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NEW DELHI: Dotted with outdoor bookcases, Perukulam village in India’s southwest is building its community around reading — an initiative its residents hope will help them learn and grow.

Everything started in 2017, when the village’s public library, Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala, placed a shelf with books on one of the streets to see how people would respond.

“The inspiration came from the US-based Little Free Library, a book-sharing movement that places bookcases in public places and the Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala library is a member of the Little Free Library,” V. Vijesh, a schoolteacher and the library’s secretary, told Arab News.

The idea was to test the village’s reading habits, which proved to be better than expected and soon more bookshelves, or “book nests,” as residents refer to them, popped up in Perukulam.

The village in Kollam district of Kerala, India’s only state with a literacy rate nearing 100 percent, has only 5,000 inhabitants and over a dozen mini-libraries.

“Today there are 14 ‘book nests’ in the village and the villagers are the stakeholders because it’s them who contribute to running the library and the library in turn maintains the nest,” Vijesh said.

The books are in the local Malayalam language, Hindi and English. Besides fiction, the volumes also cover politics and science.

The bookcases are usually located in public spaces where people can sit, meet, and talk. They can either read the books outdoors or take them home.

“It works on the concept of bring one, take one. There is a notebook, and the villagers have to make an entry while returning or borrowing a book,” Vijesh said.

The initiative has won Perukulam the attention of authorities. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared it the state’s “first book village” in 2021.

It was also noticed in the literary world, with celebrated Malayalam writer Maniyambath Mukundan calling it a “unique experiment” that needed to be promoted and emulated.

“The Perumkulam village is doing remarkable work and you have committed youngsters in the village who are keen to encourage others to read,” Mukundan told Arab News.

Collections in Perumkulam’s book nests are chosen to appeal not only to the young but also older readers.

“We take special care in maintaining and running all the bookshelves,” said Akhila Mohanan, a member of the village council.

“It’s not only youngsters but elderly people also can be seen sitting on the bench reading either a newspaper or a book. Through books you evolve, and we feel as a village we are evolving each passing day.”

For Pwijitha Kalyani, a 20-year-old youth volunteer, fostering the culture of reading in her village makes her and her peers proud.

“This is the first of its kind village where books are celebrated, and everyone fancies himself or herself as a reader. This culture of book reading is important because youngsters these days try to find knowledge only through the internet and Google search,” she said.

“If you read a book, you remember its content but if you read the stuff online, you tend to forget it. So, holding a book is a magical experience.”

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