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.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Travel diary (04 of 28): librarian´s social role

Travel diary (04 of 28): librarian's social role

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]

The First National Congress on Public Libraries went on during three days at Santiago [Public] Library, in an old building that has been wonderfully rearranged and which included the City Archives as well. Years ago, the Public Library was placed together with the National Library (facing the "Alameda", Av. O'Higgins), but about a year ago DIBAM was in charge of adapting the old structure of offices and engine sheds and turning it into a library with different rooms, auditorium, etc. The eastern part of the building has got a restaurant, terrace, training, conference and exhibition rooms, shopping centre, café and halls. Its southern wing keeps the general collections, the literature ones, the audio and video ones, study rooms, the youth section, the one of press and reference, the adult section, the children one, the new acquisitions section, training laboratories and the areas of lending and catalogue. It is certainly a very complete structure... It can be said that DIBAM has done a very good job. In addition to this library, DIBAM also manages the National Centre of Conservation and Restoration, the Patrimonial Centre "Recoleta Dominica", the Intellectual Rights Department, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Libray, the National History Museum, the "Bibliorredes" Programme, the National Archive, the National Museum of Arts, specialized museums (4), regional museums (20), valuable websites, the journals "Patrimonio Cultural", "Conserva" and "Mapocho" and the network of public libraries that includes: Tubelibrary, Trainlibrary, DIBAMobiles with lending points in free markets of 17 municipalities, and more than 50 mobile services such as buslibrary, motorbikelibrary, mobile houses, yellow tricycles, cultural buses and many others innovative means of transport.

We went to the Santiago Library after having the breakfast with my room-mate and Congress companion, Gustavo von Bischoffhausen, a Peruvian librarian with history studies who, at the present, is working in a project that has to do with a network of Quechua libraries in the town of Ayaviri, in the middle of the Peruvian Andean highlands, near to Titicaca Lake, with IFLA-LAC support. Gustavo is a member of the Peruvian College of Librarians and a librarian himself, working in an institution related to Arts. He works together with other colleagues –for example, Álvaro Tejada– in this particular and amazing story concerning indigenous libraries (story that I always keep in my heart because it pushed me to study my profession and about which I hope to publish a handbook next year). In addition, Gustavo develops the initiative named "Todas las voces, todas las lenguas" ("All voices, all languages") in which he presents orality and his country ethnic diversity in hand with narrators from different cultures and languages, who show the best part of their spoken and intangible heritage.

Well, there we were, at the inaugural ceremony, with the rest of the international lecturers. It was a wonderful group of people, a professional meeting that turned into a friends gathering with ideas and interests in common. The opening counted –as expected– with the presence of the organizing authorities: the municipality of Puente Alto governor, M.J. Ossandón and DIBAM director, Nivia Palma, that gave a "magistral conference" full of contents –in my opinion– that were a bit more political than LIS-related (anyway, you already know how biased my valuations can be...). After the welcome, and while I was going out to have lunch, someone asked me if he could make me an interview. A bit surprised (I do not know yet how someone could have had that idea), I said yes and you can find the exchange of questions and answers –plus some opinions extracted from this blog and the conference I dictated in the afternoon– in the DIBAM Libraries Subdirection page. In the afternoon the Conference Tables started with the international guest's participation. Everybody was there: public libraries responsibles arrived from the four corners of the country, from the south, in Patagonia, to Visviri, in the border with Bolivia and Peru. The first speaker was Manuela Nunes, a Portuguese colleague who talked about "Doubt, questions, challenges and illusions of the Public Libraries in the third millenium raising". In a correct Spanish, slightly and delightfully touched by her Portuguese accent, Manuela delivered a truly social librarianship lecture, putting emphasis on some concepts and ideas, which undertone was absolutely revolutionary. I highly recommend the reading of her words: it will be a starting point for many and a further step for others, but with no doubt, it will help any of us to analyze, in a more realistic way, this new digital era that is flooding us and that, sometimes, does not allow us to breath nor to choose the path we want to follow. After Manuela, it was Jose Antonio Merlo turn, a professor and a librarian from Salamanca (Spain) that until recently had been working for the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation, and has a good number of published articles on the web about nets and digital libraries. José Antonio, honoring an excellent sense of humor in front of an audience that seemed to go to sleep in a few moments due to the fact that it was "siesta" time, got to wake up their listeners and make them pay attention to the ideas explained through his conference "Public Library as Reading Promoter", which lines have some data of great interest. Both, José Antonio and Manuela introduced us to the problem that public libraries face confronting a new era, and probably a new paradigm as well that, in its fast race, not always waits for them.

After the break, I went on to the stage together with my colleague from Colombia, Carlos Zapata Cárdenas, who I was pleased to meet in person after many years of digital correspondence. Carlos –who brought me from his lands a copy of the Colombian professional journal "Códice", in which I found an article signed by myself– is a recognized professional and professor who works in Bogotá (currently in the La Salle University) and also deals with a wide range of topics inside our profession, and always has a huge number of experiences, news and novelties to share (that are enough to stop you from going somewhere else, since you can be amazed hours and hours listening to him). In its conference –right before mine– he showed some numeric data related to digital divide in Latin America. For those interested in this issue, I invite you to read his lecture, since you will find some charts that clearly demonstrate how the gap between "connected" and "disconnected ones" is not getting smaller, as many like to proclaim...

Once he has finished, I was the next speaking. The title of my conference: "Librarian social responsibility in Latin America". You can find this text online and you can also read one of the comments done to my words: "vehement" and "poetic" – said someone in the public, in the interview mentioned above.