Post-vacation library thoughts

Scott and me on Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Scott and me on Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

My better half and I recently returned from a two week trip backpacking through Guatemala. It was an incredible vacation and we had a wonderful time. Guatemala is a beautiful country, the people are really kind-hearted, and everything is CHEAP. Perfect for the gringo traveler.

Before leaving, we were able to connect with a lovely British woman named Julia, who is working in the small village near our surf school, on the Pacific Coast of the country. She’s built a craft workshop where local kids can create small masterpieces that can be sold to subsidize their families’ meager incomes. She also teaches English at the village’s public school. We brought her some supplies for the workshop and sent along some money earmarked for curriculum books (the teachers share teaching resources. Because trying to teach grade 3 with the proper resources is just too easy!). We ended up re-appropriating that  money to fix their computers: the computers in their computer room were running on XP and to the surprise of nobody, all up and died at once.

Some of the swag we scored from La Choza Chula - Julia's craft workshop.

Some of the swag we scored from La Choza Chula – Julia’s craft workshop: Hand-painted coconut bowl, shell necklace, and friendship bracelet.

In talking with Julia while we visited the school and the workshop in El Paredon, she said something that really struck me: It’s hard to teach these kids to read because they aren’t raised with a love of reading – it’s simply not something that parents do with their kids. There’s no library in the village, and classrooms appeared void of any books, so of course… how would kids learn to love reading?

It blew my mind to think about the fact that, maybe I’m a lover of reading because of a concerted effort from my parents, day care, teachers, and education system — not just because, you know… I happen to like books. So THANK YOU SOCIETY for fostering in me the love of reading – it’s a conversation that I’m sure is constant among public and school librarians (and educators), but I’ve never considered that maybe I’m like this by design and not by accident. HUH.

Our small contribution to Julia’s efforts were modest, but it got me thinking about what librarians can do to help create the capacity to fostering a love a reading among kids in underprivileged regions. This is well-worn territory for the library community and NGO community alike, but despite being a supporter of social justice in theory, I’ve never given much thought to the practical aspects of this issue. A few things that popped up recently that might be of interest:

Global Library Volunteer database: I found this website when I was invited to their Facebook group last week.  They host a really great database pulled together by professionals who were active with the Librarians Without Borders chapter at Western (duh, because that group is amazing). Most of these opportunities are in Central America and Africa.

Room to Read: A non-profit created by a former Microsoft exec that focusses on building schools and libraries throughout the developing world. He was interviewed on Metro Morning this week and gave a talk at the Rotman School of Management at UofT and is an all-around righteous dude.

I’ve also heard of arrangements where academic librarians in Canada partner with their counterparts in the developing world to help create better library collections for users in universities. When I was a vendor rep for YBP (which offers services for academic collections development), I heard of a few arrangements – in universities in Haiti and Tanzania for example – where books were shipped to those universities abroad and billed locally. Such laudable little projects could (and probably do) crop up elsewhere. It makes me think about what other sorts of sharing arrangements might be possible, and where vendors can step in to help.

So, some post-vacation thoughts after returning from Guatemala back to Library Land.


2 responses to “Post-vacation library thoughts

  1. Interesting blog. Kind of combined both of my worlds. I work at the Rotman School and also on projects in Guatemala, including a school. Details on the school are at I’m heading to Guatemala in another week. Ken

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ken! Yeah, Guatemala was an amazing experience, but I remember seeing kids everywhere during the weekdays and thinking… why are these children not in SCHOOL? Amazing to see a local Torontonian doing some wonderful work on schools in that country. Good luck on your trip, have a wonderful time!!!