Oral tradition and Incan memories
We live in a continent where the spoken world has not lost its traditional channel of information and learning role yet. In each corner of our geography appear, unexpectedly and unsought, those stories and memories that, even though they were never written, codify a part of our history and our identity.
One of the first written pieces on the oral practices in South America was carried out by the pen of the Hispanic chronicler Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a character with a very hazardous life who ended his days almost forgotten by his contemporaries, and whose last great heroic deed was to intend to colonize the inhospitable coasts of the Tierra del Fuego (a fruitless attempt, by the way, which cost numerous lives). Sarmiento de Gamboa’s best known work is “Incan History”, written in 1572 (we have a copy from 1942, published by Editorial Emecé in Buenos Aires). From this book we have extracted a quite large fragment, which we would like to share with you as a sort of tribute to the “oral history” and an old testimony of a practice that, in spite of the passing centuries, has not disappeared at all: it continues to be alive, certainly at other levels though.
The Spanish chronicler tells us, in this text, how the Incan aristocracy had quite precise oral systems that perpetuated their history through generations. At the present time, many other histories are also preserved going round from one mouth to another and from some hands into others. Certainly, our fondness for writing and books leads us, in many occasions, to have a low opinion of orality, since we presume that it is not accurate or objective enough. However, are not the history books touched by the subjectivity of the historians who write them? Do not our libraries tell what the authors of the works that we preserve wanted to note down for the future? Do not they silence what those authors decided to put aside? Do not we continue to hear in the street bits of recent histories that our official records do not want to recognize, no matter how real they are?
Orality is as full of errors and forgetfulness as writing. Maybe, in the comfort of our books, we have lost the faculty (or the custom) of remembering and telling what those memories remind us. Nevertheless, by doing so, we have sacrificed a great part of our reality as human beings, a great part of the experiences that we have had, of our past and our identity. We are allowing others to write down (and save from silence for the future) only some fragments of our complex world. The rest will die with us. What a very sad fate for such a large quantity of knowledge!
Argentinean writer Alejando Dolina once wrote: “We should remember, remember all the time”. We should also tell, listen and share. We have to recover the voices that are being muffled, the sounds that are made quieter and less clear day after day, if we do not want them to be lost. In the end, we are no more than the memories we left once we have passed on. If those memories, those little histories are lost… who will know about our way through the world?
We leave you in the company of Sarmiento de Gamboa and his description (the original it is written in old Spanish, so we have done our best effort to translate his lines into English) of the Incan techniques and methods of preserving the past for the future.
A huge hug from both of us… We look forward to meeting you in these pages next week.
“Before moving further in the Incan History, I want to advise, or properly speaking, to lessen a worry, which might be a matter of concern to those who do not think this history to be true, since it has been elaborated on grounds of what this barbarians retell; those people might believe that without literacy, their descendants can not keep in their memory so many particularities as the ones that I write here, which date from very ancient times. To this, it can be answered that, in replacement for their lack of literacy, these barbarians had a great and true curiosity, and ones to others, from parents to children, they have gone on transmitting their memories until nowadays, repeating them many times, as we do when we have to learn a lesson, and making the listeners to repeat them as well until they had fixed those stories in their minds too. This way, their descendants continued to communicate their annals in order to preserve their history, their achievements, their antiquities, and the number and names of peoples, villages and provinces as well as of days, months, years, battles, deaths, defeats, fortresses and cinches [“Sinchi”, headman].
Finally, it is worth noticing that the most remarkable things, which consist of content and number, were –and still are- noted down in a sort of thin ropes, named quipo [“khipu” or “quipu”], where a number of knots are made. They are able to know what is written along the string by observing those joins and the colors used in tying them, as if they were reading letters. One cannot avoid admiring the amount of information that can be stored in those ropes. In fact, there are masters of quipos among the Incans, as skilled persons at writing surrounding us.
