Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Some thoughts on information, culture and development: the Alden Library

By Sara Namusoga

I am always eager to visit libraries because I believe they say a lot about a university, home, town, village or even church. They speak volumes about the values and the culture of the people. They appeal to the sense of being, and belonging and the knowledge of who one is. This quote from fiction writer Sidney Sheldon says it all: “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.” The Alden Library at Ohio University does exactly that.

Located on the Campus Green, the library is an imposing structure:  as you walk through the glass doors into this concrete solid building, you get the feeling that you are being invited to experience a world you have not seen before. The library is immense, not only in terms of size, but also in terms of resources. The 200-year old library boasts of over three million volumes, electronic resources and “world-renowned special collections,” according to the library website.

“Ours is a depository library,” Jessica Hagman, the librarian in charge of journalism, media and communication, tells us. A depository library is one that is designated by the state to receive and store documents and other kinds of information for safe custody and public access. So, you can imagine how immense the depositories here are, given that Alden describes its depositories as “200 years of shared history”. The depositories include copies of the student newspapers, local newspapers, records of births and deaths, and government proceedings, to mention but a few.

Among the library’s vast collections, what stood out for me was the Centre for International Collections located on the first floor. The centre has collections from Africa, South East Asia and South America. As I looked around, I noticed the plaques with the names of the countries with depositories in the library. It is during such moments that one’s nationalistic feelings are evoked as one proudly identifies with his or her country away from home. And so I was not surprised that my colleague from Botswana, Kenneth Moeng, dashed to take a photo next to the plaque that reads “Official Depository for Botswana Publications, designated by the Government of Botswana, June 1989”. He later tweeted, “I am impressed”. Anyone would be impressed. I envy him, or should I say I envy his country.

Uganda is missing, but I am not really surprised. I have the hope that one day, we too will have one of those plaques reading “Official Depository for the Uganda Publications, designated by the Government of Uganda, January 2021”! After all, we are on our way to becoming a middle-income country, a goal we hope to have achieved by 2040. Therefore we will need to start thinking about leaving our footprints in various places. Somehow. After all, “Libraries open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.” A library like Alden Library plays a key role in documenting culture and providing information to the community. I hope that one day, my Uganda will realise this and improve its documentation culture.

No comments: