19 March 2011

You Must Love to Read!

I was asked to write a small article last month for Africa Inland Mission explaining a bit more about what I'm doing and how it relates to the work of AIM...how librarians and missions go together. So, I thought I would put it here on this blog as well with a few minor tweaks. Just a few of my thoughts:

When I tell people I am a librarian, the response I hear most often is: "You must really like to read!" I think this response is rather indicative of what people generally think of librarians...that we sit around reading all day. Oh, and usually people think that we all wear glasses (I don’t, by the way). However, the reason I chose to become a librarian has little to do with my interest in reading but rather my interest in communities. And, when people make assumptions about my personal interests based on my professional decision, I will often follow up by explaining what being a librarian really means. 
Libraries, at their core, exist to connect people to information. This process takes on a variety of different forms, many of which the average person will not see. No matter what the library, librarians answer questions, catalog books, and teach classes all with the ultimate goal of creating a collection of materials for library users. Librarians and libraries serve particular communities, helping to build those communities by being a resource of information. I was told once that the best community builders are librarians because they have access to so much information and to so many people. They get to know the people that walk in the library and love helping them. They are trained to make connections between those people and information. And having access to books, internet resources and other information empowers library users. As people become empowered they will change their communities. As a librarian, I love helping library patrons find exactly what they need; I enjoy knowing that they are empowered as they find new information. I love finding ways to connect them to resources they have not used before. Ultimately, I hope to create a safe place of learning for all members of the community. 
In many ways, my decision to become a librarian is closely tied to my decision to go overseas. My interest in international work, missions, and community building is similar to my interest in libraries. To me, library work and missionary work go hand-in-hand. I am interested in both because I enjoy helping people and being a part of changing communities. Missionaries, like librarians, must learn about the communities where they live and work. If a librarian simply opens a library in a community without understanding the  history, people, and culture, that library and librarian will be ineffective. The library will likely be irrelevant to its users. Likewise, missionaries who think they can simply go overseas and start preaching without getting to know people will also be ineffective. Both librarians and missionaries want to be a part of the communities where they live and work and both can make a huge difference in those communities. Both are interested in helping others find information and be empowered by it, although in the case of the missionaries they also hope to introduce people to the empowering person of Jesus Christ. But just like a librarian must recognize the individuality of each patron, a missionary must also recognize the individuality of each person. Two different people will not respond to the same information (or to Christianity) exactly the same way. Recognizing this is important...to remember that helping people and loving them is not the same as forcing anything on them. And, additionally, missionaries gather periodically to share ideas and prayer requests. Librarians are also often communal creatures, reaching out to each other for new ideas and support. 
RTC asked me to come and computerize their library. But before I could begin that specific project I asked a lot of questions...questions about the community,  about who is using the library and what they like about it, about what they want to change. I am learning students’ names and where they come from. I try to remember the classes they are taking so I can point them to other resources they might not have considered. I am trying to become a part of the college’s community. Likewise, as I settle into a new community and neighborhood I will begin by observing the culture and getting to know my neighbors. I will learn about them and from them. I will try to become a part of the community as much as possible.  
Being a librarian means I spend my days helping people, loving them, reaching out to them, and being a part of and building a community. Being a missionary means I do the same. Reading is optional.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post! Rachel, you are more than a missionary or a librarian--you are a faithful disciple of Christ and one of my heroes!

    Love, Aunt Gale