In addition to what has been said, there were, and there are still, particular historians of these nations, a profession that is inherited from father to son. It was thanks to great diligence of the ninth Inca, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, that most of the old historians from all provinces and kingdoms were called to the city of Cuzco for a long period of time, through which he was asking them about the antiquities and the origin and most remarkable past events of those kingdoms. It was immediately after knowing those many histories when he order to paint them on big wooden boards, and chose an enormous room in the Sun House where those boards –covered with gold- would be exhibited in the same way as we show our bookshelves. This Inca encouraged the establishment of a group of scholars who would know how to interpret and explain them. Nobody, apart from the Inca and the historians, could enter in this room without the Inca permission.
In this manner it was known and collected everything concerning the ancient times, and today it is remembered by almost every Indian, even thought in some cases their opinions can be different attending to diverse interests. It was by considering very carefully a great number of elders from different conditions, and finally choosing the oldest and most judicious ones, who are thought of more authority, that I discovered and collected this history, referring each of them the declarations and sayings of their enemies, and asking them to remember their past and the past of the rival faction (since they were grouped in different factions). And these memories, which I have in my hands, compared and corrected with their opposite ones, were, in the end, ratified in the presence of all the factions and ayllos [“ayllus”, clan, large families] who had to take the oath in front of an authorized judge. What is written here was translated by faithful experts in general languages, also under oath”.
Thirsty for freedom to walk among pictures, books and trees
It was during our last trip to Buenos Aires, the place that Gieco  calls city of fate, goblin of a destiny, in his LP “Rural bandits”, when soaked to the skin we toured a small piece of the history of its wet corners. If the memories I have of that day are not wrong, our first steps along Defensa Street took us to San Telmo… We wanted to arrive at the History Museum of the City; however, in the Tourism Office that we found under a bridge after crossing Belgrano Avenue, a very kind person advised us about the fact that we will find the Museum closed because a few days ago someone has stolen a clock that belonged to General Belgrano… As announced by the Tourism officer, its doors were closed and we could only admire the cannons placed in the yard, with the same raindrops that drenched us streaming down their black bellies. We went for a walk around the Lezama Park and touched the roots of its ancient ombúes , which to be made of the very same mud that covered our shoes. The Café Británico offered us a small table next to the window, and a couple of very hot black coffees (mine bitter, and very sweet Edgardo’s one) turned our cheeks red again and put the smile back in our lips. We strolled around San Telmo Market and went into the Defensa passage, ex-house of the Ezeiza family, with its drainpipes flooding the floor of uneven stones and withered colored slabs, making it very slippery. Then, we went back to the Manzana de las Luces (The Enlightenment Block) and visited, almost alone, the Ethnographic Museum. My delight was sheer when I discovered that I was able to understand what the showcases in front of me described, without having to stop for so long beside them, in order to read every small piece of paper explaining what was exposed inside. The handful of readings that I have been doing about the native peoples in Argentina, their legends, their tales, their daily struggles and their ways of living, together with our visits to different museums along the Andean Range, and the direct observation of the people who inhabit today this endless continent, plus the many kilometers journeyed with Edgardo while we went through its diverse landscapes, thirsty some of them, almost intoxicated with the water of their falls others, in addition with our collaborative work, allowed me to recognize what I had previously learnt along the path of our life together.
It is a marvelous experience to become aware of certain traits of the past, which make it possible to understand a bit better some features of a present that you don’t know in full measure, yet. At least it was such an experience for me. I am completely conscious of the vast continent where on I stand, and continue to discover it day after day. As much as I like to listen to the people who inhabit it today, I also enjoy reading the pages that talk about those who inhabited it in the old days; I get the very same pleasure from stopping next to the paths that they trodden many centuries ago, as from doing so in front of the showcases that keep a small piece of their history inside…
Later, we went to know the library named Ávila and its literary coffee downstairs. We were delighted to search carefully for old magazines in its wooden drawers, and smiled to each other while we blew out the dust that covered the first editions that rested on the shelves.
