In developed nations, where people are constantly connected to the Internet through 3G or WiFi, it’s difficult to understand the incredible importance that physical libraries still possess. After all, what modern American highschool student still goes to the library to research his or her next essay? “Well,” you might think, “Why should they, when they have JSTOR, Google Scholar, and other online academic databases, even Online gambling?” However, what you have to keep in mind is: not everyone is as lucky as you are.
Building From the Ground Up
Although the infrastructure in developing countries has made enormous progress in the last few decades, they still have a long way to go. For example, as of 2012, many developing countries have easy access to cell phones but Internet access is not nearly so ubiquitous. This means that physical libraries are still immensely important because…
- They provide self-sufficiency: All developing nations have the facilities to buy, or produce, some computer equipment, but there are still many people without it — most commonly poor and rural people. However, while these men, women, and children cannot produce computers — or WiFi routers — they can make books.
- They help preserve local traditions: Because they can make books, people from these rural villages can preserve their culture, their history, and their unique story telling. Communities that have physical libraries are able to offer their children — and adults — the opportunity to contribute to something tangible and important.
- They allow access to information: One thing that does carry over from developed to developing nations is the mantra, “education leads to more opportunities, and thus a better life.” While it’s true that MIT and the UN have done their best to help education in the developing world through their $100 laptops that are powered by a hand or foot crank, paraphrasing Bill Gate’s famous criticism — what good will a computer do without internet access? Word processing maybe, but, as long as internet access remains elusive, to get information they still need a good library.
The Call to Arms
Therefore, if you have skills that could be helpful — either as a teacher, librarian, or a book binder — please consider volunteering your time to teach those skills. There are great organizations, such as the Peace Corps, that can help you find a community that needs them and facilitates your travel. However, even if you don’t have the skills mentioned above, and want to help build libraries in the developing world, consider donating money to one of the many charitable organizations that fight for this cause. You don’t have to be a multimillion dollar, craps winner either, just donate what you can because every little bit helps!