A lot of the interest in my Biblioblond blog has been generated by my accounts of my participation in the McGill University’s Librarians Without Borders trip to Asturias Academy in Guatemala in May of 2010. This experience remains to be one of the most challenging and yet incredibly fulfilling few weeks of my life and I’m always happy when people take an interest in our trip and the work involved in creating a library at Asturias Academy.
I haven’t done much with Librarians Without Borders in the past few years since my trip and so I’m very excited to be helping out with LWB’s first “unconference” in Toronto on Friday May 11th. I’m always happy to hear an interesting line-up of speakers and this event promises to be extremely stimulating for librarians who like to think and discuss big ideas surrounding global librarianship. Proceeds from the registration from this event will go towards future LWB projects.
I invite everyone in the Toronto area to come and participate in an interesting evening of “discussion, open debate, and exploration” all in support of a worthy cause!
To register online or for more information, visit the LWB website.
It is so hard to imagine that a year has already passed since I went to Guatemala with McGill University’s Student Chapter of Librarians Without Borders. The LWB 2010 Guatemala Trip was without a doubt one of the most intense experiences of my life. We volunteered at a local school helping them create a library as well as getting a chance to soak in the culture and breathtaking landscape while traveling around the country. I am extremely excited that this year the number of students traveling to Asturias Academy has more than doubled. Also, this year in addition to the students from McGill’s School of Information Studies, the LWB volunteer group has been joined by MLIS students from the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University and the University of Western Ontario. I encourage everyone to check out the LWB Guatemela Trip 2011 blog as the students have been doing a great job of posting regularly to describe their experiences.
As I was reading this year’s blog, I definitely felt nostalgic and found myself reflecting a lot on my trip in 2010. As a whole it was an extremely enriching and positive experience. However, I thought of a few lessons that I learned that might be useful to future volunteers. In retrospect I should have posted these reflections before this year’s group left on April 22nd. Nevertheless, I would be very interested to hear upon their return if they have similar reflections or lessons and I would invite them to comment on the following.
In preparing for the LWB volunteer trip to Guatemala, I wish that I’d know the following…
You can’t anticipate how you will react when forced outside your comfort zone:
Traveling to a foreign country where you might not have all the comforts and amenities of home can definitely be challenging. I dealt with cold showers, sketchy transportation, unfamiliar foods, lack of privacy, etc. The most daunting aspect of the trip was without a doubt dealing with my fear of heights. Guatemala is a very mountainous country and I was at moments terrified for my life as we drove on winding roads along the edge of plummeting cliffs. At the time, I honestly thought that despite the beautiful scenery, the Guatemalan people and the volunteer work we were doing, I felt that my fear of driving through the mountains would prevent me from returning to Guatemala. Now a year later, I am extremely jealous of the students who are traveling in Guatemala and working at Asturias Academy but I cannot deny that my fear of heights is a huge obstacle in deciding whether I would go back.
Brush up on the language before the trip:
I took Spanish in high school and university but when I went to Guatemala it had been awhile since I had a chance to practice. Several times on the trip I felt disappointed that I couldn’t express myself better in Spanish or understand what was being said. Speaking Spanish was in no way a condition of participating on the trip and quite a few of the other MLIS volunteers did not speak Spanish at all. However, I wanted to use the bit of Spanish that I knew in order to interact directly with the people we met. I felt that this offered me perhaps more of an authentic experience although unfortunately our guide Steve usually had to step in when it became clear that people were having problems understanding my rudimentary Spanish. If I were returning to Guatemala I would definitely try to brush up more on my grammar and vocabulary before the trip.
I invite other librarians involved in Librarians Without Borders or other international volunteering to add their advice/lessons learned.
LWB Group 2010
Here is a new video on Miguel Angel Asturias Academy where our group of McGill’s Librarian Without Borders volunteered to help develop a library project in April. It is such an amazing place that fosters a passion for learning in all of its students. I was completely blown away by the founder and director Jorge Chojolán who narrates this video; he is truly an inspirational man with a great vision. I actually danced with him on our final night in Xela!
I am beginning to sponsor a student to attend Asturias which I think is an incredibly worthy cause. As a condition of my sponsorship, Steve Mullaney, the Director of Development and acting Librarian, is ensuring that the student I sponsor is a member of the school’s Book Club. For more information on Asturias Academy please don’t hesitate to contact me or visit the school’s website.
