Notts historian founds public library in home village in India

People living in a remote rural village in northern India now have access to a range of world-leading literature after a University of Nottingham historian founded a library in the place where he grew up.

Friday, 8th October 2021, 5:00 pm

Dr Arun Kumar is the university’s historian of modern India and assistant professor in Modern British Imperial, Colonial and Post-Colonial history.

He was inspired to open the library in his family home in Kalyanpur, Uttar Pradesh, after his experience of book poverty in his early years and his recent research on workers’ libraries in India.

The Rural Development Library is one of the first privately-owned village libraries in rural North India.

Dr Arun Kumar.

It serves a population of 4,000 farmers, small shopkeepers, homemakers, and service providers.

The library offers books in Hindi and English in its one-room space and people can borrow them for one month with no fines for late return. Subjects include science, medicine, maths, history, and literature, as well as entrance exam papers, textbooks, and children’s books for a variety of age groups.

Dr Kumar 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”.

The Kalyanpur library is managed by Sunil Kumar.

Sunil, 22 years old with a physical disability, left his small make-shift wooden grocery shop to join the library and prepare to become a schoolteacher.

The library is stocked with donated books or books bought by Dr Kumar himself and the collection is growing.

During the pandemic, the reading room was closed but books were issued on loan for home reading.

This year the library has held public talks and debates on education and reading culture in low-income villages in India. Hindustan, the local Hindi Newspaper, ran the headline: ‘Through the Library, the Professor has lit the torch of knowledge in rural areas.’

Jatin Lalit Singh, who runs the Bansa Community Library, has been critical in helping set up Dr Kumar’s library.

Sushant Patel, a 20-year-old student, from Kalyanpur, said: “I love visiting the library. It is peaceful and quiet here. The best part is that I get books that I cannot afford to buy. I am competing for various civil service competitive exams and the library is a real boon.”

Dr Kumar plans to continue expanding the physical space of the library, number of books and learning activities.

He believes that in this age of digital literacy and misleading information, libraries have a crucial role in building a positive learning culture at local and global levels.

"Libraries are not just spaces where you get your books, but they are also spaces of solitude learning, meet up, and new ideas", he said.

Books can be donated to the Rural Development library via this Amazon wish list:

Follow the library at Twitter @GraminLibrary and the work of Dr Kumar @arun_historian.