By Alexandra Ferguson
The 2013 Guatemala Service Trip has come and gone, and as I sit and recall this unique experience, I realize that I’ve left with not just fond memories of the students, the school and the community, but also valuable skills that I can use in the future.
We were told many times that though we were there to provide a service to the school library and students, we should also take this opportunity to gain experience learning practical skills that we could take away with us. Having stayed for the two-week service trip, I was given the opportunity to try my hand at various projects.
The main project I was responsible for working on was the planning and implementation of Library Day activities. Our team worked pre-trip to plan fun and educational activities to get the students interested in the library and learn how the library is organized. We had to become familiar with the library’s collection as well as the reading level of the students in order to create activities that would benefit the students. Some activities were easier for the students to partake in, while others had to be modified on the spot depending upon their interests, skill level, and understanding. Thanks to the dedicated Spanish-speaking volunteers we had lead these activities, we were able to make last-minute adjustments to improve the students’ experience. While our Library Day planning team has all had experience with either library programming or children’s activities planning in one capacity or other it taught us, in very practical terms, that successful library programming must take into account the community’s unique environment.
After Library Day, I was free to help Lending Library Project Team with processing and cataloguing newly donated books. Having only taken one introductory class at school on cataloguing, I was eager to use my knowledge and theory learned in a real-life setting. I thoroughly enjoyed processing the new books with the knowledge that I was helping the students quickly identify books that may be of interest to them. I also learned that cataloguing books is not always such a simple task, and that tough calls need to be made sometimes when considering where to place a book. For example, while one Dewey number may be useful for describing where a book should be placed in one library, it may not be useful for another library. We had to keep in mind the unique needs of this library and where certain books should be placed so that they may be more easily accessible for these students. Consideration of the students’ reading level was also very important. A book that may be suitable for one age group by our North American standards may be more suitable for another age group in this community.
Lastly, I was also given the opportunity to witness several, and finally take part in one, lending instruction sessions. The students got very excited during these sessions talking about how they usually use the library, and were even more excited to learn about the lending process with hopes that sometime in the near future, they may be able to take home library books and share them with their families. I took over the role Ian played in demonstrating how to take out a library book while Sarah explained the process. It’s easy to take libraries for granted in Canada and our ability to not only access great books but to take them home with us to enjoy. Seeing the looks on these students’ faces when they learned that they may be able to take home books in their library showed me that the act of borrowing books from a library is a beautiful privilege we should all protect and promote in our own communities.
With any volunteer experience, you expect to offer your skills and services to others. What you may not always expect from these experiences is to receive so much more in return. I am humbled by the love and gratitude of the students, staff, and community members, and I am empowered as a librarian by my involvement in various literacy projects. The reciprocal benefits I received, and more importantly those at the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy also received, on the 2013 Guatemala Service Trip will not soon be forgotten.