Libraries in the balconies
In her tale, The Vocabulary of balconies, the Spanish writer, Almudena Grandes, narrates a story of love between two neighbors. Two young people who discovered each other from their balconies. That dialogue of looks and gestures between them, has recently become the language of millions in many countries around the world.
The vernacular of neighbors in love, from Jimmy Stewart’s, Rear Window (1954), or Sophia Loren and Marcelo Mastroianni’s, A Special Day (1977), has expanded at the rate of confinement for all of us affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nothing will be the same after this.
There are voices that venture positive consequences from this traumatic global experience, in the long term. It would be irresponsible to take confide in this, because of what has yet to be overcome, and because of the nature of the species being punished by this plague. That there will be changes, appears inevitable. Libraries will not be spared.
Confined citizens look out their windows, balconies and terraces. Presently, libraries are doing the same. They are peering through the digital windows in which we are all reflected, but; too often we are not truly seen. Digital platforms for books and audiovisual content, digital libraries and of course social networks, have become the window sill on which libraries are leaning through, to continue to offer themselves to their audience.
The strategies libraries are applying in this digital panopticon depend greatly on the ability to reach a greater audience than the one they reached before this crisis. Simple decisions such as terminating a membership digitally, expanding the number of digital loans on the platform, seeking alliances or suspending fines, all play a part in favor of libraries continuing to render themselves useful in a situation such as this.
The prescript labor is essential. Now, more than ever, these professionals specializing in the organization, preservation and dissemination of the compendium of human culture, librarians are being put to a great test. From those profiles, digitally chiseled, often corralling a population that helps to define criteria; it is important to know how to dig deeper than a Netflix or Amazon series (that everyone has seen, or the ones of which you’ve heard so much talk, it’s as if you had), or beyond those best sellers that everyone knows, even though they haven’t been read, to be able to effectively curate reading clubs, cinema forums and other virtual activities.
Come what may, the strengths and weaknesses of library systems will be highlighted more than ever. The Institute of Museum and Libraries has compiled many initiatives that many centers in the United States have been preparing as a response to this sanitary, social and financial emergency.
The libraries of other countries devastated by the pandemic have taken similar measures. In China, the origin of this global crisis, in the very epicenter of this epidemic, libraries and book stores united to create mini libraries. The temporary hospitals we have seen grow vertiginously in half the world’s news coverage, where not only supplied with sanitary equipment, but also stocked with thousands of books.
In South Korea, the Simin Municipal library and the Joongang Metropolitan library in Busan, put into operation a drive through loan and return kiosk (as if it were a matter of getting a hamburger without leaving your car); in much the same manner that Covid-19 testing has been provided for the population. This was one of the most successful measures implemented in combating the epidemic in their country.
In every humanitarian crisis that has punished any country, in recent memory, libraries have always been present. The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 surpassed any Corona virus, of course this did not affect the whole planet. Hideaka Kawabata, had a company that organized events in 2011. The disaster inspired Kawabata to turn his attention to helping his fellow countrymen.
Entire villages surged with temporary barricades to protect their populations. Kawabata began to provide supplies to mitigate the hardship for evacuees. It was when he learned of the desire of many survivors to read, that he began to donate books, comics and other materials for the refugees. One thing lead to another.
Kawabata eventually founded Everyone’s Libraries, an organization that has set up libraries in the most affected areas. It’s possible the library structures may be temporary, but Kawabata knew that the way to mitigate the sensation of homelessness was to provide a place where a community could become aware of itself and expand their ties. Where could this be, if not a library?
After the devastating effects of hurricane Sandy in New York in 2013, the writer, journalist and architectural critic from the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman published an article regarding this matter. In it, he posited solutions for urban development capable of handling cataclysm in an urban setting. Seven years later, his book Libraries Could Be Our Shelter From the Storm, continues to be germane.
Subsequently, the solution for architects and engineers was to create more public community spaces, and libraries were in first place. The sociologist, Eric Klinenberg, observed that the numerous deaths seen during Chicago’s 1995 heat wave, were not distributed evenly. In those areas where they could count on public spaces like libraries, the number of deaths was considerably fewer.
Library-nest, library-refuge, library-umbrella. Now more than ever the text with which this library services company launched, giving the magazine its name, Knovvmads: takes on a double meaning.
“We are knovvmads (this conjunction between know and nomads) because we create anywhere. We are itinerant, dynamic innovators dedicated to the communities we serve.”
It’s possible that confinement has temporarily suspended itinerancy in the physical sense. But creativity, dedication and service to communities is more valuable than ever in this global Covid-19 crisis. Knowledge nomads look through your many windows, physical and digital that are open for communication and above all, connect through culture.