They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Travel diary (04 of 28): librarian´s social role

Travel diary (04 of 28): librarian's social role

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

The First National Congress on Public Libraries went on during three days at Santiago [Public] Library, in an old building that has been wonderfully rearranged and which included the City Archives as well. Years ago, the Public Library was placed together with the National Library (facing the "Alameda", Av. O'Higgins), but about a year ago DIBAM was in charge of adapting the old structure of offices and engine sheds and turning it into a library with different rooms, auditorium, etc. The eastern part of the building has got a restaurant, terrace, training, conference and exhibition rooms, shopping centre, café and halls. Its southern wing keeps the general collections, the literature ones, the audio and video ones, study rooms, the youth section, the one of press and reference, the adult section, the children one, the new acquisitions section, training laboratories and the areas of lending and catalogue. It is certainly a very complete structure... It can be said that DIBAM has done a very good job. In addition to this library, DIBAM also manages the National Centre of Conservation and Restoration, the Patrimonial Centre "Recoleta Dominica", the Intellectual Rights Department, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Libray, the National History Museum, the "Bibliorredes" Programme, the National Archive, the National Museum of Arts, specialized museums (4), regional museums (20), valuable websites, the journals "Patrimonio Cultural", "Conserva" and "Mapocho" and the network of public libraries that includes: Tubelibrary, Trainlibrary, DIBAMobiles with lending points in free markets of 17 municipalities, and more than 50 mobile services such as buslibrary, motorbikelibrary, mobile houses, yellow tricycles, cultural buses and many others innovative means of transport.

We went to the Santiago Library after having the breakfast with my room-mate and Congress companion, Gustavo von Bischoffhausen, a Peruvian librarian with history studies who, at the present, is working in a project that has to do with a network of Quechua libraries in the town of Ayaviri, in the middle of the Peruvian Andean highlands, near to Titicaca Lake, with IFLA-LAC support. Gustavo is a member of the Peruvian College of Librarians and a librarian himself, working in an institution related to Arts. He works together with other colleagues –for example, Álvaro Tejada– in this particular and amazing story concerning indigenous libraries (story that I always keep in my heart because it pushed me to study my profession and about which I hope to publish a handbook next year). In addition, Gustavo develops the initiative named "Todas las voces, todas las lenguas" ("All voices, all languages") in which he presents orality and his country ethnic diversity in hand with narrators from different cultures and languages, who show the best part of their spoken and intangible heritage.

Well, there we were, at the inaugural ceremony, with the rest of the international lecturers. It was a wonderful group of people, a professional meeting that turned into a friends gathering with ideas and interests in common. The opening counted –as expected– with the presence of the organizing authorities: the municipality of Puente Alto governor, M.J. Ossandón and DIBAM director, Nivia Palma, that gave a "magistral conference" full of contents –in my opinion– that were a bit more political than LIS-related (anyway, you already know how biased my valuations can be...). After the welcome, and while I was going out to have lunch, someone asked me if he could make me an interview. A bit surprised (I do not know yet how someone could have had that idea), I said yes and you can find the exchange of questions and answers –plus some opinions extracted from this blog and the conference I dictated in the afternoon– in the DIBAM Libraries Subdirection page. In the afternoon the Conference Tables started with the international guest's participation. Everybody was there: public libraries responsibles arrived from the four corners of the country, from the south, in Patagonia, to Visviri, in the border with Bolivia and Peru. The first speaker was Manuela Nunes, a Portuguese colleague who talked about "Doubt, questions, challenges and illusions of the Public Libraries in the third millenium raising". In a correct Spanish, slightly and delightfully touched by her Portuguese accent, Manuela delivered a truly social librarianship lecture, putting emphasis on some concepts and ideas, which undertone was absolutely revolutionary. I highly recommend the reading of her words: it will be a starting point for many and a further step for others, but with no doubt, it will help any of us to analyze, in a more realistic way, this new digital era that is flooding us and that, sometimes, does not allow us to breath nor to choose the path we want to follow. After Manuela, it was Jose Antonio Merlo turn, a professor and a librarian from Salamanca (Spain) that until recently had been working for the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation, and has a good number of published articles on the web about nets and digital libraries. José Antonio, honoring an excellent sense of humor in front of an audience that seemed to go to sleep in a few moments due to the fact that it was "siesta" time, got to wake up their listeners and make them pay attention to the ideas explained through his conference "Public Library as Reading Promoter", which lines have some data of great interest. Both, José Antonio and Manuela introduced us to the problem that public libraries face confronting a new era, and probably a new paradigm as well that, in its fast race, not always waits for them.

