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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I Believe She Was Actually Called Glenda

The good news is that COSAD, the organization that my Collection Development class is partnering with to help build a library in Bukoba, Tanzania, has raised all the funds needed to ship the container of 22,000 books.

They want to build a collection concentrating on agriculture, health, children's books, business, and education, with particular emphasis on HIV-AIDS information and small business entrepreneurship. However, working with what gets donated to Books for Africa (a directory of Humanities faculty at some college filed under "Humanities," The Vitamin Bible filed under "religion," children's books with racial epitaphs written in the margins, etc.), I made an effort to find some good art books with a global emphasis and quality color reproductions, books on world history and other social sciences, reading and writing skills, teacher's guides, and basic sciences.

The bad news is, that means we need to get this project finished, or somewhere near finished, very soon, and we only have two pallets of books selected so far.

So I'll be busy tomorrow, at the Books for Africa warehouse and at the Textile Center, working on my other final project for Archival Services class, and this weekend, writing up my final presentations and papers, before going back to another busy work week.

Yes, I'm busy. But I'm sure people have noticed that despite my being tired and fighting an illness the last two months, I the "Wicked Witch of the North" as someone calls me (and I just noticed that tonight), don't get "too tired" to give you my honest opinion to a question, whether it be on common descent or whatnot. So feel free to drop in. Bye now!
Well, it's a good think I'm not the wicked witch, because I would have melted. I enjoyed selecting books for the library but it was also a very frustrating experience. It's a big responsibility made all the more difficult because it's not a public library in the U.S., but a library aimed at educating people in Africa. At times I was so overwhelmed, and even frightened a little, by this responsibility that I was almost in tears.

I think that it's very important to give library patrons the opportunity to browse a library's collection in a nonstructured manner, so that they can discover their interests and talents. This community wants medical, business, and agricultural texts and childrens' book so that they can train in careers that are important to them, but I want to round out the collection with art and humanities, literature and the social sciences. It's important for people to have an education, not just training, and in selecting books I remembered my own experiences of browsing the library and coming upon authors and subjects for which I would not have consciously searched, but which turned out to be crucial for the cultural literacy that gives context and depth to one's chosen career path.

So there I was in the literature section (remember, my degree is in English Literature), agonizing over whether or not there were sufficient cultural common ground between me and our intended audience for me to include books such as Moby Dick, The Canterbury Tales (a lovely translation into modern standard English), Profiles in Courage, and Dante's Paradiso, while contemplating a table nearly full of Sydney Sheldon, V.C. Andrews, Michael Crichton, and Robin Cook.

Don't get me wrong - I love Dean Koontz, had a good schmaltzy cry at V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic series in my senior year in high school, and devoured many an Agatha Christie book. But I also didn't include excellent works by Ursula Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Norah Labiner because I didn't think people in Bukoba who didn't have electricity would appreciate science fiction or an experimental style. (So many Norah Labiner books, too, obviously just unloaded. I was saddened. She's a local writer that I reviewed - really a great talent.)

But is that arrogant of me, to assume that people in Bukoba won't like science fiction, say? Or romance novels? I don't know. If this were, as I said, a public library in the States I wouldn't be worrying so. Should I have included what I included? We have made an effort to include world children's literature, picture books with African-American faces, not just whites - and I do think it's terribly important for people to be exposed to the classical canon, however elitist and western-oriented it is.

But should I have chosen Paradiso when there was no copy of Inferno to be found? Does it make sense to include Dante and Chaucer when I didn't find any Milton or Shakespeare? I don't know. Moreover, it is okay that I included a book on space flight (large, full color photos, very attractive) and adventure stories (conquering Everest and Antarctica) and tornadoes? I'm not sure.

Another frustration was that the book's physical condition also drove my selection: I would have included The Scarlet Letter had it not been so trashed. Many of the books are in rotten condition, because people obviously just emptied their attics and cellars, and I dug for gems in this pile with the sinking feeling that while I was dissatisfied with the spotty literary collection I was building, the people on the receiving end will probably be grateful for whatever we gave them. They deserve better.

All I can say is, when I was young I read all these stories from Africa, Asia, and South America - folk tales, myths, adventures, tales of exploration, encyclopedia entries - as well as American stories, and I became fascinated with the world. I want to give someone else the chance to have that experience. It's important to learn how to work, but it's also important to learn to dream and to enjoy, and to develop intellectual curiosity about a subject not only because it is practical, but because it is a pleasure, like fine wine or cuisine - and because the overwhelming coincidence of where you happen to be born shouldn't prevent you from accessing the world's knowledge and discovering your talents and dreams.

