They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Social work...

Social work

By Edgardo Civallero

Librarians' social work is not about going out to the street and saving the world or humankind. We're far from being superheroes. I think that to commit to reality (from any profession, situation or point of view) doesn't mean at all to assume the responsibility of solving every problem, every conflict and every misery.

To commit to social reality, its conflicts and the problems happening in our environment, means to assume just a responsibility and a basic moral duty: to give what we can for the stabilization, improvement, change or deletion of every critical or negative situation.

Sometimes, the things we give –this little "grain of sand"– is completely useless. But sometimes –just sometimes– it's precious. And extremely useful.

How do we know what situation is "critical" and "negative"? Ah, ah... "that's the question". I think it is necessary for us to learn to look around and to listen, carefully and slowly. To listen to the surrounding voices. We'll find needs quite soon: hands looking for support, people who need us. We'll find a place where our work will be useful. And then, in that exact moment, we'll commit to a cause, to a situation, to a human group. Maybe our cause will be a tiny, ridiculous, stupid one... But it'll be ours. Valuable for us (because it'll allow us to help and to improve ourselves) and for the one who receives it.

Librarians' (or any other) social work doesn't mean to force anybody to do anything. It doesn't mean to force someone to listen to us, to follow us, to accept us because we believe that they need us, or because we believe that our reasons or our service is good and wise. It means to look for the hands that need and desire our help. And it means to give them what they need or what they ask for. To force, to impose, has been the great mistake of a lot of (inter)national programs (e.g. development or education support). Provided services are not wonderful just because we believe they are, or because we think others need it. In this sense, we need to work from a grassroot development perspective.

This perspective points out that every person with a problem can recognize (sometimes with a little bit of help) what this problem is, its source and its best solution (or the desired one). It's necessary just to listen or to ask the right questions. Listen, listen and listen. To learn which one would be the best solution that people would use if they could afford/obtain/make it. Our work is to help them to get/do it. Or, at least, to try.

And every activity implemented using this method must be done by collaborating with the community, the final users. We have to put the tools (whatever they were) in their hands, and to help them to use them, and to try a successful outcome.

This way, our help will be a natural, easy, acceptable one... and it'll not be an artificial implant ready to be refused by the receptor as something strange.

Maybe we'll not change a lot. But I swear that, at least inside of us, something will change.

As always happens to everyone who wants to be solidary or to implement new things, we'll face indifference, lack of understanding, stupid answers, envies and jealousies, and even aggressive attitudes. Frustration will arrive soon. But there are always good reasons for going on, for not letting the fire to die, for making every day count. It's necessary just not to fall after the first failed trial, to believe, to forget the word "impossible"... and to go on.

And if, at the end of a long way of trials, we find that we've always failed, we'll have, at least, the satisfaction of belonging to the "we-always-try-even-if-we-usually-fail" Club, and not to the "I-prefer-to-do-nothing-just-in-case-I-would-fail" Society.