After the break, I went on to the stage together with my colleague from Colombia, Carlos Zapata Cárdenas, who I was pleased to meet in person after many years of digital correspondence. Carlos –who brought me from his lands a copy of the Colombian professional journal "Códice", in which I found an article signed by myself– is a recognized professional and professor who works in Bogotá (currently in the La Salle University) and also deals with a wide range of topics inside our profession, and always has a huge number of experiences, news and novelties to share (that are enough to stop you from going somewhere else, since you can be amazed hours and hours listening to him). In its conference –right before mine– he showed some numeric data related to digital divide in Latin America. For those interested in this issue, I invite you to read his lecture, since you will find some charts that clearly demonstrate how the gap between "connected" and "disconnected ones" is not getting smaller, as many like to proclaim...

Once he has finished, I was the next speaking. The title of my conference: "Librarian social responsibility in Latin America". You can find this text online and you can also read one of the comments done to my words: "vehement" and "poetic" – said someone in the public, in the interview mentioned above.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Travel diary (03 of 28): a high, high bridge... (part 02)

Travel diary (03 of 28): a high, high bridge... (part 02)

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

Once the workshop was over (you can read about it in the first part of this post), we joined the rest of the group ("foreigner guests", i.e. lecturers from abroad) and we visited together Puente Alto Librarian Centre. First, we listened to a few welcome words from the municipality political representatives and DIBAM members, and shortly after we went to see the Public Library and came to know about one of its programmes in the development of school libraries belonging to the municipality. According to this, they have put into practice a plan to encourage reading, called "To grow reading" (one we could appreciate in the folder we were given) which main goals are:

To develop the liking, the habit and the skills that have to do with reading in the whole educational community.
To allow children to have access to different reading sources with the same opportunities.
To develop either their reading comprehension and their reading speed with standards that point out the growing level of reading habit with time.
To support students teaching-learning processes.
To turn school libraries into learning resources centers, open and easily accessible to the educational community.

This programme also offers the necessary indicators for each goal (which allow their managers to evaluate their accomplishment), but stressing on measuring students reading speed, something Sara and I were in absolute disagreement with.

[In many occasions we have witnessed the lack of comprehension of what our students have been reading the minute before and we feel that, in general, not enough time and energy is spent, on the part of teachers and librarians, to guide and accompany students towards the understanding of what they are reading, listening to, watching at... Once more, we would like to point out that reading is not a question of quantity or speed, it is a question of getting a better comprehension of life, of the world around you, of people and society, of yourself, of the one next to you... It is a question of freedom and cannot be limited by numbers nor by statistics].

We are still asking ourselves why some Chilean colleagues –especially the ones placed in management positions– are so fascinated with numbers and ISO standards, while forgetting the use of other evaluation factors and methods that could provide / add a more complete idea of what we are talking about, if used together. The support given to school libraries is centered upon the provision of spaces in each school (furniture, indications, etc...), collections development, digital catalogue, professionals' qualifications and development of services such as lendings in class and for home. For the collection growth, a basic bibliography has been selected. It consists of eight titles (according to level and grade) that ought to be read by each student in a year. We do not doubt (or maybe we do) about the excellent books chosen after thorough thinking, but we certainly don't agree with the fact that a selection has been done (it is more than nothing, right, but it is not enough: we would be assuming that every child likes the same and needs the same, and this is not true. If we want to be egalitarian, we should give each one what s/he needs, not the same to everybody).

The plan for reading promotion (something I watched carefully since I am a teacher in a very similar programme of the National University of Córdoba, Argentina) includes a reading introductory programme for children, a sort of register for them to list the books they have read (something like a journey diary through the pages of different books), the encouragement to make use of the school library, the reading of tales, the reading and writing of poetry, the presentation of books as a play, the knowledge of new books, reading speed improvement, oral tradition recovery, participation development, likes and needs identification, and incentives for readers.

The travel diary I did mention above is a little notebook including Children Rights Decalogue to Listen to Tales (written by the Children Book Colombian Association) and a guide with UDC numbers (the general ones) and with color keys to indentify the books of literature in class 8 (yellow for 0-3 years of age, green for 4-6, blue for 7-9, red for 10-12). The books are stored by general UDC code in first place and by alphabetical order secondly, with a colored circle (as indicated) in its label. In addition, this diary includes blank spaces for research readings, instructions for using the site "Virtual Planet", blank pages for free and creative use, the Children Rights Convention (by United Nations) and a few more curiosities... That way, the child can make a list of his/her readings and the different activities related to books s/he has taken part in and developed.

In general, both the reading of this programme and the comments on the part of their responsible, show excellent ideas and best of intentions, but I have learnt, after years of practice, that one thing is what is said and another very different what is done. Considering that we did not have the opportunity of seeing its final results, I can't say anything else on this respect, though I would like to add that when one pays a visit to institutions such as this one as a guest, normally s/he only sees what the host wants s/he to see, and that is normally limited to those aspects the institution is most proud of...

