Thursday, October 23, 2008

The importance of libraries


Room to Read Founder, John Wood, uses a yak "mobile" to transport books and other materials to build school libraries in some of the most remote parts of the world (photo: MSNBC)

Continuing on the education theme from the past couple of days, I wanted to reflect on the importance of libraries in the education system.

Growing up between two cultures (rural India and a largely urban United States), I saw very clear differences in the access to educational resources. In India we were lucky if we had libraries. Our school fortunately had one, but we had very limited access to it; and when we did, the books were limited in number and scope. Still (and probably because of how precious it was), I developed a love for classic tales of adventure (as well as an insatiable appetite for comic books). My favorites were "The Scarlet Pimpernel," and "The Count of Monte Cristo." Libraries were often private; people opened up their collection of second-hand books. You would get a membership and then check them out. But again these were limited in scope and number. It didn't matter the size of the library (and I've used them all) - a push-cart, a little closet, even a large shoebox. They allowed me the chance to learn and escape when I needed. That was priceless.

In the U.S on the other hand, I partook of Andrew Carnegie's dream. And it felt like it too. I loved the number and variety of books; I loved the events; I loved the arts and crafts, and the reading competitions, and storytime, and puppet shows. The library formed the center of my social life. I made friends there, we played in the playroom, we ate cookies together during snack-time, and we read. I have only the fondest memories of the library.

More than anything else, libraries encourage and reinforce learning. Everyone has questions, particularly as a kid. It is extremely frustrating to not be able to get an answer. This is where the internet has been SO powerful for the developing world. Suddenly the playing field has been leveled.

On the note of libraries, read John Wood's incredible story of how he left Microsoft to start Room to Read - an organization setting up school libraries in some of the poorest regions of the world; and on the other end, is this ultimate nerd library courtesy of Boing Boing. And who can forget how the library project changed Shawshank Prison in the amazing Shawshank Redemption?

What has a library done for you??

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