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Library Personal Statement

Today’s world is home to 795 million illiterate adults and 72 million children. Hundreds of millions more have no access to books due to a lack of resources. In the few public libraries there are in developing countries, fundamental works in world literature and sciences are often absent. In many countries where there are library, the most recent works date back to a half-century ago.

The role books and libraries play in the success of students coming from the poorest environments is really not surprising. Many women, men and children would see their futures transformed if they could access books. A book does so much more than just convey knowledge and provide an opening to something new.

Books are also an essential instrument in exercising the critical mind and in the education for democracy. Books must increasingly become an essential driver of sustainable development. Placed in a library, they move from hand-to-hand and from generation to generation.

Libraries Without Borders

Libraries Without Borders/Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (LWB) was founded to improve the book and library situation in the world around five years ago. The organization provides relief in humanitarian emergencies and the building blocks for long-term development. By promoting the access to knowledge, they wish to strengthen the aspirations for democracy, justice, and dialogue between cultures across the world."

Patrick Weil founded LWB in 2007 in France. And today, it´s one of the leading NGOs working in knowledge and culture-based development in the world and supporting libraries in developing countries. They believe that access to information and the dissemination of culture are two key under-invested components of human and economic development, and the spread of democratic practices and human rights.

LWB is present in over 20 countries. In France, it supports local initiatives through the creation of libraries to promote education, access to information and culture and the conservation of cultural heritage. Through creating and reinforcing libraries, training librarians, distributing books, supporting local publishing and designing library networks, Libraries Without Borders actively promotes access to knowledge throughout the world.

A Humanitarian Libraries Project

Michel Loots, MD is a Medical Doctor and a humanitarian entrepreneur creating and managing a humanitarian information initiative, the Humanity Libraries Project

(http://www.oneworld.org/globalprojects/humcdromm/8616/nars.htmllows/). They also offer a "basic needs library" with 1.240 publications, that´s free online (http://payson.tulane.edu:8888/projects/humcdromm/8616/nars.htmllows/) and soon on many servers in developed and developing countries.

Humanity Libraries Project is a low cost vaccination campaign against lack of knowledge. The Humanity Libraries Project offers one model for an information resource developed at low cost and made available to all for free or for a very low cost.

A huge "base" of essential knowledge has already been gathered and produced by the UN and World Bank and other publicly funded agencies at very high subsidized cost by the international taxpayers. And yet, this knowledge is not being disseminated and combined as it should be. There are several reasons for this:

  • insufficient publicity and dissemination efforts
  • tight, defensive copyright restrictions
  • practical difficulties, which most NGOs or catalyst humanitarian entrepreneurs come up against when they try to get permission to use the information
  • high prices charged by the 20 major UN organizations/the World Bank, which developing countries can´t pay.

In contrast to the problems posed by obtaining documents from UN/World Bank, the Humanity Libraries Project (funded primarily from my own funds and some grants), staffed with a team of 26 collaborators in Romania, has put 200,000 pages of material together from 70 NGOs and development organizations on one CD-ROM.

They already have 15,000 users and this alone we expect to gain 60,000 to 80,000 users in developing countries. They invite organizations to copy our concept as it is feasible.

The Book Bus

The book bus was founded by publisher Tom Maschler with the aim to supply books and make them accessible to children. In 2008, the Book Bus started delivering books to schools in Zambia and working to inspire children to read. Now, they have reading schemes in India, Zambia, Malawi and Ecuador, and more than 100,000 children now have books to read.

They library work, book donations and assisted reading program is helping strengthen the reading culture in schools resulting in a more confident reading population that is better equipped for the future. Sir Quentin Blake is on their board of trustees.

Have you read many of Sir Quentin Blake´s books? They´re smashing. If you´d like to get involved with organizations like this, or would simply like to receive a compelling personal statement of purpose to give you the best chances of success in your university or internship applications, please let us know!

“Far too many people are floundering in our educational system and I believe libraries can change that.”

“What else is a coffee-obsessed, over-organized, well-read information analyzer with a love for technology to do?”

“I am a convener, a catalyst for action, a collaborative project manager.”

“I want to be forever bothered—bothered people make great things happen.”

I hope these folks don’t mind my quoting their fine words; I couldn’t think of a better way to convey the depth and breadth and richness of the gems we find when reading personal statements from people applying to the University of Washington’s MLIS program. I’ve been doing admissions work off and on for almost 25 years now (gulp), and not only have I seen it all—including the guy years ago who said he wanted to be Batman when he grew up (I stopped reading right then and voted to admit him, because that took guts)—I’ve seen it all change.

Back in the day, library school applicants often covered two basic points in their personal statements: what job they desired and why they wanted to work in libraries. These got very specific on both counts. They would give job titles like subject bibliographer or cataloger, or name a specific kind of institution in which they wanted to serve, like a rural public library or a community college. And of course, they all loved books.

Most would also tell some version of the Road to Damascus story. How they were working in an office and wound up maintaining the files and building the databases, or discovered they enjoyed doing the research for their college papers more than writing the papers themselves, or how a friend saw their alphabetized spice rack and suggested they should be a librarian. Librarian? You mean I could do this for a living?

Sound familiar? Often, librarianship was also a second career choice, one that people found along the way but that few people grew up aspiring to, aside from those of us who were genetically predisposed from birth. (Thanks, Mom.)

Today, I continue to be struck by how things have changed. Far fewer people come to us, at least to our program, by way of Damascus. The profile of applicants has shifted; we now get a substantial number who are within a year or two of completing undergraduate degrees and more than a few college seniors. And while many speak of experiences with books and libraries, I also find a less specific sense of what their interests and intended careers are. Not vague, necessarily, just general.  Instead of “I want to be a public librarian,” it’s not uncommon to see “I want to work to improve and develop communities and promote social justice through better access to information,” which, of course, can often amount to the same thing.

By the time you read this, our decisions will be made for the coming year. It’s tough work, sifting through these statements and recommendations (please, please, pleeeeease write strong letters with specifics for people you’re recommending) to find the applicants we think show the greatest potential to succeed with us and, professionally, beyond our program. It’s a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous responsibility, as my faculty, student, and staff colleagues on our admissions committee all know. We’re changing lives at every turn, and the profession we all care so deeply about as well.

It can also be inspirational. Let me leave you with one more excerpt: “I know times are iffy. I’m entering the field precisely because times are iffy—it’s worth working to make sure these institutions endure.” Isn’t that just the sort of person you want in your profession? I do, and we’re working to find and nurture even more of them . . . but that’s another story.

JOE JANES is associate professor and chair of the MLIS program at the Information School of the University of Washington in Seattle.

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