In Plaza de Mayo we said hello to a very grey sky that darkened the Cabildo walls and covered the Casa Rosada with a cloak of mist… The same darkness covered San Martin Square when we crossed it and went downstairs under a very thin curtain of raindrops dripping from the leaves of the tipas . We kept on walking until we were near Retiro, but before arriving at the Train Station we turned left towards Recoleta. We went through Francia Square, empty of people and stalls under the persistent rain, which also frightened the runners that use to run around the Lakes of Palermo at that hour of the day… It was dark when we arrived at the Museum that the tourism officer we had met in the morning encouraged us not to miss before leaving: the MALBA, Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires. I must confess that we doubted whether to come in or not, since the building in front of us (and also under our feet, reflected in the surface of the puddles) was very modern and bright and seemed too noisy to us after a long day of walking alone through the old Buenos Aires… Nevertheless, our curiosity and the cold we felt were stronger than our bad first impression of it. A wide and clear space welcomed us and, for a moment, we felt more lost that we have been in the narrow streets of San Telmo. We asked for the price and, with surprise, we smiled to each other when the person made us the following question: “Do you have student card?”. I really wanted to say that we did not have the card any more, but we would be students forever; however, considering the fact that teachers got the same discount, we decided that would be easier for him to believe this second option, even though we had neither brought with us our university title… He gave us two tickets for teachers and once we left our backpacks and coats in the locker, we went upstairs and discovered quickly many of the works of art we would find through that unforgettable evening. We moved from one surprise into another during the two hours that we spent at the Museum. Both of us felt very lucky to be able to look at pictures that would be kept in our memory forever, to listen to music and “hum” it with our feet, to give a wink to the children next to us, to applaud, to laugh, to play, to make faces showing that we did not understand, to shrug our shoulders showing that we did not know, to push each other with our elbows in front of some sculptures, to sit on some others… We enjoyed a lot. The Museum celebrated with the visitors the joyfulness that meant to have brought together a bunch of works of art made by Latin American authors, whose originality and commitment with reality and imagination at the same time, should always be highlighted. The Museum was like a party and a very enjoyable one, for we found a pair of “murgueros” who reminded us of Ruben Rada’s song, “Candombe for Figari”, in front of one of the pictures of this Uruguayan artist. But it was also like a party because children were moving from one place to another and nobody was angry with them; because their grandparents tried to explain to them what this or that was, on the shelves of the Museum shop; because some works of art could be touched; because the ones that can only be seen seemed to be watching you as well; because you could move freely around; because you went forward and backward, got lost and finally found yourself; because you were free to experience whatever emotion those works made you feel… Because you could speak slowly and smile, and choose whether be on tiptoe or sit on your heels, because you could enjoy either of what you understood and of what does not make any sense for you, of the colors, of the forms, of looking at a picture for a long time or of immediately turn your back on it… Because, well, you could laugh at or get angry with you in front of the works that others made being sometimes happy and other times deeply sad…
Going downstairs, we encountered the biggest surprise of that evening. One of the sculptures that was shown there, consisted of a couple of bookshelves, one opposite the other, with self-help books on their shelves. The books were of second or third hand, they were not very much attractive, creased, with some pages fold, some of them turning yellow, quiet the majority… However, we seen how a number of people stop in front of them, sat in between, and grabbed those pages, opened, had a look and read them…
Edgardo and I thought of the many empty libraries and could not believe what our eyes were seeing. If someone stood up and left, another came in and sat in the vacant place… Those old and “shabby” books were being touched gently again and we could not stop feeling shivers down our spines while we asked ourselves what was happening in those places were books multiply by thousands and, nevertheless, are placed far away from the curious eyes of their readers…
We finished our visit spending a few minutes more in the Museum library and, once more, we had to nip at each other’s arm when we saw the wonderful place occupied by those wooden shelves full of books from the bottom to the top of the room. It was really nice and there were many people there taking out and putting books in the shelves, watching photographs, speaking in a very soft voice, showing someone else the discovering that they had made among those pages…
Going back on our steps we became aware of the fact that the pictures in a Museum, the books in a library or the trees in a park, have to be close to our hands, to our steps, to our eyes, to our lips... We have to be able to touch them, even though we can only do it with our sight in some cases; we have to be able to taste them, although we can only do it through the smelling of their colors, of their lines, of their leaves… If we hide the works of art behind a fence, the books behind a wall and only admire the nature in a postcard, we will be moving away from ourselves, turning our back on our history, condemning us to a very unhappy loneliness and a very deep silence that will make it impossible for us to listen to each other, to talk with each other, to understand each other…
 León Gieco is a well-known Argentinean singer and songwriter.
