Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Library Article on Microsoft One India Portal

Just want to share you the good news that this home library initiative has been featured in the weekly e-mail communication of Microsoft India. "Microsoft One India" is an internal portal to communicate out to all the six groups of Microsoft that are in India located in Bangaluru, Hyderabad and Gurgaon. Their weekly e-mail communication has a section "We, The people", where they used to write about the extra-ordinary work carried out by Microsoft India employee(s). The edition published on September 2, 2009 featured the story - "A dream drives Manjit to set up a home library in a village in Assam "

I must thank Rebecca, Shashank,Shwetal and Nidarsana Ba from Microsoft Business Communication group for considering the initiative, interviewing me, writing up the whole story, reviewing with me and finally publishing out in the portal. Thank you very much !

This story has reached more than 5000 MS employees working in India, and till now the most commented article in the whole portal.This has also been shared with NGOs like ILP and HRF (on their requests)as the article boldly calls out their support in shaping the library dream.

Wish you a nice reading !

We, The People
A dream drives Manjit to set up a home library in a village in Assam

To dream is one thing and to realize it is another. It is only after relentless efforts that one can realize a dream. And when the dream is for the sole benefit of others, only effort doesn’t suffice; one needs to put in tremendous energy and innovation to make the dream a reality. Manjit Nath, an Operations Engineer with MSIT – India, tells you how dreams can be achieved.

It was Manjit’s dream to set up a home library for the people of his village in Assam. That was his way of giving back to the village what the village gave him during his formative years. The Maheswar Nath Memorial Library in the Agia village of Goalpara district is also Manjit’s tribute to his late father. The Library has 1850 books today and around 150 regular members. The village has no other library. For Manjit, it is “One wish, one dream, and a realization.”

The Dream
Manjit’s eyes light up when he speaks about the effort he put into the setting up of the library. He is blessed with a family of extremely well-read people. Even today, when he thinks of his father, Maheswar Nath, who was the Principal of the Balbala Higher Secondary School, he sees him immersed in books. Reading was his father’s passion - a passion that he tried to share with Manjit and everybody else in the village. As a child, Manjit read many books; but the one book that captured young Manjit’s imagination was Homen Borgohain’s Saudar Puteke Nao Meli Jai. The book is about two friends setting up a library in Assam during the British rule. “I picked up the idea from that book and soon, it became my dream,” says Manjit.
However, professional life took over and soon Manjit’s dream started slipping down the priority list. And one day, came the news that refueled the dream – the heartbreaking news of his father’s death. “I could not think of a more appropriate token of gratitude and love for my father than to encourage my people to read. It was my father’s wish – he always wanted the villagers to be well read. So, I decided to make my father’s reading room a library.”

The Journey
Other than reading, Manjit was also interested in reforming the education system in India. It was this interest that drove him to join the Indian Literacy Project (ILP). It is during this association that he learned more about library management. He started managing the ILP library in Hyderabad. Manjit was also part of the joint workshop organized by ISB and ILP. Manjit then held several brainstorming sessions on the library project with his friends at Microsoft. He had discussions with members of voluntary organizations that promote similar library initiatives such as Room2Read, Hippocampus Reading Foundation (HRF) etc. He also reached out to the Bhabendra Nath Saikia Foundation in Assam. The idea was not just of a library but that of a concept that can be adopted all over India.

Through his research, Manjit discovered that it takes more than just a stack of books to build a library. “Library management is a science actually,” says Manjit. There is a methodology around its promotion and infrastructure, categorization of the books, branding and so on. “I was getting bogged down by the enormity of the task but Krishna Priya GV, the librarian at the Hyderabad campus, came to my rescue. She taught me how to use different components of the library management software. I prepared the whole execution plan and my roommate, Alvaro, coded the software using Microsoft technologies. It is a feature-rich application that is easy to use. Now everybody, including my mother, is able to operate it with ease,” beams Manjit.

Manjit’s biggest challenge was something else though. “I work out of the Hyderabad campus. It was practically impossible to visit Assam often to set up the library,” he explained. So he started managing the home library activities remotely. He didn’t spend his vacations unwinding, but cataloguing the books and coordinating the necessary paperwork and formalities with the Government authorities.

“It was really challenging to fight the bureaucracy and set up a Public Trust to run a library. People tried to put a spanner in the works instead of helping us,” recalls Manjit. His older brother Bikramjit, an Indian Navy personnel, pitched in too. “Bikramda did a lot of running around with me.” And the brothers emerged triumphant.

Manjit inaugurated the home-library on June 1, 2009 - the first death anniversary of his father Late Maheswar Nath. The villagers and media appreciated the initiative. The initiative was written about in five leading Assamese dailies and two new channels ran a special coverage on the project. A big boost came in, in the form of a letter and a donation of about 100 books from the noted Assamese writer Homen Borgohain. Within a week of launch, the Maheswar Nath Memorial Library had over 70 registrations. To keep his readers interested, Manjit has introduced student concessions, prizes to voracious readers, debates, and essay-writing competitions.

Way Forward
The Trust is committed to the socio-economic development of the society with the home library as its first initiative. “The love of books and reading is a culture – I want to enable more people to read, provide them the necessary resources so that they can gain knowledge and realize their true potential. If our Library inspires each member to read at least five books a year – it will be an achievement,” says Manjit.He is now planning awareness and fund-raising campaigns, expansion of the library storehouse, inclusion of more self-help books, and inspire the like-minded to adopt this concept. Manjit has three concrete plans for 2009:

  • Open a branch of the home library project in Kokrajhar district

  • Target literate house-wives with lots of books /magazines of their taste

  • Team up with three NGOs to work on the computer literacy and environmental awareness campaign

To know more about the Home Library initiative you can visit Manjit’s blog. To partake in his noble initiative please write in to Manjit. You can also donate books and/or funds to the ‘Maheswar Nath Memorial Trust’.

NB: I can't mention the web link here as 'Microsoft One India' is an internal portal and hosted on MS Corpnet,hence people from outside can't access the internal links