Young India Never Tires

May 13, 2011
Students Sit Around a Table at American Library in New Delhi

When I told my daughter I wasn't coming home on Saturday night, she was admittedly confused. "What are you going to do in the office all night?," she asked. "Well, sweetie, we thought it would be a nice idea to keep our library open all night so the students can prepare for their exams." She looked dubious. Well, so was I. We conceived the idea on a lark -- the American Library in New Delhi, the largest public access library in the State Department, had been growing by leaps and bounds, and we were overrun with university students. How to continually and creatively engage them is what keeps our American Center and Library staff occupied. During university exams, and in the sizzle of a Delhi May, we decided to stay open from 11:00 a.m. Saturday until 6:00 a.m. Sunday.

A healthy crowd stayed on until early evening, but I felt sure it would taper off when the novelty faded. At 11:00 p.m., there was a rush on our pizza, timed just before the Metro closed so students could then leave if they chose...Except they didn't. There were 88 of us! At 1:00 a.m., I'm called to the gate, where three more earnest young men stand, holding out their cell phones. "Ma'am, we got your SMS, we've come from Haryana (an outlying area an hour away). We came to see what was happening.” Fast forward to 2:00 a.m., and the mood was almost jubilant. For one thing, there was an honest to goodness American at the reference desk who appeared to be in it for the long haul. There was a lucky draw and quizzes…and lots of coffee. At 3:00 a.m., the staff got creative and started thinking of new giveaway ideas. Prize for the oldest member? A grizzly 65-year-old pops up from behind a desk to receive his T-shirt and the students applaud. Newest female member? A shy 19-year-old admits she took membership that day, just to study in the library all night. Who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin? OK, maybe a little late for that, but points for anyone with an educated guess.

By 6:00 a.m., they had all survived, and more than that, they had actually studied! Somewhere in the dark hours of the night, the American Library raised its coolness quotient. And when young India thinks you're cool, well, the possibilities are endless. That's worth staying up all night for.

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