 The ombú is a tree typical of the Pampas region of Argentina, with visible roots covered with a sort of wrinkles and a lot of knots and big dark-green leaves growing from its enormous branches.
 The “tipa” is another typical tree that can be seen in many Argentinean cities. Its trunk has deep scars all around. Bunches of leaves grow from its dark branches, and people get rest in the summer in its fresh shade.
 The “murga” is a Uruguayan rhythm very funny and noisy that is played in Carnival. The murga consist of many people, some of them playing instruments, others singing and telling a story… Those people are called “murgueros”. Some authors believe that the “murga” stems from “candombe”, the only rhythm with black background that still survives in the La Plata River area. Others relate it to the Spanish Carnival in the southern province of Cádiz.
About libraries, native peoples and Declarations
Translated by Sara Plaza
After 22 years of strong opposition on the part of a great number of so-called “developed” countries, the UN publicly announced on Wednesday, 12th September 2007, the “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, a group of 46 articles concerning 360 million people all over the world, which is similar to the “Universal Declaration on Human Rights” but related to the Indigenous Peoples. In this new Declaration are recognized their basic rights to their own culture and identity, but are also acknowledged their right to self-determination, to the management of their lands, to their own socio-political organization and to the governmental consultation before making any decision about the use of their resources.
Maybe, these last few guarantees –above all, those that facilitate self-determination- were the ones that fostered such fierce opposition along these years, and perhaps, they continue to be the reason for the 11 abstentions and the 4 against –USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia- inside the UN, in spite of the 143 countries voting in favor. Those four countries have a very strong presence of indigenous people among their population and, regretfully enough, are famous for the unfair and unreasonable treatment that they give to those communities, which has been denounced as such to the existing international organisms on many occasions (if you take a look to some reports written by the Indigenous Peoples Committee of the UN, you will discover unimaginable cases concerning this fact). Since this Declaration has, for its signatories, higher status than the one given to the national laws, to sign it implies the acknowledgment of some rights that the non-signatories do not want to guarantee, for they would disagree with the (o)pression, discrimination and socio-cultural exclusion policies that continue being in force within their borders.
The enforcement of this international tool does not mean that its principles will be put into effect inside the territories of all their signatories. It will be necessary that the regional indigenous organizations continue to struggle and claim for the recognition of their rights and the fulfillment of laws that deals with them. It will be a path similar to the one trodden after the Convention 169 of the ILO, which acknowledges many indigenous rights but, up to the present day, continues being only another piece of paper.
My work in LIS –theoretical as well as practical- has been focused, from the very beginning of my career, on the libraries placed in indigenous communities, covering all aspects of this topic. Through my work, I came into contact with a reality that clearly presented the violations and abuses I have mentioned in the paragraphs above. Those situations are not too far from our daily reality: they are in front of us, no matter how distant they seem to be…
Forgetfulness, exclusion, and discrimination towards indigenous societies are not away from our professional environment. A few days ago I did present, in the Latin American professional forums, a proposal which is being currently reviewed by the Revision Advisory Committee of the UDC (Universal Decimal Classification), for adding almost 400 native ethnical groups and languages of our continent to the tables 1c and 1f (languages and ethnics groups) (see my proposal). Those peoples –our peoples, part of our history and our identity- had never been included in the documental languages of classification. There are very few thesauri with indigenous terms and they hardly collect or normalize the names of each people…
Regretfully, it does not only consist of a documental forgetfulness. There are almost not LIS high education programs in Latin America that include specific information concerning services to the native peoples, or the indigenous languages, especially in regions where those idioms are spoken by a high percentage of the population (a good example to follow might be Bolivia). Neither can we find more than a small number of papers, books, manuals, guidelines, national proposals or searching programs related to this topic …
However, in spite of not having accurate or enough information, and considering the scarcity of resources highlighted in the previous paragraphs –which should not be overlooked- it is noticeable, when one works within this field, how many voices are risen above the silence and make noises about this subject. In a certain number of particular cases, they remind me of those “experts” who, as were defined by the management specialist Henry Mintzberg, “every time know more about fewer things, until they finish knowing everything about nothing”. Perhaps, thanks to the existence of those characters –and to the credibility and support given to them- we are where on we stands and have what we deserve, since we would be ensuring “apparent consistency to the wind”, as was told by George Orwell. And while we continue listening to empty words, great discourses, and keep on attending courses, seminars and workshops on the topic, presented by individuals who know nothing about what they are talking about, and neither have any related experience, there is a growing number of problems around us at very different levels.
