This is an amazing interview clip. Take the eight minutes to watch it. My comments on it are afterward (and might make more sense after viewing the clip than without).
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It’s a great story about a young man who found something at the library that set off a chain of events that changed his village. It’s also a great story for librarians as an example of the importance of information access. Without access, our collections mean virtually little or nothing. Even with William’s limited access to library materials, he was able to find a piece of information that was of interest to him.
But, let’s be realistic about this: access to library materials in the United States is not a big issue. I concede there are some communities (both regional and demographic) that are underserved in this country; I concede that there are people who wish to remove materials from the library (as written about in a previous post); and I will concede that there are (especially this year) many libraries that suffer from funding gaps. But this doesn’t hold a candle to some of the information access obstacles that people face around the world (with an emphasis on developing nations and those with oppressive regimes). While we are quibbling here about what books can be read and how much funding equates to how many hours of operation, there are people out there who simply go without basic library-type services.
While it is not an equivalent evil of the denial of water or nourishment, it is a consumption tragedy of a different sort: food for thought. Yes, you can live without the library, but we cannot truly advance as a planetary population under unequal information footing. Library access falls under the much broader umbrella of world-wide education, a proven tonic for the ailments of poverty, intolerance, and oppression. And, more importantly, I believe it is something that within our collective grasp with the funding and the desire to work for it.
And that, as Shakespeare would say, is the rub; I haven’t a clue as to where the former aspect would come from nor the level of work that the latter would include. I’ve written this entry without much due diligence of checking to see if there are organizations or NGOs that work towards this issue. However, I do have a direction and that’s a start. I will try not to think about it the next time a customer argues about a $2 fine on an overdue book, resisting the urge to tell them that they are lucky to have this sort of access to materials in the first place (I never liked it when my parents told me to finish my plate because there are people starving in the world), but it will remind me to keep working towards it. And with movement in the right direction, hopefully, comes motion towards greater change.
Edit: William’s TedTalk. Pretty awesome as well.