As many of you know, in April, I participated in the Librarians Without Borders’ McGill Student Chapter’s trip to Guatemala. Our group worked very hard to develop a manual of recommendations for a new library currently being built at Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Xela (Guatemala’s second largest city). We also offered a training session to the school’s director Jorge Chojolan and to the teachers who will be taking on the roles of the librarian and the literacy program coordinator. The leaders behind this project are ambitious that this library will not only serve the K-12 students at the Academy but that it will also serve as a community library to the people of Xela allowing them with the opportunity to improve their education. Tomorrow (Wednesday, June 16th 2010), the website GlobalGiving will be matching all money donated towards the Asturias Library project. People, this is an extremely worthy cause! After visiting the school myself and having met the hardworking and inspiring people who are dedicated to improving education in Guatemala, I am whole-heartedly convinced that this library will make a difference in the lives of the students and the community of Xela. I encourage everyone to visit the GlobalGiving Website as well as the website of Asturias Academy and donate generously. Please contact me with any questions you may have about the work of the Librarians Without Borders group when we went down in April.
Obtaining a MLIS can set a foundation of theoretical and practical knowledge that is valuable for succeeding in career as a librarian or information professional. However, one aspect of a MLIS degree that is not often discussed but that is invaluable is the creation of a network of friends in libraries/archives/knowledge management. I have just recently begun to reflect on how lucky I am to have studied for the past two years with such a wonderful group of people. Like most students, I had a choice of what universities I could attend for my degree. I could have easily taken the same program at l’Université de Montréal instead of at McGill. But I have a hard time imagining what my experience would have been with a completely different set of classmates. So many things create a strong bond between classmates: working on group projects, complaining about exams and assignments, discussing/poking fun at various professors.
Unfortunately this year I was so busy with school work, associations, and my part-time jobs that I did not socialize as much as I would have liked. For those who wanted, there were lots of opportunities outside of class to hang out with friends and classmates. An informal MLIS group called “Pub Club” even set times and places for people to meet together to enjoy Montreal’s exciting nightlife.
A few weeks ago on the Librarians Without Borders Guatemala Trip 2010 with fellow McGill students, I really appreciated what it was like to be part of a close-knit group of incredible individuals who all share a passion for libraries. Everyone displayed such a strong desire for the library project at Asturias Academy to be successful and we all worked very hard together to develop recommendations and library standards based on the school’s objectives and resources. In addition to the library project, we all bonded as a group while having somewhat crazy but fun experiences travelling around Guatemala. In the last few days of the trip someone mentioned how wonderful it would be if we could develop a form of telepathy amongst the group members. He mentioned that since most of us were going our separate ways after the trip, it would be great if when we encountered problems in our library careers we could simply close our eyes and contact someone telepathically to ask how they would handle a certain situation. Like many ongoing jokes that developed during the trip, we referred to this idea of group telepathy quite a bit. Despite our great plans for telepathy being unrealistic and likely be replaced by other means of communication (email/instant messaging/telephone), what I really love is the idea that due to this bond that I’ve developed with my McGill classmates I know we will continue supporting each other as we begin our careers and beyond.
The friendships that I have developed at McGill mean that I can now share the highs and lows of a career in libraries and seek advice from graduates who work in various positions from Montreal to California to South Africa. I also applaud two classmates who will shortly begin their PhDs at McGill; I completely admire their further pursuit of academia, who knows in a few years I might want to join them!
McGill’s MLIS Graduation is June 2nd and although some students have already left Montreal to pursue new jobs and projects elsewhere, I’m very excited at this chance to get together with so many of my classmates before we all go out into the real work world.
Tonight is my last night in Guatemala and so this blog post will be brief. It seems like yesterday that I first heard about the Librarians’ Without Borders trip to Guatemala (Thanks so much Robyn!). This trip has taught me so much and it has reinforced my passion for libraries. In fact, I was even made fun of by the other members of our group for getting overly excited at the prospect of Guatemalan children using the school library for homework research! I will definitely be sharing lessons learned in the near future on both my blog and the LWB Guatemala trip blog.Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of me and of the LWB McGill Crew.
Here I am on my fourth day of my adventures in Guatemala with the McGill Student Chapter of the Librarians’ without Borders. We have finally arrived in Xela the second largest city in Guatemala which means that I have finally have internet access again. Wow, it has been great living off the grid for the past four days but now I’m happy to be able to contact everyone back home and let them know that I’m safe and sound (one never knows when traveling around Guatemala) and having a lot of fun! I have written the first live-from-Guatemala post to the LWB Guatemala Trip Blog and I hope you all read it to find out about the cool things our group has been up to.