Pratapgarh- In the tribal dominated district of Pratapgarh, the spirit of Baba Sahab Bhim Rao Ambedkar's profound love for books resonates through the endeavours of a dedicated librarian. Drawing inspiration from Baba Sahab's enduring wisdom, encapsulated in the words, "If you have two rupees, buy bread from one rupee and book from the the other. Because bread will help you to live, while the book will teach you how to live."
Recognizing the transformative power of knowledge and books, the employee at the Pratapgarh Government Public Library initiated the 'Youth Jodo' campaign some time ago, to foster a reading habit among school and college students. In contrast to the previous average of 20-30 daily visitors, there is now a noticeable surge in regular readers, turning the reading space into a vibrant hub for avid book enthusiasts. Meet Lokesh Paliwal, the dedicated librarian and a role model for public servants, showcasing how one can go beyond their scheduled responsibilities to make an extraordinary impact on society.
The Mooknayak spoke to Lokesh Paliwal, who started his journey from humble beginnings as a librarian in a government school 33 years ago. "Pratapgarh district was created in 2008, and I joined this public library in 2010; it has been 13 years now that I have been serving here. Being a tribal-dominant district, reading habits were poor in those days, and the library scarcely got visitors," reminisces Paliwal. He further adds, "When I joined the service, I was only a 12th pass. I secured a diploma in Library Science and got a government job. I had a passion for studying, and while working, I completed my graduation, post-graduation, and even cleared the NET and SLET in Sociology subject to qualify as a lecturer. However, I couldn't pursue a career in education."
Paliwal says, "Greatly inspired by Swami Vivekananda, Savitri Bai Phule and Baba Saheb, I value the worth of education and the importance of books. Since ours is a tribal-dominant district, people from the indigenous community are financially constrained, relying on labour and agriculture. They cannot afford to send their children for coaching or private tuitions, and students lack study material. Hence, to encourage school and college-going youths, we initiated a special campaign." Paliwal visited government offices, schools and colleges, engaged with students and faculties, and informed them about the public library and the study materials available here. "I asked them to come and explore the library, visit our book sections, and this way, we started attracting more readers."
Last year, the Rajasthan government initiated the Savitri Bai Phule Reading Rooms in every district. "The Savitri Bai Phule Vachnalaya scheme was merged with this public library, providing us with a mentor who guides and motivates students to read on various topics," says Paliwal. "We boast a large collection of more than 35 thousand books covering a myriad of subjects. From novels and fictions in English and Hindi literature to poetry, plays, reference books on History, Political Science, Geography, and more, we have dedicated racks for each subject. Additionally, we offer plenty of magazines and study material for aspirants preparing for competitive exams. To top it off, we provide computers with internet facilities, allowing students to explore unlimited online educational content."
As the ' Youth Jodo' campaign gained momentum, the library witnessed a remarkable surge in the number of avid readers. However, the growing community of book enthusiasts soon posed a unique challenge - space constraints. Undeterred by this hurdle, the proactive librarian, driven by an steadfast commitment to fostering knowledge, approached the prestigious Raja Rammohan Roy Foundation in Kolkata. Seeking support for the expansion of the library building, he aimed to create a more accommodating space for the flourishing reading community in Pratapgarh. Paliwal, through his dedication and strenuous efforts, proposed and secured a grant of one crore seventeen lakh rupees from the Raja Rammohan Roy Foundation, Kolkata, for the expansion of the library building.
On being asked how he approached the foundation for monetary support, Paliwal tells that during his college days, he was informed about the government scheme that provided funding for the expansion of libraries. "When I began my job here years ago, I had submitted a proposal, and we received a grant of 50 lakh rupees in 2011-12. With that money, the existing facilities were developed. Now, with a burgeoning mass of readers, I submitted a meticulous plan for expansion," he said.
The library has embarked on a membership initiative that facilitates members to borrow and read their desired books, returning them in a scheduled manner. "We encourage people to attain free membership to avail of the take-home facility. They have to fill forms with photographs and identity proofs. We already have 400 plus members, and new ones are getting registered every day," gleams the passionate book lover.
Recent initiatives in the library include not only book exhibitions but also interactive programs with subject specialists and scholars, discussions with readers, seminars, and career guidance sessions tailored for the tribal youth preparing for competitive exams. The library proactively arranged for various competitive magazines, books, and reference materials to aid students in their exam preparations.
"Libraries and books constitute an integral part of everyone's life, particularly for students and aspirants preparing for various competitive exams. This library is gaining popularity as books tend to be expensive, and youths, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, struggle to afford reference materials for exam preparation. The Sujas bulletin from the Rajasthan government, which features initiatives, schemes, and informative content, proves highly beneficial for aspirants. We supply all such materials to this library, aiming to benefit a larger audience," District Public Relations Officer Chhaya Chobisa told The Mooknayak.
The library's awareness programs have yielded fruitful results, with many tribal students achieving success in competitive exams and securing government jobs. Such candidates are invited for brief interactions so that others are inspired from them.
Paliwal further elaborated on plans for a new building within the library boundaries, equipped with modern amenities such as reading rooms, stack rooms, separate toilets, cabins for readers, internet and Wi-Fi facilities, a computer lab, display rooms, seminar facilities, and provisions for drinking water. "We currently occupy a vast area of 10 thousand sq feet, with the existing building constructed in around 6 thousand sq feet. With ample space available, our plan is to construct a two-story building to expand facilities. This expansion will provide additional space to accommodate readers, anticipating future growth', he stated.
The news of the library's expansion has been met with immense joy from patrons, including Kamlesh Meena, Manoj Labana, Priyanka, Richa, Jayprakash Meena, Durga Meena, Anita Meena, Deepak Labana, Devi Lal, Khushi Sharma, and Gajendra Singh. It is noteworthy that the library's services cater not only to the general public but also to a substantial number of tribal students, providing them with valuable resources and opportunities for growth. Paliwal expressed optimism that the approved grant will effectively address the challenges of inadequate seating and space constraints in the library.