Activated by the Community
Even after all these years, Twitter remains a wonderful go-to for discovering what librarians all over the world are doing for their communities. You’ll find some of the most amazing librarians out there doing great and kind things for other humans, showcased in 280 characters of positivity. One is Alejandra Quiroz Hernández, coordinator of educational services at Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City.
What does a typical day look like to you?
I am in charge of programming workshops, courses, and book clubs, among other educative activities for the public in general. On a typical day, I would be at my office preparing the day, attending meetings, receiving activities proposals, reviewing programs with volunteers, and reading what’s going on in the library world.
Most of the activities happen during the afternoon, so my team and I get everything ready—we go up, open the rooms, wait for the patrons, register their attendance, receive the instructor of the activity, take photos, be available for whatever may come, and then call it a day.
One of your programs that really caught my attention is Sound Exploration, which connects babies to music. How did it come together, and what has it done for the community?
In 2015, I took a long course about art, literature, and play with early childhood. One of the topics was music, but in a formal way. Although I am not a musician, I find sound and silence to be two very interesting concepts to explore with children. I bought a ukulele and started practicing with babies. We first were only reading stories that develop body schema in babies and doing a bit of singing. Then I started to propose exploration with household products. Seeds, cans, rubber bands, toilet paper tubes, foil paper, water, keys—anything that would make a sound was worthy of exploring. Later, I proposed—along with Ruth Galicia, a partner and friend—to form a babies band. They would bring a homemade instrument (such as a square yogurt container and rubber bands to have a guitar) to the session, and we’d put on a musical number to share in public. By not spending money on making an instrument, we give people the idea that they can do a lot of things by themselves and that the worth of it is the time and joy shared.
You wrote a piece titled “The Democratic Radicalness of Libraries.” Would you talk about what libraries in Mexico are going through and where you think they’re headed in the next 10 years?
I can’t believe that in 2018 there are people in Mexico who still believe that libraries are being displaced by the internet. This lame argument has diverted the attention from what is urgent. Besides funding, libraries have to be acknowledged as fundamental public spaces that help to reduce the inequality gap. If there was enough staff, resources, and funding, libraries could be at the center of our population’s rights and needs. In 10 years from now, I’d like to see an organic library network. The authorities are happy with having about 7,400 public libraries in the country, but most of them are not in the best shape. Each state should have a network that is fed by a head library. Also, staff training should be updated not only in matters of library science, but also in vocational and service areas.
A True Global Librarian
There are 11,181 miles between Denmark and New Zealand, and that’s the distance Jan Holmquist recently moved to begin work as the library director of the Nelson Public Libraries in Nelson, New Zealand. But distance ain’t nothing but a number, especially to a global librarian like Holmquist. For many years, he has been talking about how important it is for librarians across the world to listen to and learn from each other. He understands that great ideas have no boundaries and that if we are to continue to grow the importance of the library in our communities, we’ve got to look all around us for inspiration.
With a new job comes not only new responsibilities, but also the fact that you have to learn a whole new system of work, how to manage new working relationships, and more. It’s tough when you get a new job in your own country, but how does it look for someone getting a new job in a totally different country?
The quick answer is: I don’t balance it yet. I focus on all the new things I learn at work and the working relationships. There are new rules, a new currency to calculate budgets in, a new work culture, and a lot of new names and faces. That is my top priority. I am looking forward to learning a lot more about New Zealand and Maori culture too. That is very important. To be able to deliver the best library service, you need to know the community, and I hope to be able to learn more about Maori culture very soon (Maori people are 8.7% of the population in Nelson). It is a part of the council policy to support the learning of the language Te Reo, so I will be taking some classes and have already attended a grammar course here at the library.
What are some things happening on the global level that have caught your attention, and how do you plan to capture their essence and integrate those into your new community?
I was part of a workshop in Brussels earlier this year that planned how a global network of librarians can support each other and new library ideas. R. David Lankes attended the meeting. David’s recent keynote in Berlin for the Next Library conference, “A Manifesto for Global Librarianship,” was so inspiring, and the “global knowledge school of thought” that he spoke of will be essential for libraries, librarians, and communities in the years to come. I have circulated quotes from the keynote to the library management team here at the Nelson Public Libraries. We will discuss them this week, and thereby, they will inspire us in the way we think about the library strategy.