Bringing Books to All
Hippocampus promotes reading among children across all social sections in Bengaluru and Chennai by providing them access to thousands of books and activities.
The children’s library and activity center Hippocampus, in Bengaluru, is the product of personal passion, education and necessity. Started in 2002 by Umesh Malhotra and his wife, Vimala Malhotra, Hippocampus now works with more than 50 government schools and community centers, organizing events and reading workshops for children and their families in the region.
The first chapter
Although set up in India, the idea for the project has its roots in the United States. While living in California, owing to Umesh Malhotra’s job with Infosys, the couple and their then-5-year-old son took great advantage of the offerings of the American public library system. They were drawn to the local public library as a community place, especially the children’s section and its variety of books, activities, and open, friendly gathering place for families.
Upon their return to Bengaluru, the Malhotras searched but were unable to find a space that provided similar services and a cheerful setting for families. So, taking matters into their own hands, they launched the Hippocampus center.
Today, Hippocampus boasts of a remarkable range of activities, clubs and games, as well as an impressive array of books, reading programs and multimedia offerings. Various clubs, camps and workshops, like those on cooking, writing and reading, help children discover their talents and interests, and make new friends.
Having created the Hippocampus center, it was only natural to reach out and spread this model of community, fun and reading to other areas. Hippocampus has achieved this through partnership with schools in Bengaluru and Chennai. It helps its partner-schools set up better libraries, with an improved collection of books.
Another important part of Hippocampus’s community reading initiative is the Hippocampus Reading Foundation. It aims to take books to underprivileged children and encourage them to read a book a week. Today, over 10,000 children have access to 41 libraries set up by the Hippocampus Reading Foundation. A big part of this has been its “Read It? Spread It!” campaign, which has led to the donation of thousands of books to be put to good use by Hippocampus and its reading initiatives.
Since Hippocampus has thousands of books ready to lend out to young readers, it’s certain everyone can find something of interest. If readers want to spend time at the center, they can “sit under a tree, sink into a bean bag, or just hide in a quiet corner…At Hippocampus, you have the freedom to read anywhere,” says its website.
This type of environment is clearly inspired by the Malhotras’ experience with the open philosophy of American libraries and their mission of serving as community centers. But, Hippocampus extends beyond this feature by offering home delivery of books. By simply calling a number, its Home Library Club members can get their favorite books delivered at their doorsteps.
Creating dream lists
One of the most unique aspects of the Hippocampus lending system is the ability for children to create a Dream List, a selection of up to 200 books a child plans on reading. The child can prioritize the items on the list. So, if parents don’t have the time to make book selections for each delivery, it is possible to simply choose from the specified priorities in the child’s Dream List. In this way, reading also becomes about the children’s ability to define their own taste and to chart their progress along the road of reading. For families with more than one child, separate Dream Lists can be made, so that each child can have the same sense of individuality and achievement.
Another valuable initiative by Hippocampus is Hippocampus Learning Centers, which runs three-year preschool programs in various villages in Karnataka. The program targets children aged between 2.5 and 6 years. At the end of it, the children are able to read and write simple sentences in English and Kannada, and perform single-digit mathematical calculations.
Truly, there is no lack of choice or opportunity when it comes to the Hippocampus center. The only limit is one’s imagination!
Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.