MAIN STORY: It’s Saturday. The Norzin Lam near the Chubachu roundabout looks deserted after a sudden shower. People walking along the pavement are forced to seek shelter within the towering buildings that have cropped up over the years.
In the midst of these tall buildings stands the one-storey Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Public Library, a space that have stood against the test of time and change. The traditional building is a symbol that reminds the urbanites of Thimphu that once was.
Inside the library, a group of chatty people sit around a table. There is a heated discussion. They are the volunteers of the library who are known as the Friends of Library.
Founded in 2005, the Friends of Library help the library organise reading and game sessions for children aged between six to 12 years every Saturday.
Today, they are discussing how to make the sessions more energetic and, more importantly, how to attract more volunteers during the summer break.
One of the founders, Siok Sian Pek-Dorji, who is also the executive director of Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, said the Friends of Library was founded informally to help the library attract young readers since half of the library’s budget was slashed that time.
“The library didn’t have enough funds to buy books. So the group of volunteers decided to help the library. Gradually, we started getting more books from the volunteers who were within and outside the country and donated to the library,” Siok Sian Pek-Dorji said. “Our main intention was to encourage more children to read, especially during the holidays when they didn’t had much to do.”
When Friends of Library started, there were more members who were actively engaged but it gradually declined over the years, Siok Sian Pek-Dorji said. “It’s important to have a good public library space where people can have access to read as much books as they can, especially the younger population.”
Rigzom Wangchuk, 23, had been volunteering as a Friend of Library since 2007. She is one of the few remaining senior volunteers in the group.
“Friends of Library was formed to help children who don’t have opportunity to read at homes or whose parents are uneducated. Through various programmes, we aim to encourage a child to read and engage them in different playful activities and games. It’s an hour well spent for the children that participate,” Rigzom Wangchuk said.
The volunteers organises interactive sessions such as read aloud sessions, making origami and puppets, conducts games, reading lyrics, sing along session, creative writing competition and writing book reviews, among others, Rigzom Wangchuk said. “Through these activities, the children are encouraged to think out of the box and explore beyond what they learn in the classroom.”
Rigzom Wangchuk said that there are also activities to engage parents and guardians. “We also conduct sessions on how parents can read aloud to their children and create a reading-friendly atmosphere at home,” Rigzom Wangchuk added. “I’m still amazed at how an hour passes by very quickly. It helps me bond with the children and create a special relationship that will last me a lifetime.”
An assistant librarian, Tshering Phuntsho, said the volunteers are of great help to the library.
“The only challenge is to retain them and keeping up with the same momentum. There were times when we didn’t have any volunteers for seven to eight months at the library. During such time, the staff manages and continues with the sessions,” Tshering Phuntsho said.
This summer break, from July 2 to July 16, the library will conduct these sessions twice a week – on Wednesday and Saturday. The sessions will be conducted for an hour – from 1:30pm to 2:30pm – at the library.
It would be great to have a lot of volunteers since we have planned various programmes for children who will be visiting the library during the break, Tshering Phuntsho said. “If there are any interested volunteers, we encourage them to contact us through our social media page or to visit us. We have shared a calendar on our Facebook page where a volunteer can decide which days to come and spend some time with the children.”
There is a lot of goodwill shown by many people and we receive book donations from people within and outside the country even today, Tshering Phuntsho said.
In the midst of these discussions, a young boy walked inside the library and waved hello at the volunteers. He had been attending the Saturday reading sessions for the past one year.
Kinley Wangchuk, 11, who studies at Jigme Losel Primary School, said the sessions encourage him to read more books. He was holding a book on Hundred Moral Stories.
“Initially I came to the library to only borrow books but the sessions helped me engage more in reading and meet new friends,” Kinley Wangchuk said. “Reading helps me learn what is good and bad in life. Reading teaches me a new knowledge every time I flip a page. I hope many children will join me during the summer break at the library.”