Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is the idea of FAVL?

Someone suggested to me that FAVL needs to "get out there" more in terms of networking and messaging. I know we have some regular blog readers, and that even more people casually come across the site, so I thought I would begin regular reflections on what FAVL means, to me, and where we hope to be going over the next decades.

As the last word of the previous sentence suggests, I have always taken a long-term approach to FAVL, and constantly repeat my mantra: we are not a ribbon-cutting organization, we are there to clean up after the party.

I just got off the phone with Lucas Aligire, our coordinator in Bolgatanga area, Ghana. We chatted about each of the libraries. He mentioned that Sumbrungu had received a shipment of science books from Tanya Driechel, a former volunteer. The Gowrie-Kunkua library had also received a nice donation of books, from the Ghana Library Board and from five prominent local residents (who each donated 10-20 books). So this is precisely what FAVL means to me: the institutionalization of a regular network of "friends of" these small village libraries, both international and local. How does the institutionalization happen? Primarily, I think, by making sure that each librarian has a librarian. The primary function of the librarian, in my view, is to assure the continuity of the library as an enduring entity. That is FAVL's role, too: to ensure that each library is there 30 years from now, and is enmeshed in an ever-widening circle of friends and institutions that will nurture the library. A library has to take root for it to grow. The roots of a library are the relationships that each library creates. These relationships are with international volunteers, with local residents, with young and adult readers, with government library and literacy entities, etc. Gradually, and only occasionally, people who have leadership skills, time, and abilities, will take each library to a next level, and if they are cognizant of the fragility of libraries as social institutions, they will also be thinking 30 years ahead.

At the heart of the long-term perspective then is an optimism that the world, and more specifically these small villages, will be around 30 years from now, and people will be reading. Of course, life could go in either direction. Villages and libraries can be swept away by the tsunamis of wars and riots. Alternatively, cell phones could just become so fundamentally fascinating and cheap that no one needs to borrow a book or seek out a quiet special place dedicated to reading. I just don't think either of those are likely to happen in the small villages where FAVL operates.

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