Pop-up library at Ummeed
“Books are a doorway into imaginary worlds which help keep boredom away.” said a young neurodivergent person who frequents the pop-up library at Ummeed.
This space was created with the hope to create an environment that deconstructs the ideas of a typical library and provides a space for young people to have fun, to loiter in their imaginary world of stories, characters and toys and to play for as long as they wish to.
“Given the pandemic, there are even fewer community spaces for disabled children to have fun. I believe resting and leisure are radical political acts, and more so when marginalised people find ways to engage in them; so co-creating this space has been meaningful for me in many, many ways.” expressed Farah Maneckshaw, therapist, Ummeed CDC.
There isn’t much representation for disabled children, which echoes their experiences that they can resonate with or which they can find hope in, so one of the hopes of this pop-up library is for these young people to get introduced to characters, books and stories that portrays alternate possibilities.
The library team has tried hard to center books which have stories that don’t get told very often. These include books where children are disabled, neurodivergent, from oppressed castes, queer or part of non-normative family structures and so on; also being mindful that the books are not just from western context but from Indian context too. There are also some books in regional languages. Moreover, there are also toys, picture books, activity books, pop-up books and books with different tactile and sensory components to allow for children to engage with the library in diverse ways, so that it does become a word heavy or literacy heavy way of engaging with books but also a sensorial way of engaging with books. “What was exciting to me about being a part of the library was the opportunity to provide disabled children access to subjugated knowledge.”, shared Maneckshaw.
Apart from its curation, the facilitators make constant and ever-evolving efforts to make this space accessible for disabled children and everyone else. From the arrangement of books – according to various themes and genres like animals, numbers, fantasy characters, picture books, etc. – to assisting the readers in exploring books that they might like or enjoy based on their interests. They have also decorated the library space with mats and tents, where these young people can just pick a book or a toy and just chill and experience that sense of being themselves in the space. There is also a constant effort to try out different ways to organise the library so there is space for them to play and explore in ways that are safe for themselves and other visitors. When a neurodivergent young person is overstimulated, the facilitators also try to reduce the brightness of the lighting or limit the number of visitors at that given time.
The team centers the young person’s agency by allowing them to choose how to engage with the space, as well as the caregivers’ unique know-hows about their child’s interests. “As a facilitator in the library, the role I also feel is to influence people to explore how they would think this place might help them in their journeys. A lot of caregivers visit us and share problems that are in the lives of their children and as a facilitator, our role becomes of supporting them with books they might resonate with or books that can support them in building their understanding about the problems that often visit them.”, expressed Shahid Shaikh, trainer, Ummeed CDC.
Not only do young people engage with this space but also the caregivers. Oftentimes, when their children are in therapy rooms, the library becomes a space for them to explore the world of books they enjoy reading or books that they would love to read to their children.
“Caregivers love exploring the space for their children, to find books and toys they think their child would like. I often see them reading the books themselves to understand if their child would be able to comprehend them or would they enjoy the contents of the book and the pictures in them. I often observe them, trying out the games themselves too. A lot of times caregivers would ask for assistance in finding some kinds of books, whereas the others would spend ample amounts of time going through different categories of books themselves. Though it’s a children’s library, some of the caregivers have become members themselves and they enjoy reading children’s books. We do hope to open up a section for caregivers too in the future.” shared Prachi Mehta, therapist, Ummeed CDC.
Understanding the influence of libraries and endless ways of engaging with books, moving ahead, the team has many other plans for the coming year. “We are thinking of exploring more music or puppet sessions or even planning a group with a small number of kids to explore books in detail and have conversations around it and how it relates to their lives.” shared Pravin Madur, senior therapist and trainer, Ummeed CDC.
This pop-up library was an initiative started by Dr. Raviraj Shetty and Dr. Riddhi Mehta in 2019 that was resumed early this year and has been facilitated by Farah Maneckshaw (therapist), Prachi Mehta (therapist), Shahid Shaikh (trainer) and Pravin Madur (senior therapist & trainer) from the Mental Health team at Ummeed Child Development Center. The library is open every Friday from 9am to 5pm.
This article has been put together by Mithila Jariwala (trainer, Ummeed CDC) with the help of the four amazing facilitators of the beautiful pop-up library at Ummeed.
Mithila Jariwala is a trainer with the mental health team at Ummeed CDC. She is also a photographer, a story teller, a traveller and she has been wandering through, exploring and learning about narrative practices and ideas for over two years. She has been working with human interest stories and engaging with various communities in different parts of the world. She too loves picture books and engages with them in various ways. You can contact her at email@example.com or @myth.jar on Instagram.