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.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Travel diary (12-13 out of 28): “Librarianship is a job stuck to routine”

Travel diary (12–13 out of 28):

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]

On Tuesday, the 16th of November, we would be journeying for another 36 hours, on another bus belonging to the neither friendly nor nice "Ormeño" company. It was one of the very few that Tourist Information Office in Lima recommended for an international trip (we did not want to imagine the services given by the others). Before leaving the city, that morning we did not choose to visit another museum (though we still wanted to know the National and the Gold ones), but to attend a meeting at the Public Library of Lima, located downtown, in the old building where was previously placed the National Library (there had been a LIS school there, which does not work anymore). The conversation would be maintained at the invitation of our colleague and friend Rosa María Merino, who was very interested in showing us the reality of the place where she worked, as well as in giving their mates the opportunity to know a bit of my own country and the places we had been travelling during the previous week.

The building where the library was situated is very beautiful, with all the features you would expect to find in a place influenced by classical architecture: high walls, elegant flights of steps, pretty inner yard... And all the expected services in a great urban library.

Rooms were packed with young and adult people studying, looking up some information, reading... The children area, gorgeous and very well organized, was our meeting point.

During the first part of our conversation we discussed about the sort of problems faced by each of us, that most of the time result in being the same ones for the entire Latin American LIS universe: bad organization, lack of resources, some errors, many deficiencies... But in the second part, another Peruvian colleague –who worked independently with Open Source software, implementing it in libraries in the area of the Central Andean Range– joined us. The argument between her and the person in charge of those matters for the Public Library, put an end to our previous conversation. From their argument –in which came out certain issues that were not of my business, as they were internal problems–, probably what most surprised us what the Public Library colleague's statement affirming that "librarianship is a job stuck to routine". He stated firmly that this was true, adding that our work is not very important, repetitive, and does not have innovation or surprise among the terms that could define it. Such words left me and Sara with our mouths widely open, while I wondered how many of such "characters" would have high librarian positions and would be working (and defending) in such an unproductive manner, doing or achieving nothing at all, but, on the contrary, damaging our profession. In Argentina I know some examples of what I am speaking, I have met them everywhere: people that neither have respect nor esteem for their positions, their discipline, their work, and who do not do anything else, but what it is at their convenience, at a time or in a place that is suitable for them, in order to praise and express their approval for their own inefficient job.

Nonetheless, knowing that library was a pleasure. It was our last professional visit before saying goodbye to Rosa María and getting on the bus that would take us out of Lima, towards the northern part the country.

The coastal landscape of the northern region of Peru is very similar to the region that we had crossed in the south: deserts cut, from time to time, by valleys that were like true oasis in the middle of those sandy and thirsty areas. Coasts continued exhibiting its astonishing profusion of deep blue colors, with black stony islands dying the endless shores of white sand, shadowed here and there by the wings of "rabiahorcados" and seagulls. The coach was uncomfortable, dirty and noisy, features of most of the "Ormeño" buses that we got on.

Night found us near Trujillo. We stopped in an indeterminate place, on the outskirts of a city. While Sara slept, I sat on the side of the road. Far away, the populated area lighted the sky with orange tints. From there Afro-Peruvian rhythms were coming through the air, rhythms that have to do with the sea and any sort of festivity, singing voices, clapping hands. I remembered the council election that would be held in three days to choose a representative for every city of the country. And I thought that, as well as in Argentina, nothing better than giving free music, drink and food to people in order to entertain them, avoiding that they reflect on the different proposals of every candidate, some of them, even for foreigners as we both, sounded more than completely ridiculous. But politics in our countries use to be that way: in some regions of mine, even nowadays, votes are bought with some roasted meat and a few bottles of wine; in many others they are not bought but forced. Many times I have wandered whether we have the governments that we deserve. Sometimes, when I see the stupidity of voters, I am inclined to think that maybe we do.

At dawn of the following day we were still crossing the Peruvian coastal line, dunes and a few populations. It was lunch time when we arrived in Máncora, a tourist center that exploited the beauty of its beaches and the strength of its coastal winds to attract visitors. And there were many. We saw their windsurf sails cutting the waves crest.

While the rest of the passengers were having lunch, we went for a short walk along the seashore. We were looking forward to treading that sandy beach and leaving the sea water to cover our hair with salt. Somebody had told us that Máncora was the destination chosen by some national presidents to spend their holidays. It is well organized and planned, restaurants offer the best products fished in the area, and handicrafts showed works on shell and mother-of-pearl. A whole system prepared to make visitors get some rest and enjoy the sun, the wind, the beach and the food. However, behind the hotels, at the back of each restaurant, we found another Máncora, another reality not that far from the one we have seen on the outskirts of Lima: the houses of those men and women that sell junk and cheap goods for a dollar, of those children offering their services, of those women cooking at restaurants. Homes with walls made of reed in the middle of the dunes, with clothes hanging in a rope, swaying with the wind...

As we came nearer the border with Ecuador, the road abruptly changed marine sceneries by fields of palm trees and rice. The bright green of those rice crops made me remind of similar landscapes gazed at dawn through the moist air when I was in Seoul, coming out from the Incheon Island...The presence of big rivers in that region allowed the artificial irrigation –thanks to the channels that crossed along the fields– of wide areas, limited by rows of coconuts and framed by the violet silhouettes –still far away– of the Andean range.

Obviously the scenery was completely different... It started betaking the extensive tropical crops that we would encounter in the south of Ecuador (and that we were not able to see during our outward journey as we would be crossing it at night). Immediately, it was clear to us that the enormous number of landscapes, views, visions, colors, and environments that our continent exhibited would never stop astonishing us with a new surprise. And in a way –or perhaps in more than one– we felt fortunate in having the opportunity –in spite of considerable inconvenience and the many days and nights on a bus– to be able to appreciate those changes, those green and brown gamut, those sandy lands, those tropical trees, that coast, those mountains...

It is said that one loves what s/he knows. We were falling in love with those lands, no matter the scars and the open wounds that still remained on them, and were perfectly recognized on each of their sides. If I have learnt something from love, is that when you love, you have to love everything, not only the part that you like the best. Perhaps this is one of the most terrible mistakes made by many Latin Americans...

The border crossing between Aguas Verdes (Peru) and the Ecuadorian side was chaotic. Limits are not clearly defined: you have to stop in two or three different places in order to get the exit and entrance stamps on your passport and go through customs and passport control a couple of times. Problems may arise if you decide to cross the border on your own (we did it with other passengers following our bus drivers indications). In that case you take the risk of being cheated by some folks that offer you their transport services guiding and helping you through that maze of offices too far one from the other. Those men ask for a price at the beginning, but once they have done their part of the deal, they usually want to be paid 800% more, and get the money with menaces and with the collaboration of someone else. We were told of travel companions that lost 100 dollars at a time thanks to trickery. Hence, we did not listen to that "sirens call" that would have had bad results for us and stepped on the bus when the sun began to fall.

The following day met us in Quito. However this will be a part of tomorrow's post.