It happened while I was working on the proposal of languages and ethnics that I considered should be included in the UDC –whose Revision Advisory Committee I belong to, since 2005- that I became conscious of realities that made a strong impression on me: dozens of languages and peoples have disappeared in the last decade (no, I am not talking about the XVIII century or about any European conquest, I am talking about our most recent history); histories and memories that will not sound any more; slaughtered populations, forced to leave their own lands because they inhabit in areas where petroleum, minerals, water, forests, etc., have been found; human rights systematically violated; libraries that do not serve to their users and collaborate actively or passively in their acculturation… One of the examples that impressed me the most was that of an indigenous people from the Peruvian eastern rainforest, to whom a bilingual and intercultural education program was designed… Shamefully, the project was set up in a language and from a cultural context that were not their own ones.
(In my conferences I use to put an emphasis upon the great amount of money and resources which are spent in projects doomed to failure because nobody did in advance an assessment of the situation, including the users and their needs. The case that I have mentioned above can be an excellent example of it).
All walks of life continue, with or without us treading them… It is in our hands to take and be part of such life constantly moving in front of us, to stop listening to sirens voices and work for what we believe that is worthy. For many of us it can be referred to indigenous peoples or rural communities; for others it might have to do with children women or the elders; for another group, it might mean to be in contact with students and teachers; for many others, with people with special needs… Behind the “Declarations of…” –which, perhaps, will be of little use, but are a step forward anyway- we have to be made aware of the opportunity that each of us has to change reality and to turn our work worthwhile.
(Shortly it will be published all the materials and documents related to LIS and indigenous peoples resulting from the collection, research and field experience of the author, addressed to all those who have an interest in the subject).
 The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning: Reconceiving Roles for Planning, Plans, Planners. Free Press, NY, 1994.
A Qom tale
Kataló, the giant, has a wife who is in the mountain.
They do not live together.
She is the queen of the epidemics, of the different types of diseases that are in the mountain.
Kataló favors people.
Kataló is a king who has the power to save or to give that power to somebody else for him to save a third one.
His wife lives inside the mountain.
In this couple, they do not have the same job.
There are piogonak  who belong to us and other who belong to Christians.
However, the remedy provided by Kataló never finishes, neither the diseases because this queen always send them.
Kataló never runs out of medicines, which he always give to the piogonak for them to cure people.
He cannot stop everything.
Neither can she send everything.
That way one intercepts the other.
She is Latée na Nalolga (the diseases’ mother), or Nalolga Laté; also named Kataló Lua, Miss Kataló.
And Kataló is Nkalga Lataá (the salvation’s father).
When Kataló knows that his wife sends different kinds of diseases, he calls the piogonak who is in contact with him and tells him how and with what he has to cure those who are ill.
That is it.