Continuing with the Public Library, the collection has open access –with the exception of its reference section– and there is a room specifically arranged for computing teaching and the information search through the web. However, the Children Library was the part that most impressed both of us. Its building (next to the main one) was rearranged in order to fulfill its new functions, and the result is absolutely wonderful thanks to the unified labor of architects, designers and librarians. The room is completely labeled with colors and very friendly signals and indicators that guide the user through the shelves according to his/her age. The main room, on the ground floor, has huge lamps made of bright colored textiles, the same as the furniture and the carpets, according –once more– with the age area. It is absolutely delighting to see children adopting different postures and placing the books on the benches and their bottoms on the carpet... They really seem to enjoy what they have in their hands... The staff, perfectly recognizable, is always ready to help children and older ones. Something we found really surprising and made us smile proudly, was the important number of parents sharing this space with their children (together with the children books, there are also books for their parents related to education, children growth, psychology, etc.). On the first floor there are a couple of rooms for dramatization, and the making of drawings, puppets, experiments and so on. It is, definitely, a true cultural centre, organized according to the newest tendencies and to a very nice and careful design. I wasn't able –due to the brevity of our visit– to learn more about users and professionals' behaviors, readers' opinions, the impact of this centre in the community... However, I should stress the seriousness and professionalism of the ones responsible for making this project come true. This might one day be a good example of librarian services and policies carefully thought for those who are going to use them (something that do not usually happens in our lands even when there are a lot of available resources).

From the Librarian Centre we went to one of the schools belonging to the municipality of Puente Alto, where we could visit one of the school libraries I mentioned before. There we share a few minutes with a class who was doing some "reading" and we were welcomed with a short play adapted from a tale... The school director and the person in charge of the library told us about the functions of that unit (placed in a former classroom). When I wrote "reading" a few lines above, I meant that those children, when they saw us entering the library, did as if in fact theory were reading, but obviously they were not, as Sara and I managed to notice, looking at their faces and their bright eyes smiling even more than their mouths... The artificially created study atmosphere of those moments had nothing to do with the real state of things, which truly seemed to be better understood from the notes stuck to the walls that showed the frequent access to books, for example.

Late on we went to have roasted meat for lunch and taste the famous "pisco sour". For those who know nothing about it, I will tell that "pisco" is a variety of brandy similar to "orujo" in Galicia (north of Spain) or "grapa" in the Buenos Aires-Montevideo area. You have to stir it with sugar, lemon and the white part of one egg, and pour it in a cold glass with a few drops of lemon on it. There is fierce rivalry between Peruvians and Chileans to define the authorship of this drink and also to decide on the best one (Peruvians argue that Chileans stole their recipe and patented it). This is not the only unsolved dispute between both countries, anyway. After tasting both of them, Sara and I definitely like the Peruvian version the most, but this is a very personal opinion. After the lunch we went to visit the well known vineyard "Concha y Toro", probably one of the most famous of the country. Situated in a very beautiful piece of land, belonging to a landowner of the 19th century high society, the place exhibited big old houses with European furniture and neoclassical designs along with gorgeous gardens, an artificial lake, a long tradition of growing grapes, and a number of wines about which I do not know much about, but Sara –with a richer culture on grapes, wines, and barrels than mine– helped me to know. That way, I found myself listening first and later talking about different types of grapes, oak barrels (French and North American), colors, bouquet, tastes of flowers, fruits, tobacco, coffee, almonds... Nevertheless, even with the great teaching effort done by my partner, I have to admit that I still continue having attached a sort of ignorance towards wines... (I perfectly recognize the ones I like, but I am not able to make you a description of their qualities...). Armed with the "mythical" glass of the wine tasters, we tried two different wines, though we did not have the fortune to try the famous "Caviler del Diablo" (Devil's Hole), one of its most famous wines. The fame of this excellent red comes from its legend: the owner of the cellar, every year, kept part of his better wines for himself in an area specially thought for that purpose, deep inside the cellar... Soon he came to know that his workers were stealing the precious drink and had the idea of inventing a legend to trick people... He started telling to the ones that wanted to hear him, that in those lands inhabited the Devil, and making this tale to seem true by pretending to be its imaginary character. From time to time he disguised himself as the Devil, and the incredulity of people was so touched by such evil performances that those wines never disappeared again. Today, crossing the tunnels of the cellar is another tourist attraction, accompanied by the expected play of lights and sounds.

We made good use of the rest of the day for having rest and recover from the many emotions and for remembering some curiosities and unforgettable moments we lived. We also thought of some of the comments that people made us during the workshop, such as the strong presence of Opus Dei in the municipality –with a conservative political position– and the development of family programmes (better to say "of family enlargement") in areas that already have six or seven children per family and very few resources to nurturing them. It is curious –and really very sad– to see how certain sectors of society still continue defending 16th century ideas in a world that absolutely needs to be a bit more open-minded. To defend this out-of-date methodology, still present in either family or educational contexts (lack of use of anti-conceptives, repeated pregnancies) in social sectors with a lot of needs and deficiencies, seems to us to be completely unreal, unethical and inhuman. It is obvious that I do not care too much about the learnings supposed to be found in "the Holy Book": my opinion (and Sara's) is based in common sense because I have directly experienced the urgent needs that have to face and bear families with five, six and even seven children (that is to say, of nine or ten members, if one of the grandparents is still alive). It is good to enlarge the flock; what I do not understand is why it does not start getting bigger on the part of those who better can afford its growing...

