12 February 2012

Creating Space for Community

The students are returning to RTC this week. Classes began last Wednesday. It's so great to have them back on campus! :)

My first few weeks on campus were quiet in the library as I prepared for the new semester. I tried to split my time between cataloging, creating a few new signs, rearranging, etc. I'm happy to announce that we now have 5000 books cataloged! I believe at this point we're more than halfway. Pretty exciting. Especially because now that the students are back I know my days will look very different.

But one of the things I wanted to do do over the break was think carefully about the space I have in my library. With one room I have limited space but I knew I wanted to make a couple of small changes. I believe that one of a librarian's main jobs is to build community. To provide a space that empowers people with information and helps build its respective community.

I love the sense of community that exists in East Africa. I love that my neighbors notice when I'm not around. I love to watch students walking hand in hand after class. I love how taxis are sometimes so crammed with people that a stranger will hold someone else's baby. [Ok, sometimes I don't love the cramming part, but you get the idea. :)]

And I want the library to be a place where that community can continue to exist and maybe grow. Probably the biggest change in the library since I came has been the installation of computers. Four of them for students to use. It's been a big challenge for me as a librarian to simply be handed computers and expected to install, network, and maintain them. It has tested my technical skills but also my critical thinking skills as I think about where to put computers, what policies to create, the purpose of having computers/technology, etc. While I was in the US, I had the opportunity talk with an old professor from grad school about how to arrange computers/technology to encourage and build community. In the US we often see computers individually arranged to give everyone their own privacy and space. But here I want the computers to encourage people to do what they do naturally: work together. So I decided to experiment.

You might remember pictures like this from last year:

Five students crowded on one side of the table, around 2 computers. I've loved seeing how they work together. But I started to wonder if I could make space for even more people if I spread things out a bit. So, I rearranged the computers just a bit.

Five computers basically in a line (one of which
embarrassingly didn't work properly)

A bit more spread out...most noticeably computers on
opposite sides of the table, with an extra chair at each 

I honestly have no idea if this will be better or not. I hope that creating more space will encourage more students to work together on the computers, which they tend to do already. But I am afraid by creating this extra space I've implicitly said that the students themselves should be more spread out. I'm going to observe for the first couple weeks and then if needed, move everything again.

Along with trying to use technology and the library to build community among students, I'm also trying to create the sense that the library is for the entire RTC community. Along with everything else, I've been trying to welcome the kids that live on the RTC campus. I'm sure I've talked about these kids before. They've captured my heart in a lot of ways. This one in particular:

Little Seme playing a typing game

He recently came marching into the library saying, "Rachel, I want to color these" and pulled out a few small pieces of cardboard. Over the past year I've created a shelf of things for the kids: coloring books, crayons, games, children's books, etc. I told him he was welcome to use the crayons and to just put them back when he was finished. I LOVE that he felt comfortable just walking in and helping himself to what he knew he was allowed to use.

The kids' shelf

I want everyone at RTC to know that the library is a safe place of learning and studying and also of community. A place where we use technology together to learn, research, study, and grow.


  1. Great next step with the computers spread out and an extra chair at each. Look forward to hearing what you find!

    -- An Old Professor :)

  2. Becca: Thanks! :)
    Martin: We'll see how it goes. Here, people often say slowly by slowly when describing things...that's how I feel. Slowly by slowly we're making little changes. I did notice when I came in today (after being gone on Friday) that there are now 3 chairs by each computer. That's positive! :) [P.S. Sorry, I don't mean you're old...just that you were my professor in the past. Oops! :) Thanks for being such an inspiring teacher!]