Thursday, April 17, 2008

National Library Week

It's National Library Week! All across this country, libraries are celebrating this week with special programs and activities (check out Fauquier County's activities here). It's a time to celebrate libraries and to think about the importance of them in our lives.

It's easy for some to take libraries for granted; many people make weekly trips to the library. However, this is an unheard of luxury for many people around the world, as you can see in My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World. While the camel bookmobiles have received much attention as of late, they are just one of the various ways books are brought to isolated communities around the world. We read about truck mobiles in rural Australia, mobiles that serve refugee communities in Azerbaijan, a books-by-mail program in Canada's Nunavut region, a British bookmobile that caters to vacationers at Blackpool Beach, boat libraries in Finland and Indonesia, and mobile libraries in Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea (which, in addition to books, also brings medicine to the jungle hamlets it serves), Peru, Thailand (including a library that does outreach with street children in Bangkok), Zimbabwe, and Kenya. No matter the location or ethnicity of the people, the enormous excitement and happiness that the mobile libraries bring is evident on every page. Just consider what 12 year old Tabbassum from Pakistan feels about the Dastangou ("Storyteller") bus:

"The first time the Storyteller came, I ran to it and picked up a book of poetry. I started copying verses from it because I didn't know if it would ever come again. But then Miss Nosheen, who travels with the bus, told me not to worry. It would visit every Tuesday. That really made me happy!

My Librarian is a Camel is a fascinating and inspiring look at the inventive ways librarians serve communities not traditionally served by libraries.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for almost everyone, but for the rural poor in Kentucky (then the poorest state in the States), it made an already hard life much more difficult. Out of the social programs that were created under the Roosevelt administration, the Pack Horse Library Project of Eastern Kentucky strikes me as one of the most admirable, thoughtful, and treacherous projects.

The Pack Horse librarians delivered magazines, newsletters, children's books, manuals on homemaking and farming, childbirth and childcare, and other popular materials to families living on and around the Cumberland Mountains. It was an extremely popular and well-received project, for several reasons.

The genius behind the program was that the librarians were not do-gooders from big cities who were coming to save (and patronize) the "ignorant" people of Eastern Kentucky. Had that been so, the project would probably...definitely? have failed. No one likes being told how to improve himself/herself when it wasn't asked for, and isolated communities tend to be suspicious of outsiders, particularly when they smack of condescension.

Instead, the pack horse librarians were recruited from the very communities in which they served. These women (the vast majority were women) knew these folks as neighbors, knew the culture of the community, and knew the terrain. This last was particularly important when traversing the rocky terrain in wintry conditions.

Pictures of solemn children with tattered clothing and broken men haunt the pages of Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. However, gentler scenes do accompany the text from time to time: a miner reading to his children before his night shift, a pack horse librarian sharing information on childbirth, hygiene, and childcare with a pregnant woman, and a pack horse librarian reading to an attentive family. The beginning of the book also includes pictures of other mobile libraries that were sponsored by the WPA, including the boat (the Cajuns call it a pirogue) libraries that served the Cajuns in Louisiana.

Down Shin Cut Creek is an inspiring book about a very special group of determined and hardy librarians serving a unique community.

The Inside Outside Book of Libraries is an excellent look at the many different types of libraries, with an emphasis on their many unique services. We learn about New York Public Library's Chatham Square library, which serve Manhattan's Chinatown; the tiny Ocracoke Library on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, whose one-room library is busiest during the summer season. We also read about New York Public Library's Andrew Heiskell Library for the Blind and Print Handicapped (including an example of braille), a Navy ship library, a prison library, the Library of Congress, a school library, and Berkeley Public Library's tool lending library, at which patrons may borrow ladders, wheelbarrows, a cement mixer, and other tools for three days. Cozy illustrations of patrons using and enjoying library materials add to the charm of this lovely book (the Inside Outside series by Ruth Munro is pretty cool!).

Want to know what's going on at your local Fauquier County Public Library branch? Check out our Library News and Events blog!

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