At the end of the day, I found that sayings continue being sayings, and facts are still far from words, really far. Huge divides that maybe won't never come closer came to my mind once more. The night caught me preparing the following day conference, entitled "The Social Role of Public Libraries in Latin America". With blood burning as in that very moment, that conference will be the "exhaust valve" to many of my worries, ideas, and anxieties. I hoped to find ears and minds open to new ideas...

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Travel diary (03 of 28): a high, high bridge... (part 01)

Travel diary (03 of 28): a high, high bridge... (part 01)

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

The driver of DIBAM picked up Sara and me in the neighborhood of Providencia for carrying us to the municipality of Puente Alto ("High Bridge"), one of the biggest in Chile, with around 2 millions inhabitants, placed in SE Santiago... The vehicle crossed the city, some periurban areas crowded by little markets invading the sidewalks, and totally rural regions, where the vineyards extended under a clear sky and the unavoidable silhouette of the Andean range, whose heights were stained by early snows. The driver made some commentaries about a little altar built by the side of the road, near the vineyards, surrounded by a lot of bottles of water... Popular devotion left those presents as offerings to "Difunta Correa" (Defunct Correa, this last word being a surname), a mother who died of thirst and whose newborn child miraculously survived sucking at her breasts after her death. This myth can be found also in Argentina, where it's a historical reality with full validity and strong popular support (specially in San Juan province, where "la Difunta" has a really big "temple" covered by votes and offerings). This popular belief made us feel that, despite of the high mountains separating us, the different accents, the old political disputes and the everlasting rivalries, Argentineans and Chileans are not, at least, so different...

We entered the municipality by his less-populated part, i.e. the one where the "richest ones" resided. It was really curious –and sad– to see streets closed by iron gates in every corner of a block, as if they were private streets. Actually, it looked like a private neighborhood. While Sara enjoyed the thousands blooming plants and roses cultivated in the well-cared gardens, I wondered if poorness and violence were so hard there as for forcing a few ones to protect themselves behind iron gates, or to fortify their houses and streets. Sara's eyes reflected the same doubt. We learnt later that need and poorness actually were hard there, being noticeable in other points of the town, where whole families were stacked in tiny rooms, overpopulating a little space in a municipality where the population density was terribly high and where a tiny and weak house costed a few dollars. It's really sad to see how poverty can lead to violence and distrust, how the divides get deeper and deeper in a vicious circle which end seems to be really far away. It is sad to see these things happening in the corner, in my own city, in anyone I visited... It is sad to know that this not only happens to me but to many of my brothers.

Puente Alto's motto is: "Here, life is better", reinforced by similar sentences, like this other one: "Puente Alto is born again investing in our future". I use to take these slogans with carefulness, because I know what is hidden behind the politicians' sayings and marketing campaigns. However, I couldn't help but being surprised the first time I saw the Public Library of Puente Alto, a group of quite old buildings completely rearranged to become a library. This Centre consists of a main building (The Library) that works as reading room, reference and computing (and also has a lecture room for workshops, where mine took place) and a side building, the Public Library for Children, better known as Biblioniños. This structure depends on both DIBAM and the town council, which invest funds in the community education, a community that has a great number of young people. We were welcome by Puente Alto Centre Libraries Area director, who showed us the lecture room where the workshop was going to take place.

After the introduction, I put myself in the hands of those who had come to listen to me, some of them students, other ones members of the town council and most of them teachers responsible for the municipality school libraries. Most of them did not have a proper education on the subject and were there to improve their knowledge, precisely because the knowledge most related with library planning is the less spread among information professionals. In accordance to this, for more than three hours, I did hardly try to explain them how a communitarian library should be created out of nothing, that is to say, from the very first idea to the development of each activity and service offered to their users. Inside the theoretical approach, I did include some quite "revolutionary" ideas – I mean, the ones I have got through my own experience as librarian, teacher and researcher, which has to do with my position and opinion towards this particular issue. At the beginning the audience's answer to the exposed contents was of absolute doubt. Many people wondered if what they were listening to would not be a series of utopias more appropriate for Don Quixote than for a librarian.

