Image via San Juan del Sur Biblioteca
What is already becoming clear to me about Nicaragua its past and present is quite complex. Nothing is as clear as it may seem and there are contradictions everywhere. And I haven’t even arrived to the country yet! My expectations of the trip and what I will learn are very vast at this point. After each online session we’ve had my mind has been wondering in a hundred different directions about what we’ll see and experience during our short visit to this country. And then I delve more into some of the articles about libraries in Nicaragua as well as about Nicaragua’s history and my mind goes off in an entirely different direction. What I do know is that this trip will impact not only my library studies, but also my on-going informal study of other cultures and histories. This allows me to at least put all of the different thoughts swimming in my head into two groups; the ideas and expectations I have about Nicaragua, it’s people, its culture, and its history and the ideas and expectations that I have about libraries in developing nations, how to start libraries from scratch, and the issues of sustainability that these grassroots libraries face.
A little over a year ago I left my job in banking. I felt a pull away from the “greedy” business of Wall Street towards the lofty and romantic goal of “doing some good.” Eight months after giving in my notice I found myself at Simmons and working towards a degree in library and information science. It was then that I seriously started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I had this, perhaps idealistic, goal of working in a public library and providing access to information for all. As not a day goes by without news of another public library losing funding and limiting hours and jobs, I have started to wonder about the purpose of libraries in this country, public ones especially, and what my actual place in them may be. What will I learn from these two years of schooling that will be applicable in a landscape that is changing almost everyday and that is making libraries a very different space then they were when I grew up over twenty years ago.
When asked over Moodle what we hoped to get from our experience in Nicaragua my response was “to see what a library means to people in the areas we visit and how it is involved, or not involved, in the community.” As libraries change here in the U.S. I find myself constantly curious about what a library means to people here. I think that to understand that more fully it will be so beneficial to see what the answer is in another country, especially one where budgets look no where near what they do in the U.S. and where oftentimes, they do not even exist. I hope, through this trip, to explore more about not only what a library means but also what it provides. The services that libraries are expected to provide have changed, especially in this country. Like Sergio pointed out, does Jane at the San Juan Del Sur Biblioteca provide services that the government should be providing? Is that the same here as well? It’s a bit different here because libraries are often publically funded but it is still an appropriate question and one where comparison between the two countries may not be far off. I just read about a public library in San Francisco that has hired a social worker to deal with all of the homeless patrons that now inhabit the library. Is that a role that the library plays now, to house those who have no home?
Another question that has come up over the last few years is if libraries are merely places for people to use computers and the Internet. I grew up in Western Massachusetts in a town that still does not have wired cable television and where only half of the town has access to high-speed Internet. The library has five computers with Internet access as well as Wi-Fi access. This is vital for the people who live in this town as many do not even have the option of Internet access and suffer from faulty telephone lines. From what I have read about the San Juan Del Sur Biblioteca, technology is definitely on the minds of Jane and other volunteers. However, offering access to technology in Nicaragua is impaired by unreliable electricity and is obviously not the same as a town in Massachusetts but there are still parallels that can be learned from. I know in the libraries that were created using the Library in the Box program they may be more focused on just having books for people to read but I still am hoping to learn more about what technology means to a library in Nicaragua compared to what is beginning to mean to libraries here.
The final thought I have about what I expect to get out of this trip, at least for the moment, is that of budgets and economies. So not only what does the library mean and what does it provide but what do you do as a librarian when you are faced with less – less money, less workers, less resources? Nicaragua, as a country, has had far fewer capital resources than the US. However, as I pointed out earlier, libraries in the US have to learn how to work with less everyday. So what can we learn as American libraries from those that are used to working with less on a regular basis? I found through the librariesforall.org website a link to the “Seven Aspects of Sustainability for Lending Library Projects in Developing Nations.” If found it to be very thoughtfully put together. I am curious if public libraries in this country have any similar plans. I would imagine that many do not, or if they do they are not as up-to-date as they should be. With my business background I am actually always in shock, at times, at the little thought that is sometimes given to budgets and sustainability in the non-profit world. I also believe that with limited resources you have to put a lot more time and thought into how you market your library and your services. I am eager to see how the libraries we visit in Nicaragua do this in the absence of the social networking craze that has hit libraries in this country. I hope to integrate all of the above thoughts into my final project for this class, especially the idea of what a library’s role is, in developed versus developing countries.
I know that this will be a study abroad experience that is different from others and that it will be focused on what we can learn from the libraries there and how we can apply it to our own professional development. However, after reading so much about the history of the country, especially the time during the contras, I am very interested to see how a country has recovered, or not, from a war that is not so very distant. I spent time in Cambodia and Vietnam in 2008 and it was a trip that I came back from believing that every American should go there at least once to see our country’s impact on each country. To spend time in Cambodia in fields where there were active mines just years ago was an unbelievable experience. I remember fearing that people in both countries would hate me because I was American. I found this to be quite the opposite. And I found myself extremely fortunate to be able to learn from people who had seen war and had survived. I realize this sounds a bit romantic but this kind of learning is important and impactful too- I believe that my past travel influenced me to change my entire career. I would imagine, from what I’ve read, that the complexity and conflict that has enveloped Nicaragua makes for a current culture that is rich and embedded with stories. I guess in the end I’m just realizing that my only expectations are that what is so wonderful about travel is that you don’t ever know exactly what to expect.