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Blogger Kristine said...

[Incidentally: meow!]

November 28, 2008 8:23 AM  
Blogger breakerslion said...

I think you made a mistake not including Le Guin. Her work is allegorical, and quite relevant for political considerations in that part of the world, especially The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and The Dispossessed.

I worry about Shakespeare and Milton. Much as I love them, if a young person is forced to read them, it might result in a desire for revenge that will last a lifetime. Got any Pinoccio (you know I don't mean the Disnoid version) or Don Quixote?

November 29, 2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I think I made a mistake, too. I posted my question about Clarke and Le Guin on our group's wiki. These two write about characters and relationships more than gadgets.

I didn't find Pinoccio or Don Quixote - I wish I had. However, they are having a shipment go out soon, and there was much less to choose from. We're all going to the warehouse one more time. I rejected Kipling's Return of the Native but didn't find any of his light-hearted stories ("Rikki Tikki Tavi," etc.).

There are so many wonderful books that I did find - especially texts on reading and writing, sentence structure, writing an essay and keeping a journal, etc. - and fabulous geography texts, pathology (which they're looking for), and I even found some beautiful art books that crossed categories with detailed illustrations of human anatomy, biology, etc. My real frustration was the literature.

I'm not sure that I should include Shakespeare in Elizabethan English at all, but standard English translations are rare. I asked my group about that, too. (Not that I found any Shakespeare, anyway.)

Another thing are the science activity books for kids that require equipment no one in a village in Tanzania is going to have. And some titles are just inappropriate because of sarcasm or puns (The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit, Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball, Coming to Your Senses (for an art book - senses, get it?).

I don't know about the desire for revenge, though. I think the kids will be "forced" to learn English (their elders mostly speak Swahili) and be forced by circumstances to choose a career path, rather than to regurgitate poetry a la The Four Hundred Blows. At least I hope so.

My experience with people in developing countries is that they're more patient, very eager to learn, have a great attitude and lower expectations, and don't have such an anti-establishment chip on their shoulder, whereas Americans are squabbling about letting kids dress up as "Pilgrims and Indians" for Thanksgiving and trampling each other at Wal-Mart! Gaa, it seems so surreal sometimes.

November 29, 2008 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the 1939 MGM film, she was Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. In the 1900 book, she was Queen of the Quadlings, who inhabited the southern quadrant of Oz.

November 30, 2008 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I failed to identify myself in the comment about Glinda.

December 01, 2008 12:01 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Dang. Got her name wrong! (And I read the book, but a long time ago.)

BTW, have you seen that wonderful classic, Glen or Glenda? That's probably what I was thinking of.

December 01, 2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger Rev. Barking Nonsequitur said...

I, for one, am hexed and beguiled.
Billy Burke has nothing on you.
Leave it to the delusional to mistake which direction is wicked and witch is good.

Which witch is which?

December 01, 2008 3:50 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, bippity boppity boo. I thought it was actually kind of cute.

And I never even posted that Cocteau video based on Jean Genet’s work that I promised her (because no one has the guts to upload it to YouTube, considering their Walmart-esque attitudes about s-e-x!).

I do miss Rich saying “BURN HER SHE’S A WITCH,” I must say.

December 01, 2008 4:37 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

P.S. The witchy economy just transformed my full-time employment into a toad. ;-)

Gee, when you're struggling to juggle school and work and everything else, things eventually just take care of themselves! :-D

I couldn't think of a better person for this to happen to. It makes me think of that song by R.E.M...

December 01, 2008 9:59 PM  
Blogger William Nedblake said...

"Kipling's Return of the Native"? Really? ;-) ... in all seriousness, it sounds like you're doing good work regardless of your doubts about your choices with the book drive.

On a different note, how would FtK know that you were a witch? Did some strange, glassy-eyed woman carrying a duck and a speak your weight machine recently try to entice you into answering a few brief questions?

You're in good company, though, since ERV's apparently the WWotS. (Has anyone told her yet?)

December 04, 2008 7:06 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, making FTK's crops fail probably wasn't a good idea. *Snicker* I'm sure ERV knows.

We had a mass selection orgy today at Books for Africa. They had apparently gotten more shipments in and I found lots of gems. Plus, a couple of the volunteer book sorters brought me books that they had found - Willa Cather, Nabokov (!), even a book about learning Swahili - very appropriate.

There were tons of beautiful reading and spelling books, stacked on tables and up for grabs. We filled up boxes of these. Plus I did find some science fiction compilations and included them. (No more Le Guin, though.)

It's hard work, though.

December 06, 2008 9:00 PM  

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