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CSR Opportunity to Educate and Empower Masses

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Revival of Public Libraries and Strengthening Digital Literacy Mission Is A CSR Opportunity to Educate and Empower Masses

Encyclopedia Britannica defines, “Library, traditionally, collection of books used for reading or study, or the building or room in which such a collection is kept”. A public library is a library that is accessible by the general public and usually funded by government to provide free access to information and knowledge to the public. “Public libraries exist in many countries across the world and are often considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population”, quotes Wikipedia on public library.

In India, the history of public libraries dates back to early 1910 with His Highness Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III, Maharaja of Baroda supporting development of public library system in India. Since independence, the public libraries system has been providing meaningful services to Indian population. These are also considered as community information centers providing access to a wide range of knowledge, information and network for the benefit of larger good. In the legislation, ‘Library Service’, supporting libraries comes under the purview of state governments. The central government has also undertaken considerable amount of effort to strengthen library system in India. However the system has not coped with the fast changing time, requirement and provision of accessing digital resources.

In the historical context, it is interesting to note three instances of triggering revival of public libraries in India. First one, setting up of Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation in 1972 by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India to promote of reading habit among the masses by spreading library services all over the country including the remotest corners in India. Second one is National Knowledge Commission’s initiative to set up National Mission on Libraries to revamp and modernise the library sector and setting standards for qualitative improvement of services including creation of national virtual library of India. The third and most of important aspect in reviving public library is in the context of Companies Act 2013 that mandates certain companies to spend 2% of net profits under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, item (v) that points to, “Protection of national heritage, art and culture including restoration of buildings and sites of historical importance and works of art; setting up public libraries; promotion and development of traditional arts and handicrafts.”

The author suggests two unique approaches to set up and strengthen public libraries under CSR in the provision of Companies Act 2013. It also stems from the belief that promotion of reading habit helps in betterment of lives. It would not be an understatement to say that supporting such initiatives could trigger social movements for bettering lives of large masses. The other reason for the endorsement of funding public libraries is limited number of companies and a miniscule amount cumulatively has been spent on such noble cause in last three years by companies. Moreover, it also helps in spreading CSR spending in not so famous items listed in the Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013. All these approaches are suggestive of a framework and not prescriptive in nature for companies to explore supporting such initiative under their CSR initiatives.

The first and foremost initiative to strengthen public libraries is to support Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation by funding its regular activities to promote setting up libraries in the country. There are also other avenues companies could explore to complement Foundation’s schemes such as supporting in book assistance program; setting up rural book deposit centres and mobile library services; sponsoring seminars, workshops and training; procurement and provision of furniture, electronic and digital equipment; and funding of construction of library buildings.

The second important aspect of strengthening public libraries in India is to align it with Digital Saksharta Abhiyan/ National Digital Literacy Mission. The Indian government has ambitious plans to impart Information Technology training to 5.25 million persons, including Anganwadi, Accredited social health activists (ASHA), and authorised agents of Public Distribution System (ration dealers). National Digital Literacy Mission defines digital literacy is, “the ability of individuals and communities to understand and use digital technologies for meaningful actions within life situations”.

Companies could explore funding of construction of additional buildings, provision of infrastructure and upgrading existing facilities within the public libraries to run digital literacy training centres along with managing their core services. The other opportunity is to strengthen the capacity of public library by providing electronic devices and computers, subscribe to internet and online journals, and fund access to digital literacy resources, human capital support, and long term commitment for virtual support through paid or employee volunteering opportunities. These help companies to complement government’s efforts in digital literacy mission while helping in revival of public libraries in the country. It also serves dual purpose of spreading access to information and imparts digital literacy to the general public.

These resource centres, in the newer alignment with digital literacy mission under Companies Act, would enable masses to participate actively and effectively in the democratic and developmental process. It also enhances opportunities for promotion of livelihood. Moreover, the close alignment of public library and digital literacy mission would certainly encourage a large number of companies to pump their CSR budgets in the right direction and paves way for large scale collaboration.

 About the Author

Nirbhay Lumde is a Corporate Social Responsibility professional and writes on current social, economic and environmental trends. He is an alumnus of IIT Bombay.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author in his personal capacity and do not in any way represent the views of any entity, organisation that the author may have been associated with.

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