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Why a new age librarian has three different workspaces

Dalbir Kaur Madan of Delhi-based One Up Library on the different energies of working in a space full of young readers, and what makes it sacrosanct

Dalbir Kaur Madan with one of the members of her library
Dalbir Kaur Madan with one of the members of her library (Courtesy One Up Library, Learning Lab and Book Studio)

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In a quiet, leafy lane in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar is a pop of colour. One Up Library, Learning Lab & Book Studio is a reading space for children, set up by Dalbir Kaur Madan — first in Amritsar in 2011, before moving to Delhi in 2017. Barely two years into being up and running as a physical, interactive space to get children to read — and having also instituted the Bandana Sen Library awards to recognise libraries and librarians across the country -- Madan needed to change things up quickly when covid struck.

“At its heart, One Up is about reimagining… the traditional library from a cobwebbed repository of knowledge, to a dynamic, creative and inviting space designed for the 21st century child,” says Madan.

On any typical work day here, Madan inhabits three distinct spaces: the first, where she interacts with the young members of her library; the second, where she plans and executes virtual modules; and the third, her own little room, more suited to quiet, reflective work.

In this interview with Lounge, she describes why each has its own significance, how a physical space such as a library, especially one for kids, had to recalibrate during the pandemic, and how she kept her young readers engaged and reading through the covid years. Edited excerpts.

Describe your current workspace to us.

My workspace at One Up Library, Learning Lab & Book Studio is divided into three sections — the physical library, the online space, and my own, quiet working space.

The physical library space with kids during the day is like a learning laboratory where all ideas are tested and come to life. Our children and their interaction with books, drives the energy of this place. In addition to that, the different reading corners and props around the books makes most vibrant workspace for me.

The online space is where the daily virtual learning sessions happen – some with children and some to train teachers. Here, I am surrounded by books, anchor charts, a document camera, sharpies, post-its and piles of loose paper. It is the perfect setting and caters to all my daily needs.

The third is the atelier space with my other laptop. The environment here is more restful and reflective. The space bears with my everyday demands. It evolves and grows, as piles of papers rise and diminish through the day. It comes to life in the morning and culminates with a lot of drafting of lesson plans, strategising, thinking, and planning. Here, I am surrounded by my personal reading selection — all of this makes the space sacred, reflective, and therapeutic for me.

Madan at the online literacy and mentorship space, surrounded by post-its, during a group session with library members.
Madan at the online literacy and mentorship space, surrounded by post-its, during a group session with library members. (Courtesy One Up Library, Learning Lab and Book Studio)

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

Two spaces, the physical library area and my atelier office, have always existed. But with the need to recalibrate due to the pandemic over the last two years, we’d created the second, online literacy and mentorship space, equipped with all necessary tools that support learning and engagement with our young library members. That’s where I set up my standing desk and laptop. The online space and library both require high energy and engagement.

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

My space provides me the ease to think creatively and imaginatively. The library space offers stimulus and opportunities for create an interesting environment; the books and décor the stability and organisation; the learning lab programs and resources evoke curiosity and surprise. My (atelier) space offers solace amidst the hustle-bustle, even during the hectic hours. The little plants in the background and an open glass window overlooking leafy trees just add to that peace. So, I have a sacrosanct relationship with the working spaces here.

Tell us about some memorable moments you have had and/or major works that you have done from this space.

The last two years in this space have led to remarkable learnings — especially around how we imagine traditional spaces and digital interactions. It is here that we realised how online learning can be personalised and integrated. Using technology to our benefit from this space, by breaking routines has been a game changer. For instance, extending literacy learning to different formats like YouTube videos, short films, popular songs, and movies.

Madan at her atelier office
Madan at her atelier office (Courtesy One Up Library, Learning Lab and Book Studio)

But how did this evolve during the pandemic? How did you lend books and how did you ensure kids were reading?

During the pandemic the challenges were immense: of utilising this huge physical space and resource bank of over 20,000 books to create a brand-new digital model for literacy and library events. But today, we are running a successful hybrid model where the online space is used for active engagement responsive to children. We have 30-minute one-on-one sessions, book clubs for groups, for more analytical, critical reading and writing. We also issued books from the library throughout the pandemic, even through the second lockdown, with restrictive working hours, minimum contact, individualised selection, and organised sanitisation system for books. We conducted more than 300 read-aloud sessions, too, virtually. Even our annual Reading Championship was conducted virtually.

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

I will not trade this place for anything else, though it could perhaps think of expanding to a larger space that aids creating different experiences, both physical and online in a similar manner.

A regular feature your workspace over the years. Why?

Books and children because when you bring them together, it is magic; and being able to witness this magic is itself one of the most wonderful experiences to live through every day.

Your first book memory.

When I was in class 3 or class 4. Of reading Nancy Drew’s and Enid Blyton’s books, disappearing for hours from this real world into another world. Another memory is staying locked up in my room for seven hours to finish Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer when I was in class 8.

One genre you love and always recommend to the kids at your library.

Realistic fiction and historical fiction, as both offer windows and mirrors to understand this world and find who you really are.


Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces

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