Promoting library and literacy development in India

Jen Ford and Nariel DavisWhen FIMS professor Ajit Pyati created a new internship opportunity that would allow his students to travel to India to promote literacy in marginalized populations, one of his goals was to create a position that would yield immediate and measurable results.

“While doing research with a social justice focus can be quite rewarding, the impacts of this type of work often take time and are hard to measure,” he explains.  “With this point in mind, I wanted to do something that had more of an immediate impact on the ground.”

Working together with fellow professor Sandra Smeltzer in January 2011, they connected with the Hippocampus Reading Foundation (HRF), a non-governmental organization which promotes library and literacy development in India.

“Our idea was to give our MLIS students a potentially life changing international experience, while also helping HRF further develop its goals of literacy promotion and library development for Indian children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds,” he says.

The idea has come to fruition, and earlier this May the first two internship students arrived in India and are currently involved in activities on the ground. Nariel Davis and Jen Ford, both Master of Information and Library students, have spent the last several weeks acclimatizing, working and sight-seeing in Bangalore.

“The biggest challenge so far has been adjusting. It took us about a week to adjust to the time change, the food, and simply living in a different culture. We have faced a few other challenges, but the support of both those here, and those at home, has helped us move forward,” explains Davis.

“Most of our adventures are yet to come, but we have had the chance to visit parks, take rickshaws, and connect with local people.”


Davis says that she is interested in being able to get a sense of how another culture affects the way libraries work and are viewed. She is also looking forward to simply learning more about herself, more about her chosen field, and more about the world at large.

Ford is looking forward to gaining some experience working on a project that combines parts of her undergraduate degree in Anthropology with her graduate degree at FIMS.  Professor Pyati is confident that the internship will be beneficial for all parties involved.

“The overarching goal is to promote an international focus in our MLIS program and to provide some much needed skills for furthering literacy and library development in India,” he says. “Students will no doubt make valuable contributions to communities in need, but will inevitably have both their hearts and intellects transformed in the process.”

IndiaThe trip – the first international service-learning internship offered by the LIS program – received funding assistance from the Western’s International Curriculum Fund, to cover basic costs.  Davis and Ford are the first of potentially six students in total who will travel to India.  And they would encourage other students to consider similar opportunities in the future.

“We both agree that if the internship appeals to you, you should go for it. If it is in a different culture do your research ahead of time, but remember that you can’t control all the details and make the most of the opportunity,” advises Ford.

Davis and Ford will return to Canada on August 11. The students are keeping a blog while in India.  To follow their adventures, visit “Out of the Stacks.”