So much their insistence was that I had to stop for a moment and asked myself what the problem was with such a distrust, such a lack of hopes, such an impossibility of believing in another model of library. I did find the answer in their own mouths, when they started to tell me –like in a sort of group therapy– about their problems, their many disillusions, their searches without findings, the lack of opportunities, the difficult environment they confront day after day with the only support of their own will and going further. At that moment, I decided to share with them a bit of my own life, maybe as hard as theirs, and also to show them how I had learned to believe either in my hands and in my wings after a thousand fallings (many of them promoted by some of my "colleagues"), and how I would rather believe that the miracle was still possible, that the change would only happen if we thought of it as likely to be achieved and work to make it true. I also explained to them that I never teach anything I had not put into practice before, anything I had not proved to be possible or to work. Little by little their faces began to smile and some of them threw a couple of questions: How should it be done if...? What should I do to achieve...? That way, in the very first part of my workshop, we did start putting into personal practice things that, up to that very moment, had been just librarian theory seen in a PowerPoint presentation. In my workshops, I always set up the possibility of facing a library project from a social point of view, a grassroots perspective, using action-research methodologies and qualitative tools. I usually pose questions that need serious thought and present ideas such as horizontality, equality, solidarity, compromise, simplicity (in the sense of being easy to understand) for facilitating users activities... And above all, and almost as a rule, I insist on the importance of the services, the final meaning of any librarian work. Seen like this, everything could sound a bit false, a bit utopian, a bit unreal... However, once I am able to show them that, in our daily practice, all of this is not only possible, but works and does it well... and when I explain my own experiences, my errors, my failings and my achievements, and how I did it to gain what I have obtained... the expressions of my students slowly start changing. Many of them begin to feel (and they will tell me this afterwards) that finally they have found a sense in what they do, or that, in the end, they have discovered a method to do what they had always wanted to and nobody had ever explained how.

During the break, Sara –a teacher by profession and in spirit– tried to keep up to date with the different activities developed by the teachers that were attending the workshop, while I was exchanging impressions with some LIS students that had quite progressive thoughts and clear ideas. They had come from Valparaiso with the aim of taking part either in the workshops and also in the Congress. In general, the Chilean public seemed quite conservative to me, and during the rest of our trip, we would have the opportunity to confirm this opinion, since a great part of the audiences that participated in our activities, preferred traditional styles and values and were, many of them, suspicious of big or sudden social changes... Librarian training? Latinoamericanism? Fear...? We did not found the reason why they feel that way. The students let me know about their perspectives on our profession and their works on literacy and libraries for children, as well as their opinion about the Chilean LIS curricula, and I shared with them my own position in such matters. That way, we found problems in common, existing deficiencies (especially the ones concerning teaching and learning – education in one word), fixed elites and hierarchies, ("sacred animals" and "great gurus" proclaiming their never-ending power upon the "masses") and huge and deep shortages suffered by users that only wait for a service that is always the same and few times responds to their needs and real profiles. It seems to me that, as it happens at home, many are the ones who talk the talk, but few are the ones who walk the walk. And much fewer tell or teach how to do it...

The second part of the workshop evolved into a shower of questions and many were the ones wanting to participate in the discussion. In the end, when some of them started leaving, the ones that still waited a moment began to put forward very interesting questions and suggestions: "What do you thing about author rights? How should I do if I want to lend, in my library, my own CDs collection in a free way? How should we make use of Open Access in our libraries? What should we change in our curricula? What would be necessary to learn in order to give response to more social services?" I talked to them, sitting on my desk, about the importance of knowing how to design a project –something I do teach as well– and about how interesting it is to do a practical and useful research; I also put into words my own position on authors' rights (one of the main chains that current knowledge has) and explained them how I did manage open collections without violating not even one copyright. I threw many ideas, many experiences lived, and a few answers to those same questions I did ask myself one day (and no one could give me). I left that room with the feeling of having achieved my goals, with many more friends and a backpack full of others' opinions, points of view, dreams... that surely make me richer. I did always believe that, in a classroom, the one that learn most is the teacher, especially if he assumes his role without putting on airs, not thinking that he is better than his/her students but, on the contrary, opening his/her arms and his/her ears and participating with them in building new knowledge. The rule is very easy: 60 students listen to only one teacher, however, a teacher –if s/he knows how– will be able to listen to 60 students. Who is the one with most chances of learning?

Going out after the workshop, we joined the group of "foreigner guests" (lecturers coming from abroad) to visit the building of the Librarian Centre. However, considering the length of today's post, the many contents learnt during the day, I will continue tomorrow...

Stay with us, ok? See you here, tomorrow...

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Travel diary (02 of 28): "broad streets with fists and flags"

Travel diary (02 of 28):

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

It was said a few days later by one on the lecturers, at the beginning of her presentation, but we had felt it a long time ago: putting one foot in front of the other in the grounds of Chile was the same as walking the land of Salvador Allende, of Víctor Jara, of Violeta Parra, of Gabriela Mistral, of the groups Inti Illimani, Quilapayún, Illapu... It reminded us of Santa María of Iquique, of the many times we repeated "the people, together, won't be ever defeated", and of that student, Rodrigo Rojas, burnt alive during a demonstration. It reminded us of the ones buried under the sands of Pisagua, of the Mapuche people fighting in Temuco... There we found years and years of history, known and recognized through poems, pieces of news, songs... And it reminded us of that song –I believe it was performed by Quilapayún– that said:

There won't be tears for Víctor Díaz.
There will be a fly of birds when the sun rises,
and wide streets full of fists and flags,
and the joyfulness of children and guitars.

