I Believe She Was Actually Called Glenda
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.