Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Greetings from South Africa!

This week, I am attending the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions World Library and Information Council meeting in Durban, South Africa. This is the premier annual gathering of librarians with an interest developing the international library community. More than 3,000 people are registered, and there are about 100 exhibitors.

Sunday morning, the opening session was nothing short of amazing --- an exciting amalgam of music, dance, video and two outstanding speakers. Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan, South Africa's Minister of Arts and Culture, spoke on the growth of education and libraries in the country since democratization in 1994. Dr. Jordan is an intellectual and writer, who served the ANC in exile during the 1960s and 1970s. Justice Albie Sachs, of the Constitutional Court (roughly equivalent to the US Supreme Court), spoke movingly about how books helped keep him emotionally whole during his solitary incarceration in the 1960s for fighting apartheid. He also lost an arm and an eye in an assassination attempt.

It occurred to me as I listened to these men that South Africa is in a unique position: its George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are all still alive. The men and women who moved South Africa from its racist roots to a progressive democracy are still here and active, in many cases. (South Africa is the only place in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners live on the same street.)

It will be libraries and archives and museums that will preserve their memories, their artifacts, and ensure their impact on the future. I've never been quite so sure of the importance of the library mission as I am on this trip.

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