It was the courage of those people who have overcome the pain and the injustice that institutional oppressors and murderers had spread. They had continued living and defending life as we did on the other side of the Andean range, as many others did –Uruguayans, Paraguayans, Bolivians– here and there, in this land crossed by scars, but, at the same time, covered with smiles. Chile was all that much, and even more. While we walked together the streets of Santiago that Monday, 6th of December –a day with no professional activities for me, so I was free to tour and know the city hand in hand with Sara–, I found myself in front of silhouettes, words and sounds that were absolutely familiar to me, even though it was the first time I put my feet on that country.

From our accommodation in Providencia (the name of the neighborhood) we followed the troubled waters of the Tajamar, a narrow channel carrying much water, which drove us –among very high and modern buildings– to the brownish waters of the Mapocho River, an indelible stain in the face of the city, under the presence of the unavoidable Andean summits, covered with eternal snow, showing all their majesty. The Mapocho River, alongside with its wide concrete-and-stones riverbed and its gulls, has –as many people from Santiago said– a very high level of pollution. "Can you see it there?" –they asked us– "Well, sometimes it carries... water", finished the sentence with a smile. Those who have their memories present, still remember –in a whispering voice and turning aside their sight– that in the near dark past of the Chilean history, the river also carried dead bodies downstream.

I prefer not to think about these sadnesses while my eyes wander from one shore to the other following the muddy crests of the river. There, by the shore of the Mapocho, spreads the Costanera, a series of parks tidily and neatly arranged, where the inhabitants of this large city get rest from their worries and fatigues under the friendly shade of "ceibos", "plátanos", willows and "ombúes". This walk –following Mapocho's stream– took us from Providencia to the triangular downtown, crossing the shade of San Cristóbal hill (mountainous terrain, 200 meters high) which rose over the eclectic and bohemian neighborhood of Bellavista, among fountains and statues... There, in Bellavista, is placed one of Pablo Neruda's houses, though it is probably better known the famous one of Isla Negra, a village situated on the Pacific coast, in the south of the harbor of Valparaíso.

Without tourist guidebooks in our hands, defending ourselves with an unclear, not-very-good city plan –picked up from the hotel entrance counter– that only had a few museums and institutions (plus the name of the main streets), Sara and I made our way downtown, to the heart of the city. There stood the National Arts Museum, a very pretty building that, according to some recommendations from colleagues and friends, certainly was worth a visit. The problem was that, following a very spread custom in most parts of our continent, the museums close their doors for the public on Monday. We did not get discouraged by this fact: on the contrary, we were delighted with our walk and the architectural features of the building and decided to go further discovering the wonders that the city had to offer us. After a few hundreds meters we reached the second hill of the town, this time hidden within the urban structure of Santiago: Santa Lucía hill, a rock of sizable dimensions that rises, without previous notice, in the middle of the city. Going back to 16th century (1541), the Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia –founder of the city– defended that piece of land, trying to protect he and his troops against the brave Pikunches, a branch of the indigenous Mapuche people that lived in that place. The way uphill was very steep, and represented a great challenge for untrained muscles (as mine, for example). Nevertheless, the effort was worthy: from the highest point our eyes could see the extraordinary view of the entire city, with the imposing summits of the Andean range to the east, covered with the shadow of pollution, and with its walls colored in grey by smog, an ungrateful consequence of a heavy traffic that, however, is far from being noisy (I mean, not as much as in other Latin American cities, mine for example). This view of the city certainly stops you from breathing and invites you to sit down and admire it for a long, long time.

Going downhill, we passed Valdivia's monument, the one dedicated to Gabriela Mistral and the one risen in the honor of the Pikunche people. Once at ground level, it did not take us too much time to find the Indigenous Art Centre, which has a very peculiar graffiti in a wall near the entrance. It consisted of a traditional Mapuche design (a kultrun or ceremonial drum) and the sentence: "Resistence is not the same as terrorism". The situation of the Mapuche people, either on the Argentinean side of the Andes or in the Chilean one, is extremely precarious. Their actions, resulting of many years of pressure (first it was the Inka Empire, later on the Spaniards, afterwards the Republic, in time the Dictatorship, nowadays the multinational corporations), can turn into very violent ones (as the group of people with their face covered that set fire to almost 1.200 books from the new Philosophy Library in the Juan Gomez Millas University when took part in a "pro-Mapuche" demonstration a few days ago). However, it has also to be said that this indigenous people have their rights constantly and systematically violated (you can visit the sites with news on the subject such as "Pueblos Originarios" section in Indymedia, in order to understand a bit the roots of their resistance and their rage... and also for knowing more about those voices always kept in silence). Violence never justifies violence... but it is also true that no pain hurts if the neighbor is the one who suffers it. Hence, it is almost impossible to explain some attitudes from outside.

