Plaza Voices: A World of Libraries

The library is always at the top of my “to see” list whenever I am somewhere new. Like many librarians, I am a literary tourist.  

I can still remember getting out at the central train station in Amsterdam. Before checking out my hostel or much of anything else, I went straight to their renowned public library, whose This Week in Libraries web show I’d been following throughout my time in library school. 

Six years later, I was on a bus tour through rural Ireland when the group stopped in a town of about one hundred residents—perhaps fewer than that. While the rest of the tour stopped for a pint at the town’s small lone pub, I noticed a sign for a public library out of the corner of my eye, not too far away. So I took a short hike through the most beautiful hills I’ve ever seen, where I found a modest one-room library. There were families reading, a small section of books in Gaelic, two computers, and a board with information about local events. While I did eventually make it to the iconic Trinity College Reading Room (home of the Book of Kells), it is this experience that sticks in my head the most, probably because of how familiar everything felt. 

Considering that there are probably about as many different kinds of libraries as there are types of books, what exactly is it that makes a library? With human libraries, recording studios, wifi hotspots, and so much more than we have time to read about, there doesn’t even seem to be a fixed, clear definition for the word. What is undeniable, however, is their incredible power for bringing people and resources together. 

Public libraries seem to be something that only exist in well-developed urban areas, but go a little bit deeper, and you will see that there are many across the globe working to ensure equal access to information and resources. According to Beyond Access, an initiative of the International Research and Exchanges Board, an astounding 73% of public libraries worldwide can be found in developing and transitioning countries. Myanmar is currently home to 5000 public libraries, strengthening their economic recovery through increased access to technology and leadership opportunities for girls. Meanwhile, children at libraries in Bangladesh are using tablets to create stories and become lifelong readers alongside their families. 

While it has been said that no individual can change the world alone, I earnestly believe that these combined worldwide efforts help make this place we all call home just a little less scary, and a lot more hopeful. Step into any neighborhood library, whether it’s here in Denver or beyond, and you will see for yourself. 

Want to read more about libraries and their work around the world? Check out some of these recommendations:  

The Global Librarian edited by Lisa Chow et al. (featuring a chapter on our own Plaza program!)
Improbable Libraries: A Visual Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Libraries by Alex Johnson
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs
Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy by John Wood

Do you have anything else to add to our list? A favorite library from home, or one that you have visited elsewhere? Please share it with us below! 

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Desiree on December 16, 2017