Teen Reading and Indigenous Knowledge

By Kniffel, Leonard | American Libraries, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Teen Reading and Indigenous Knowledge


Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries


The young men ran alongside the bus waving spears, whistling like exotic birds, and shouting in what we would later learn was the Chinyanja language. Outfitted only in Zulu feather headdresses and fur loincloths, their job was to greet us tourists with an "authentic" African experience at a game reserve where zebras and monkeys roamed the grounds each day. All of this was, of course, carefully orchestrated--even the apparently random appearance of the animals.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This year's World Library and Information Congress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) took place in Durban, South Africa, which gave many delegates, including this one, their first glimpse of sub-Saharan Africa. The slightly hokey performance of these young men reminded me how much commercial gimmickry perpetuates the cultural images that live in the public consciousness, making me think about the role of libraries in the collection and preservation of indigenous knowledge, a recurrent conference theme (see p. 36).

Occurring just 13 years after the end of apartheid, the Durban conference, in style and substance, was largely about black Africa and the progress South Africa has made in reinventing itself as a democracy with a constitution that prohibits discrimination of almost every kind.

The conference programs addressed serious issues facing libraries in South Africa and throughout the continent--AIDS, poverty, genocide in Darfur--while emphasizing the need to attract new leadership and membership in the venerable federation that is arguably the world's most important international library organization. …

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