The Indigenous Art Centre I was talking above, organized by CONADI, is a mere handicrafts market oriented towards tourists, that has got an exhibition of some common representations of works done in Rapa Nui, Mapuche regions in the South, and in the Chilean Great North, mainly inhabited by the Aymara people. We could appreciate Mapuche musical instruments such as the trutruka, the kultrun and the pifilka, some textiles and a few works made of silver (that Mapuche did and still do as the masters they are). There were ponchos and Andean musical instruments, some reproductions of the famous moais from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and a very curious duplication of the well known rongo-rongo boards, the native writing of Easter Island, used for creating their "books" on wood boards.

Going out of this place, we directed our steps towards the National Library, an impressive building of classical style facing the famous Alameda (Avenue Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins) which tour we did shortly, entering one room after the other without stopping in any of them (we would do so during the following days), but also slowing down our pace after finding ourselves in front of an exhibition that presented, with amusing and didactic posters, the history of the popular celebrations and parties of the city. While we were looking at each poster we found it very easy to recognize ourselves in many of these customs, and we took notice of the fact that the human being, wherever s/he is, has very similar ways of getting fun, of entertaining his/her free time, of celebrating many different events. It was standing up there that we asked ourselves the reason why the nations of Latin America are still so separated one from the others, why there is still such a lack of understanding among them, why those regional feelings of dislike for each other, why so much roughness between countries that should walk together to confront and deal with the future, since we do not seem to be in a position of getting a very high score alone.

We left the library with not even a single answer, watching at the entrance a big poster announcing the fact of being, that building, the headquarters of the Chilean section of International Transparency, the organization that evaluate political corruption in a particular country (I did prefer not have a look at the statistics of this organization, I did not want to suffer from depression). At the same building are placed the National Archives. The ones referred to the city are in the Library of Santiago, an institution I will talk about in the following posts.

Our tour took us through the populated and packed Alameda, witness of multitudinarian demonstrations and a very important part of the Chilean history. And from there, we arrived at the Palacio de la Moneda, the headquarters of Chilean government, where its actual president, Michelle Bachelet, works. Remembering the documentaries about the coup d'etat in which the president Allende lost his life, and seeing that... was exactly the same thing. And, while we were turning our face to contemplate the square opposite, right there, in one of its corners, we did find the statue of Don Salvador. It was a bit sad to see it there, in an almost hidden nook, when it should actually deserve a more visible place... the one of the main character in the history of this country.

We continued our path through a pedestrian area, wandering from square to square, crossing the Central Market and feeling our mouths watering with the smell of each piece of fruit, the cochayuyo (dried seaweeds in brown tyings), and the various types of fish and sea fish. From congers to sea urchins, from huge prawns to crayfishes and barnacles, we found everything and even more. With the last bite of an apple in our mouth, we finished our tour taking a look at the Tourist Office of Santiago (where its personnel gave us a lot of useful tips for the rest of our journeys) and reserving two seats for our trip to Temuco, the capital city of Araucanía, where we had to meet some colleagues who worked with libraries in Mapuche communities.

We spent the rest of the day looking at the maps and the leaflets got at the Tourist Office, planning future journeys, visits, and above all, preparing the workshop presentation for the following day. But that story (and its details) will be kept in silence till tomorrow.

A big hug.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Travel diary (01 of 28): the gulls of the Mapocho river

Travel diary (01 of 28): the gulls of the Mapocho river

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

"What are these gulls doing here,
so far from the sea?
What are they doing here,
among stones and corner, in this brown river?
What are they doing here,
so far from the sea?"

This stanza from the well known song of Chilean group Illapu (well known, at least in Chile) had always intrigued me... The song was named "Far from love", and I did manage to interpret it on stage and even to record it in a CD with an old music group I had in Spain, when I was a teenager. What gulls did the song make reference to? What river?

While I was crossing the first bridge over turbulent Mapocho, the river that goes through the city of Santiago of Chile, I did understand –fourteen years later– what birds the song referred to. Soaring up into the air over the immense concrete riverbed surrounded by packed avenues and smart and tidy parks, with their outstanding white wings over the brown water, were Illapu's gulls. The River Mapocho gulls.

