02 October 2012

All Libraries Are Not Created Equal

Last week, I set foot in an American Library...the first one I've been to since I've been back from Uganda,  just over three months since returning to the US. Weird. You'd think, as a librarian, I'd be itching to get into a library when I arrived back. And in some ways I was...wanting the familiarity of books in rows and hushed voices. Amidst the craziness this summer there were time I thought: "Just go to the library...it's familiar and orderly." But with a wedding to plan and about a million other things going on, I just never went.

To be honest, there was also a part of me that wasn't [isn't?] ready. I wasn't ready to face an area of extreme contrast between my life in Uganda and my life here in the US. Sure, there are tons of contrasts every day but the library. My work, my refuge, my frustration, and my joy. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't enter a library because I knew I would be flooded with memories and maybe tears.

My library in Uganda was/is: small, covered in gecko-poop, dusty, cracked, simple, and full of people I loved and admired.

And then there's the library I walked into here: big [unbroken!] windows, clean, carpeted, and full of strangers and new computers and books.

I miss my little library in Uganda. I love[d] it. Red dust and all.

Because to me it was my work and my life. Maybe it's because the library was where I had control and now, being back in the US in a new city, without a job, I feel like I have very little control. For me, there's comfort in creating order when your world is feeling a bit unsteady.

Mostly, though, it has me wondering again why some areas of the world seem to have so much in terms of money and worldly goods and why others don't. It made me ask questions about life and fairness. Do you American librarians know how lucky you are? The contrasts between life in America and life in Uganda come up at the strangest times. I try hard to just accept them as different...two different countries and cultures. I try not to get too caught up in the 'why?' because I know it will only drive me crazy.

So, I looked around the bright, shiny, new library and  I saw people using computers, reading, looking for books...and I forced myself to remember why libraries exist in the first place. I forced myself to remember that libraries exist to serve people...to connect them to information. And every library is unique to its community.

I don't know why things are the way they are in this world. I saw this video the other day and can't get it out of my head. I keep thinking about Africa and here and wondering why things are so different. I keep asking myself how I can come alongside the people I love in Uganda...still loving them from here.

But mostly, I keep remembering the smiles and laughter I shared with friends. The stories of perseverance I heard. And I hope that I will learn to see the libraries here as wonderfully as I see that one: providing space for community to grow.

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