12 Sept 2016

Irish Librarians making an impact in Ireland and beyond.

Guest post by Israel Chidavaenzi. Israel is the Business Librarian at DIT Aungier Street. He is originally from Zimbabwe but has been working in DIT for 15 years

Librarians are a caring lot and oftentimes, their caring extends beyond call of duty. Yes, a caring lot is the best way to describe Librarians and I can say this with a lot of gusto because as a librarian who has been in the field for more than 20 years, I have seen and experienced the joys and tribulations of the profession. As librarians, our primary role is to quench the informational needs of those who use our services; this is largely dictated by why the library was ever established. It is no surprise that more often than not, expectations of those who use our services go beyond the scope of the many job descriptions that informs what you as library profession does every other day. Often times, there is now this natural expectation that is organically growing and its now almost a given than most librarians are now venturing beyond their comfort zone, all in the hope of satisfying what they perceive as achievable - including networking and collaboration.

Networking and collaboration, herein used in the most generic sense isn’t a bad thing after all - for thus how we all get to know what others are doing hence this influences how we thrive to better our own practices. The quest to know what is happening in elsewhere is probably why you are reading LibFocus, which is a home grown platform where Irish librarians share their professional tit bits. It was through LibFocus that DIT and UCC recently collaborated on a project that will benefit students in an educational establishment situated more than 8,000km from Ireland.

Give what you have
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) is widely credited with promoting the idea of passing on to others, objects whose usefulness is no longer relevant to current owners. This well-known saying is attributed to him:

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”
Giving is sharing and sharing is caring, true to the last word – a good example of this is how Irish academic librarians recently cared beyond satisfying the immediate needs of Irish students but also that of students in Malawi. This was made possible through LibFocus which earlier in the year had featured an article about how fire had destroyed the Mzuzu university library in Malawi, resulting in the loss of more than 45,000 books. Librarians in DIT (Aungier Street) together with Martin O’Connor from UCC partnered a UCC Governor, Dr Rosarii Griffin in to putting together and dispatching a consignment of 22 boxes with more than 600 titles. DIT got books from its decommissioned collection, donations from well-wishers and from lecturers who often receive unsolicited donations from publishers.

Caring beyond the call of duty?
Well, in this instance “caring beyond the call of duty” is true because none of the librarians involved with this collaborative effort has any direct link with Malawi. This lack of direct link did not stop us from caring about the lack of library books to more than 4000 students at Mzuzu University. If librarians put their heads together something good comes out of their effort, thus collaboration makes things happen. It is a known fact that libraries in the developing world are the least funded and in some cases they operate with zero budgets so receiving a collection such as the one we dispatched from Ireland is for many, probably the only way to get new books in to the library. It is for this reason that, we the Irish librarians should blow our own trumpets for our help is going beyond the borders – we care for the educational wellbeing of people we will never meet.

It just didn’t start with the Malawi project
Prior to sending books to Malawi, books from DIT have been going to Zimbabwe where they were being received with the highest appreciation one could ever imagined. For years, Zimbabwean libraries were solely relying on donations from well-wishers because they just didn’t have money. Any budget allocations were wiped out within hours due to super - hyperinflation.  A quick layman’s check on the internet shows that at one point, the inflation rate was predicted to reach 1.5 million per cent. I am going to be bold here; I will not cite the source of the above figure as this record breaking inflation rate was at the time, common knowledge. So in such an environment, Libraries were left with no money so books from DIT went a long way in supporting the Zimbabwean education system during its darkest days. More than 20,000 books were shipped to Zimbabwe over a 10 year period. This was largely a solo project from me, I did everything from sourcing the books to arranging the shipping logistics and financing the shipping cost though occasionally I would receive help from others, for example one year DIT students’ Union paid the shipping cost and occasionally DIT lecturers would contribute towards the shipping cost.

The Challenge
Shipping books isn’t cheap and it’s not easy. Although I did it on my own for more than 10 years, the experience has shown that this approach is just not sustainable – collaboration is the way to go, just like what UCC and DIT did with books to Malawi. From personal experience, I got great satisfaction from doing this and I would challenge other librarians to extend their caring attitude beyond their immediate traditional users and one way is to help those in need from far afield. Every year, libraries decommission books that still have a life so instead of dumping that book in a skip think about how that book could potentially make some life changing contributions to the education of others. If you are to coordinate book donations for overseas institutions, you ought to be selective on what you dispatch to them – do not use your beneficiaries as a dumping ground, if you do so then certainly it will not be a cheap way of getting rid of your books.
I have done it, DIT and UCC have collaborated on it and many of you have also done it for years so let us continue the good work for our efforts are making an impact in Ireland and beyond. Remember, “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think” and what you give might be all there is to that someone.



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