In the previous post of this blog we said that we should not give time the opportunity to pass in vain. We said that our hands have to work for it does not happen, and that our imagination should give us the necessary ideas to mould the clay in which we sculpt our daily actions. We talked about maintaining alive our libraries, our curiosity, and our willingness of thinking, telling, doing. We talked, why not, about moving further without stop being at the side of who is the true heart of the house of knowledge, of culture, of history, of games, of music, of legends, of recipes, of craftworks… the house of doubts, of questions, of so many treasures that can be found between the pages of a book, the lines of a map, the sounds of a cassette, the images of a video, the fibers of a textile, the carvings of a ceramic…
We spoke, in the end, of not forgetting that the reason of our culture and our knowledge is placed in every single person that treads the life day after day, of those who journeyed it before and those who will walk along it in the future… Because those goods belong to us; we have created them together and they are part or what we were, of what we are and of what we want to become. Because there is not a unique true knowledge, on the contrary, there are many forms of knowing and all of them are valid. Nobody was born knowing already what s/he was going to know later, and we all continue to learn every day…
The library and the school are marvelous entities if they manage to join us, if they allow ideas to be interchanged, if they help us to move our projects forward, both personal and professional, daily ones and those we dream to make true some day... They have to become the germ of new desires to know about something, the seed of a constructive dialogue among people who always know something and always has something to teach to the other and to learn from him/her. They have to permit us to tell whatever we want to share, at the same time that they allow us to ask whatever we do not know, we have never seen or heard, he hardly have dared to dream… They should value our needs, our customs, our peculiarities. And they should give us the opportunity to reach new ways of looking, new manners of hearing, and new forms of grabbing, holding and touching a book, a drawing, a photograph, a song, a dream gently…
The tale with which I began this post only intended to show, with a bit of poetry, our fragility and our enormous courage. Both of them go together, hand in glove, interlaced as the diseases are twisted together with their remedies. They are joined as the roots to the ground, the trunk to the roots, the branches to the trunk, the leaves to the branches, the wind to the leaves, the wings to the wind, the dreams to the wings, life to the dreams, death to live, memory to death, history to memory and so on… That is it. They are joined, but each of them with a different work to do, and both of them necessary. And they are the ones that remain in each of us, the ones that we can always notice through our actions. They are also the ones that are present in our libraries and our schools, in the small handicrafts and the great architectural features of many works. It is with them that we have to work. All of us count with our fortitude for not giving time the opportunity to pass in vain, taking advantage, instead, of anything good that our society may offer to us in order to walk the life not in a hurry, but without pause. A good example might be the library and the school, as long as we can continue shaping them until they fit us well, exactly the same as we continue to shape ourselves until we look like the ones we want to become… We already know, because we have learnt it from the Qom people, that Latée na Nalolga, the diseases’ mother is going to keep on reigning in her mountain, as we also know that her husband, Kataló, the salvation’s father, is going to help us always. They will continue to manage the diseases and their remedies, and we will have to keep on overcoming the former and taking advantage of the latter ones with the help of the piogonak, of the library, of the school and of our own hands…
 By José Benítez, from Qom indigenous people. Collected in “Lo que cuentan los Tobas” (What Tobas tell), a compilation by Buenaventura Terán published by Ediciones del Sol, which belongs to its collection Biblioteca de Cultura Popular (Popular Culture Library) (n. 20, Buenos Aires, 1994)
 The shamanism of the Tobas (who call themselves Qom, which means “the people”) is mainly male. As Terán writes in the above mentioned book, the piogonak (shamans) cure singing, sucking, with tobacco, fats and medicines. [...] become shamans when they encounter a theogony or powerful entity in the mountain, because other shaman (generally a relative) transfers to him the power through a collective initiation called welán or through a dream.
We do not have to give time the opportunity to pass in vain
What León Gieco’s song “Aquí, allá, hoy o mañana” (“Here, there, today or tomorrow”), one of our favorite Argentinean singers (author of the well-known hit “Solo le pido a Dios”), exactly says is something like “You should not give time the opportunity to pass in vain”. The sentence, beyond its poetry, draws in the horizon a line to be followed, a goal to be attained, not only in a personal, but also in a professional way…
Time that passes in vain... How many days, how many months have gone gliding past, smoothly and quietly through our hands, not knowing how to catch and use them, how to turn them into an excellent harvest of fruits and results? The question, a bit abstract without a context, becomes more real when we think in all those libraries that die in silence, with the shelves full of books whose spines won’t be touched by readers. Libraries that do not invite their user to come in because they suffer from a regretful shortage of services, ideas… Don’t you know any? We do. We have seen them and have been sitting in them. The weeks pass, the years pass, and those units –that should be changing something of the context where they are immersed, however small the different would be- continue to be there, standstill, frozen, while their managers and staff allow time to pass in vain…
It happened during the last few days: we were speaking and remembered together our learning at university. It came to our minds the explanation of libraries as systems, a group of elements intimately related that work for the achievement of an aim, producing “outcomes” (products, services) and catching “incomes” (information, opinions, needs).
