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.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Travel diary (03 of 28): a high, high bridge... (part 02)

Travel diary (03 of 28): a high, high bridge... (part 02)

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

Once the workshop was over (you can read about it in the first part of this post), we joined the rest of the group ("foreigner guests", i.e. lecturers from abroad) and we visited together Puente Alto Librarian Centre. First, we listened to a few welcome words from the municipality political representatives and DIBAM members, and shortly after we went to see the Public Library and came to know about one of its programmes in the development of school libraries belonging to the municipality. According to this, they have put into practice a plan to encourage reading, called "To grow reading" (one we could appreciate in the folder we were given) which main goals are:

To develop the liking, the habit and the skills that have to do with reading in the whole educational community.
To allow children to have access to different reading sources with the same opportunities.
To develop either their reading comprehension and their reading speed with standards that point out the growing level of reading habit with time.
To support students teaching-learning processes.
To turn school libraries into learning resources centers, open and easily accessible to the educational community.

This programme also offers the necessary indicators for each goal (which allow their managers to evaluate their accomplishment), but stressing on measuring students reading speed, something Sara and I were in absolute disagreement with.

[In many occasions we have witnessed the lack of comprehension of what our students have been reading the minute before and we feel that, in general, not enough time and energy is spent, on the part of teachers and librarians, to guide and accompany students towards the understanding of what they are reading, listening to, watching at... Once more, we would like to point out that reading is not a question of quantity or speed, it is a question of getting a better comprehension of life, of the world around you, of people and society, of yourself, of the one next to you... It is a question of freedom and cannot be limited by numbers nor by statistics].

We are still asking ourselves why some Chilean colleagues –especially the ones placed in management positions– are so fascinated with numbers and ISO standards, while forgetting the use of other evaluation factors and methods that could provide / add a more complete idea of what we are talking about, if used together. The support given to school libraries is centered upon the provision of spaces in each school (furniture, indications, etc...), collections development, digital catalogue, professionals' qualifications and development of services such as lendings in class and for home. For the collection growth, a basic bibliography has been selected. It consists of eight titles (according to level and grade) that ought to be read by each student in a year. We do not doubt (or maybe we do) about the excellent books chosen after thorough thinking, but we certainly don't agree with the fact that a selection has been done (it is more than nothing, right, but it is not enough: we would be assuming that every child likes the same and needs the same, and this is not true. If we want to be egalitarian, we should give each one what s/he needs, not the same to everybody).

The plan for reading promotion (something I watched carefully since I am a teacher in a very similar programme of the National University of Córdoba, Argentina) includes a reading introductory programme for children, a sort of register for them to list the books they have read (something like a journey diary through the pages of different books), the encouragement to make use of the school library, the reading of tales, the reading and writing of poetry, the presentation of books as a play, the knowledge of new books, reading speed improvement, oral tradition recovery, participation development, likes and needs identification, and incentives for readers.

The travel diary I did mention above is a little notebook including Children Rights Decalogue to Listen to Tales (written by the Children Book Colombian Association) and a guide with UDC numbers (the general ones) and with color keys to indentify the books of literature in class 8 (yellow for 0-3 years of age, green for 4-6, blue for 7-9, red for 10-12). The books are stored by general UDC code in first place and by alphabetical order secondly, with a colored circle (as indicated) in its label. In addition, this diary includes blank spaces for research readings, instructions for using the site "Virtual Planet", blank pages for free and creative use, the Children Rights Convention (by United Nations) and a few more curiosities... That way, the child can make a list of his/her readings and the different activities related to books s/he has taken part in and developed.

In general, both the reading of this programme and the comments on the part of their responsible, show excellent ideas and best of intentions, but I have learnt, after years of practice, that one thing is what is said and another very different what is done. Considering that we did not have the opportunity of seeing its final results, I can't say anything else on this respect, though I would like to add that when one pays a visit to institutions such as this one as a guest, normally s/he only sees what the host wants s/he to see, and that is normally limited to those aspects the institution is most proud of...

Continuing with the Public Library, the collection has open access –with the exception of its reference section– and there is a room specifically arranged for computing teaching and the information search through the web. However, the Children Library was the part that most impressed both of us. Its building (next to the main one) was rearranged in order to fulfill its new functions, and the result is absolutely wonderful thanks to the unified labor of architects, designers and librarians. The room is completely labeled with colors and very friendly signals and indicators that guide the user through the shelves according to his/her age. The main room, on the ground floor, has huge lamps made of bright colored textiles, the same as the furniture and the carpets, according –once more– with the age area. It is absolutely delighting to see children adopting different postures and placing the books on the benches and their bottoms on the carpet... They really seem to enjoy what they have in their hands... The staff, perfectly recognizable, is always ready to help children and older ones. Something we found really surprising and made us smile proudly, was the important number of parents sharing this space with their children (together with the children books, there are also books for their parents related to education, children growth, psychology, etc.). On the first floor there are a couple of rooms for dramatization, and the making of drawings, puppets, experiments and so on. It is, definitely, a true cultural centre, organized according to the newest tendencies and to a very nice and careful design. I wasn't able –due to the brevity of our visit– to learn more about users and professionals' behaviors, readers' opinions, the impact of this centre in the community... However, I should stress the seriousness and professionalism of the ones responsible for making this project come true. This might one day be a good example of librarian services and policies carefully thought for those who are going to use them (something that do not usually happens in our lands even when there are a lot of available resources).

