Magazine article American Libraries

Nicaragua's Libraries: A Struggle for Survival

Magazine article American Libraries

Nicaragua's Libraries: A Struggle for Survival

Article excerpt

LAST OCTOBER, GARY CARson of Cleveland, Ohio, arrived in Nicaragua as part of a Quest for Peace convoy bringing food, medicine, and essential material to the beleagured country. Carson, who describes himself as "a working musicologist with nine years' experience operating a halfdozen different computer systems," had made plans to teach a computer seminar to six teachers in Bluefields, a small town of some 15,000 inhabitants located on Nicaragua's east coast. But on October 21 Hurricane Joan struck the nation, devastating its eastern region and creating approximately 325,000 refugees (one in 10 Nicaraguans), including the entire population of Bluefields.

"I had come to Nicaragua to help the revolution and suddenly my plans were destroyed," Brown recalled. "But I knew that if I looked around I could find some place where I would be useful."

Having worked five years as a paraprofessional in the reserve section and three and a half years in the music library of an Ohio university library, Brown began scouting Nicaragua's libraries. He learned that the National Library had a sophisticated IBM computer, but only one member of the library's staff knew the bare basics of how to operate the system. Brown convinced the library director he could help. and soon he was hard at work setting up an ISIS computer program, developed and donated to the National Library by UNESCO.

"I realized that if someone with computer knowledge 'idnft help the National Library soon, it would be years before the library would be able to enter the automation age," Carson explains"Once the system is fully implemented, the National Library will be a much better library, and I will have done my small part to offset the damage done by the US.'s war of aggression against Nicaragua." Ambivalent relations

Listening to Carson talk in the technical services area of the National Library in Managua one blistering hot morning last November, I was reminded of how bizarre and ambivalent US. Nicaraguan relations were during Ronald Reagan's eight years in office. We are at war with Nicaragua; millions of American taxpayer dollars and thousands of Nicaraguan lives attest to that fact. Yet an American can fly directly from Miami to Managua, Nicaragua's capital, as I did recently, and enter the country as easily as any other in Latin America. Reagan repeatedly called Nicaragua's Sandinista government a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship and a threat to US. foreign policy interests and the stability of Latin America. Meanwhile, thousands of Americans Eke Gary Carson-librarians, engineers, tradespeople, educators, social workers, and others-have flocked to Nicaragua to help offset the damage and havoc caused by the US. -backed contra war.

Many Americans-myself includedhave asked: What is the truth about Nicaragua? A strong desire to find an answer to that question compelled me to visit Nicaragua for three weeks last November As a librarian, I was eager to learn what our Nicaraguan colleagues thought about US.Nicaraguan relations and the impact that the contra war and the 1985 US. trade embargo has had on their professional and personal lives and on Nicaraguan libraries and services.

During my stay, I lived with a poor famfly in a typical barrio, experiencing firsthand what day-to-day life was like in Nicaragua. I spent much of my time visiting libraries, including the National Library, the Central American University (UCA), the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), and the Children's Library I talked with librarians as well as Sandinista officials, opposition leaders, and the man and woman in the street. Gradually, I began to put together a picture of Nicaragua that differed markedly from the one held by the Reagan Administration.

I arrived during one of the most critical periods in Nicaragua's history. Sandinista officials and foreign relief workers described Hurricane Joan as the worst natural disaster in the country's history, inflicting more damage than either the entire contra war or the 1972 earthquake that destroyed much of Managua. …

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