After leaving university, we learnt many more things, and we understood that any library is (or should be, if it wants to successfully serve to its community) an entity quite similar to a living organism: it responds to the changes of its environment, adapts itself for surviving, is flexible, evolves, grows, even reproduces and replicates itself. And, sometimes, stays there, paralyses with inactivity, falls ill and dies.
The life cycle of any system follows a series of steps and closes, sometimes in order to start again, others forever. And all the living systems avoid dying by instinct and try to survive despite the worst imaginable adversities. This basic as well as vital rule can be also applied in our libraries: they have to struggle and do whatever is needed and possible to be alive. To turn them into a simple store is to kill them in advance, to assassinate their spirit without delaying, to doom to failure a project that might have been wonderful and useful for a small or a big group of people.
The library becomes a mere warehouse of goods stored and useless materials when it does not have users. At that moment, it loses its reason for existing. A library is neither a building, nor a collection or a group of people who works in it: it is a service, simply that. And a service, as the word says it, should serve to an addressee. When it does not serve, when the final user considers that there, in that institution, there is nothing for him/her, the time has come to question itself and its managers why it is that all of them failed.
Time follows its way, insensitive to human circumstances. And each minute lost never comes back.
When can it be said that a library walks towards its failure and its death as a system? In general terms, it happens when it offers to the user something that him/her does not need, and also when, on the other hand, does not provide him/her with what they urgently need. And this, shamefully, is something that occurs in every corner of our professional universe. Even though this last statement seems senseless or foolish in a moment of “evaluations”, “users’ survey” and “LIS management”, still there are libraries that insist in implanting into their reality a particular model, not being aware of the risk involved. As the living system that the library has to be, it is the unit itself that, first of all, should consider very carefully the requirements, circumstances and possibilities of its environment, changing whatever was necessary to make it suitable for their users.
To replicate pre-established models can be useful in some cases, especially because it means to walk an already trodden path and it might seem more secure and avoid unexpected and undesirable surprises. But, do not mislead ourselves: what is good for someone, or what successfully worked in a place, does not have to work, obligatorily, in another. In general, existing models –and not adapted to the new conditions previously- use to be considered as artificial implantations and are usually rejected and, consequently, fail deafeningly. Therefore, it is important to listen to the needs and the voices in need, to know the human and spatial context, to look for the most suitable solution and implement it with the existing resources, at the side of the people involved.
The library works in, because of, for and with the community. This sentence should never be forgotten. There are many information units that put themselves in the middle of inhabited places and continue to be there, useless, empty. In their pride, they think of themselves as saviors, heroines that are able to shape people into their particular liking and give them what the dominant society thinks that is convenient for them. Very few times the users want that. The process should be the other way round: the library is like clay, a type of earth that people are going to mould into the desired form. Only then, they will drink from the pot all the knowledge that it keeps inside. It won’t be in other manner. Never, will it be in other manner.
We should not permit time to pass in vain. On the contrary, we should use our initiative, listen to our community, give the voice back to the users and allow them to actively participate in their library. We should turn the library into the cultural and information space that it is meant to be, responding to the inquiries that are really made instead of giving answers to what never was and never will be asked. Only in this way, those systems will keep on living, reproducing, regenerating… Only in this manner, we will continue to learn a bit more day after day… Only following this path we won’t see so many dead libraries, though they insist in making us think how alive they are…
Such is a library, only using our imagination and allowing users to make use of theirs we will get together that time won’t escape from our hands as sand among the fingers…