How To Set Up A ‘Free’ Children’s Library

Posted by Ruchi Dhona in Books
March 16, 2018

Only a book lover can understand the pleasure of being in the company of stacks of books. It’s a little bit like Scrooge McDuck diving into heaps of books instead of gold coins. Every books lover fantasises about building a library at some point or other. However, a lot of them find it difficult to achieve this dream because of resource constraints or simply because of lack of ideas. People with resources build libraries which are used by a very limited number of people and for the rest of the time, precious books gather dust. In a country where so many children do not have access to books, isn’t locking up a library a crime?

But just think about how lovely it would be if we could all set up small, free libraries and pass on this love for books to the younger ones. 

Where is the space?

The libraries we dream about are often big, swanky rooms with lots of books, almirahs, chairs and tables and so on. But these aren’t pre-requisites to setting up a library. Look around to see what can you work with. Are there trees? In that case, tie a sturdy rope between two trees and hang the books for display. Is there a raised platform you can use? Perhaps imitate the vendors at a local market and spread the books neatly on a piece of cloth. I recently attended the Parag Libraries Unconference where a budding librarian talked about building books storage units out of old cardboard boxes. Get creative and think of the box; the only criteria you have to keep in mind is that the space should be an open, free space.

But I’ll have to pay for all the books, right?

We often think that libraries cannot be set up unless you have thousands of books, but that’s not true. Even a hundred books are enough to start a vibrant and rich library that is full of the warmth of sharing. And the best part is: you can get these books for free! Pratham books has made it quite convenient to set up a books crowdsourcing campaign on their portal, Donate-a-Book. Alternately, you can drive a books donation campaign within the neighbourhood. Be careful when going for the latter though; ensure you only accept books which would be relevant for the children who would come to your library (picture story books/ short novels etc).

Will the librarian work for free too?

Believe it or not, you can get a librarian for free too! You don’t need the stereotypical librarian who intimidates you by constantly showing the “maintain silence” signboard. Reach out to folks from the neighbourhood. Or how about handing over the responsibilities to children themselves? A simple notebook can be used for record keeping. One section could have a record of all books and the other section can keep track of book lending entries. Children should feel empowered enough to make small and big decisions. The greater the ownership, the more the chances of sustainability.

Will the children come?

In my experience, it takes very little effort to convince children that reading can be fun. A lot depends on the environment that the library offers. Is it a safe, comfortable space where the children feel free to express themselves? Are there people to engage them in free-flowing conversations? Are the activities engaging and meaningful? If you’ve checked all three boxes, you’re good to go.

I’ve done everything – is my free library set-up complete?

Congratulations, your library is ready to breed young bookworms! One small thing remains though – you’ll need to ensure that every budding bookworm has free access to your library.

If you have any questions or would like to have our support in building your library, please reach out to us at