their age appropriate learning.some were missing out in social skills and a section of younger children were showing signs of delay in language and speech abilities.
    What these children have lost during pandemic is lack of reading.Reading improves focus,memory,empathy and communication skills. Majority of these age groups go through stressful school programs.lack of well functioning libraries and librarians and family background such as high poverty rate or illiteracy may add to their ills.
    In this context a few quotations advertising ‘reading’ may be noticed.
    “Show me a family of readers,and I will show you the people who move the world”-Napoleon Bonaparte
    “A room with out books is like a body with out a soul”- Cicero
    “Reading is important.If you know how to read then the whole world opens up to you”——Barack Obama
    To overcome these challenges Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,Government of India developed National Digital Library at IIT Kharagpur. For Indians it is S.R. Ranganathan whereas for the globe it is Mike Lisk are considered as promoters.
    First digital library : Vishveswarayya Technological university ,is located at Bengaluru.
    NDLI contains articles,textbooks,audiobooks,videos,lectures,fiction,stimulations and other kinds of learning media.It provides free of cost access to many books and designed to hold content of many languages and provides interface support for Ten most widely used languages.
    The world digital Library is located at UNESCO ,Paris ,France where more than hundred languages are represented including many lesser known and endangered languages.partners are mainly libraries,archives, museums or other institutions with collections of cultural content.
    Prof.P.P. Chakrabarti the then IIT Kharagpur director instigated NDLI to reach out to the students amid Lockdown (May 07,2020) and reached out to students with 3.5 crore academic content to enable them to study from home .
    NDLI is built to provide support for all academic levels including researchers insights and lifelong learners, all disciplines,all popular forms of access devices and differently abled learners. Items are available in more than four hundred languages.
    The writer has provided much fodder with flaw less content and creativity is notably visible regarding the utility of reading that totally missed among the age groups that are considered as children and adolescents. Govt of India and its efforts to motivate the Academics via NDLI needs much applause.

Indira G.

Indira G is associated with the organisation Pragna Bharati, Hyderabad and is Incharge-Publications. She also contributes to Opindia and other news platforms.

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