I had arrived in Santiago de Chile after a short flight that did not rose smoothly up into the air, but with a lot of effort and movements from one side to the other, over a stormy Córdoba, crossing San Luis ranges and Mendoza lands –covered with vineyards– and silently reaching the Andean Mountains. I had always held a fascination for those peaks both in my imagination and in my soul... They represented the dorsal spine of my land, they were the grounds of the original peoples that I love the most, they were... like a legend safely kept in my mind since I was a boy. For the first time, I was crossing the border with Chile, and I did so the day I started this long journey across that range (and along it to the north). The clear sky was of precious help: not a cloud did prevent me from being absolutely delighted with the snowed summits of those giants of stone, with the narrow valleys in between, with the furious streams of water that went down the mountains as a consequence of the melting ice... I remembered the one called "Liberator", General José de San Martín, crossing with his soldiers that iced and rocked mountains in order to join his forces with the ones of their Chilean brothers against the Spanish troops, and defeat them in Chacabuco, in Maipú, and be defeated in Cancha Rayada... The spirit strength of those men, fighting for their freedom and their independence (an independence that perhaps they did not reached ever, although much blood and heroism were wasted) made an impression even greater on me when I was able to see, with my own eyes, the huge extent of land they crossed, the difficulties that scattered their path, the harsh, cruel, severe and unkind conditions that they went through...

Suddenly the range went down and in a few minutes I was flying over Santiago de Chile. Ingeniously I did remember myself when I was a child, looking at my maps and measuring the width of Chile, asking myself how those people did manage to live in a piece of land so narrow without falling into the sea. It was obvious that they do not only live there: they make an incredibly profitable use of the space they occupy. Chile rises over an area of the planet where the ocean floor sank under the continent given rise to a very steep slope in the coast and all sort of manifestations related to the Earth, including earthquakes and volcanoes. The Andean range is the result of two tectonic plates bumping into each other, and its geological activity throughout South America (manifestations we were going to witness during my journey across its lands) are caused by it.

Well, I was there. The first part of my trip would take place in Chilean lands, where I had been invited to participate in the First National Congress on Chile Public Libraries (Primer Congreso Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas de Chile) organized by DIBAM (Libraries, Archives and Museums Direction), the Librarian Centre of the municipality of Puente Alto (one of the biggest and most packed of Santiago, located in the southeast of the city) and the on line open-access LIS journal "Pez de Plata". The people responsible for the DIBAM Libraries Subdirection and the project known as "BiblioRedes" were waiting for me at the airport, and took me to my accommodation, in Providencia neighborhood (one of the quarters of "high" class people in the capital). They made me cross that bridge over the River Mapocho and asked me if I had ever listened to the Illapu song... They also told me about the gulls...

During the way I got to know a bit more about the nature of the event. Firstly, it would consist of two days of workshops in the Library of Puente Alto, one of the most overwhelming public libraries in Santiago. There, I was responsible for dictating a workshop about Communitarian Libraries Planning, explaining how to create –from scratch– a library of such characteristics. Afterwards, I would join the rest of the guests coming from Spain, Colombia, Portugal and Peru and take part in the Congress itself, which would last three more days, where I was the one presenting the conference about the Social Role of Public Libraries in Latin America.

From the airport to the hotel, I wanted to learn about the DIBAM policies on mobile libraries. I did not know the reason, but always that I had talked about mobile libraries in Argentina, the reference was Chile and DIBAM experiences, so my curiosity went past my shyness and I began to ask them. Surprisingly enough, the father of one of the persons who was beside me, had been the instigator of the system of mobile libraries in Coyhaique, in southern Chile, land of fjords and ranches, mountains and sleet... That way I was able to find out some anecdotes. What most stroke me was the fact that there were neither handbooks nor written policies by DIBAM concerning this issue: the knowledge built until today had been done in a very intuitive manner, through a methodology consisting on trial-error or action-research, respectful of each of the international recommendations related to mobile librarian systems, but without creating documents that might have been used in another country. "What a pity" I said to myself. On the web there is a great deal of pages about travelling libraries and mobile systems, but I was really interested in obtaining some guidelines from Chilean colleagues. I was said that there were, at that moment, a limited number of mobile units belonging to DIBAM, working in Chile. The rest were small systems that were not based on a bus or a big vehicle, but on the popular will of moving books from one place to another making use of bicycles, motorbikes and so on, with only one restriction: the power of our imagination. My interlocutors told me that in the short term, there was the intention of starting to note down all the practices stored through years and years, in written texts that allowed the teaching and the reproduction of those experiences in many other environments.

Once I arrived at the hotel, and after organizing my things a bit, I went out to find my journey and life partner, Sara, who had arrived the previous day, and, much to my surprise, had already walked a good number of streets downtown, investing a lot of effort and energy in the task of "paving the way" for our future steps. After going for a walk together and leaving her in her hostel, I joined the other guests for an informal talk in a restaurant close to our hotel. However, on this matter and on the following events –full of valuable information and very rich personal experiences– I will be talking tomorrow, in the next post of this travel diary that, in its paper format (the one I have had in my hands through the whole journey) fills with words, drawings and the petals of a daisy, dozens of pages...

I really hope you continue accompanying me in a journey that, though hard enough, has better allowed me to understand the wealth of our lands and the enormous need of urgent actions to be taken on the part of Latin American librarians...

A huge hug. It will be until tomorrow...

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