From the Librarian Centre we went to one of the schools belonging to the municipality of Puente Alto, where we could visit one of the school libraries I mentioned before. There we share a few minutes with a class who was doing some "reading" and we were welcomed with a short play adapted from a tale... The school director and the person in charge of the library told us about the functions of that unit (placed in a former classroom). When I wrote "reading" a few lines above, I meant that those children, when they saw us entering the library, did as if in fact theory were reading, but obviously they were not, as Sara and I managed to notice, looking at their faces and their bright eyes smiling even more than their mouths... The artificially created study atmosphere of those moments had nothing to do with the real state of things, which truly seemed to be better understood from the notes stuck to the walls that showed the frequent access to books, for example.

Late on we went to have roasted meat for lunch and taste the famous "pisco sour". For those who know nothing about it, I will tell that "pisco" is a variety of brandy similar to "orujo" in Galicia (north of Spain) or "grapa" in the Buenos Aires-Montevideo area. You have to stir it with sugar, lemon and the white part of one egg, and pour it in a cold glass with a few drops of lemon on it. There is fierce rivalry between Peruvians and Chileans to define the authorship of this drink and also to decide on the best one (Peruvians argue that Chileans stole their recipe and patented it). This is not the only unsolved dispute between both countries, anyway. After tasting both of them, Sara and I definitely like the Peruvian version the most, but this is a very personal opinion. After the lunch we went to visit the well known vineyard "Concha y Toro", probably one of the most famous of the country. Situated in a very beautiful piece of land, belonging to a landowner of the 19th century high society, the place exhibited big old houses with European furniture and neoclassical designs along with gorgeous gardens, an artificial lake, a long tradition of growing grapes, and a number of wines about which I do not know much about, but Sara –with a richer culture on grapes, wines, and barrels than mine– helped me to know. That way, I found myself listening first and later talking about different types of grapes, oak barrels (French and North American), colors, bouquet, tastes of flowers, fruits, tobacco, coffee, almonds... Nevertheless, even with the great teaching effort done by my partner, I have to admit that I still continue having attached a sort of ignorance towards wines... (I perfectly recognize the ones I like, but I am not able to make you a description of their qualities...). Armed with the "mythical" glass of the wine tasters, we tried two different wines, though we did not have the fortune to try the famous "Caviler del Diablo" (Devil's Hole), one of its most famous wines. The fame of this excellent red comes from its legend: the owner of the cellar, every year, kept part of his better wines for himself in an area specially thought for that purpose, deep inside the cellar... Soon he came to know that his workers were stealing the precious drink and had the idea of inventing a legend to trick people... He started telling to the ones that wanted to hear him, that in those lands inhabited the Devil, and making this tale to seem true by pretending to be its imaginary character. From time to time he disguised himself as the Devil, and the incredulity of people was so touched by such evil performances that those wines never disappeared again. Today, crossing the tunnels of the cellar is another tourist attraction, accompanied by the expected play of lights and sounds.

We made good use of the rest of the day for having rest and recover from the many emotions and for remembering some curiosities and unforgettable moments we lived. We also thought of some of the comments that people made us during the workshop, such as the strong presence of Opus Dei in the municipality –with a conservative political position– and the development of family programmes (better to say "of family enlargement") in areas that already have six or seven children per family and very few resources to nurturing them. It is curious –and really very sad– to see how certain sectors of society still continue defending 16th century ideas in a world that absolutely needs to be a bit more open-minded. To defend this out-of-date methodology, still present in either family or educational contexts (lack of use of anti-conceptives, repeated pregnancies) in social sectors with a lot of needs and deficiencies, seems to us to be completely unreal, unethical and inhuman. It is obvious that I do not care too much about the learnings supposed to be found in "the Holy Book": my opinion (and Sara's) is based in common sense because I have directly experienced the urgent needs that have to face and bear families with five, six and even seven children (that is to say, of nine or ten members, if one of the grandparents is still alive). It is good to enlarge the flock; what I do not understand is why it does not start getting bigger on the part of those who better can afford its growing...

At the end of the day, I found that sayings continue being sayings, and facts are still far from words, really far. Huge divides that maybe won't never come closer came to my mind once more. The night caught me preparing the following day conference, entitled "The Social Role of Public Libraries in Latin America". With blood burning as in that very moment, that conference will be the "exhaust valve" to many of my worries, ideas, and anxieties. I hoped to find ears and minds open to new ideas...