Students share love of books across borders

When Shannon Marrinan and Monica Gagne first began the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at Western last September, they understood there would be opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge through experiential learning.

Little did they know, just eight months later, they’d be on the ground in Guatemala joining Librarians Without Borders (LWB) volunteers from across Canada in a literacy project for children and adults.

“Whether it’s here or there, a library is a place where a community gathers,” said Gagne, who along with Marrinan are at the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy Library in Quetzaltenango. “It gives children a chance to see a representation of themselves; it gives them an identity and an escape to get lost in a world they don’t get to see.”

With the support of Western’s chapter of LWB, the academy opened its school library in 2011. The partnership with the community continues to find ways to support their identified information and literacy needs.

The growing popularity of the school library has created a rippling effect, as now other members of the community are interested in borrowing books, Marrinan said.

“One of the main goals of this year’s trip will be to work out details for creating a library-lending project,” she continued. “We will also be cataloguing donated books, working on library curriculum with teachers and creating K’iche audio books.”

K’iche audio books are an opportunity to rejuvenate one of the indigenous languages of Guatemala, which has slowly died off over the last few decades.

“At the school, students can wear their uniforms, but sometimes also their traditional clothing to celebrate their heritage,” Gagne said. “We’re going to be recording audio books with the elders in the community. They’ll tell their story in Spanish and K’iche, and we’ll have it written in both languages as well, so that a child can hear or read a story. It’s all about preserving language.”

Both Marrinan and Gagne have had previous experience with service-learning opportunities in such countries as the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Tanzania, but this time the idea of creating a love for books and reading has them both excited.

“The main thing we’re addressing is literacy and the ability for them to be able to read and write in their own language,” Marrinan said. “Literacy is one of the main things that develop leaders in communities.”

Gagne said this is a really unique partnership as the school itself identified the need for a library, coming to LWB for support.

“The school library has become so popular that parents want to read now because their kids are taking out books, and it’s really the first time books have truly been accessible in this community,” Gagne said. “The parents want to be involved now, which is wonderful to see.”

While the pair realizes the work they’re doing in Guatemala is making a true difference in the lives of the entire school community, they are winning through this experience.

“I honestly feel I learn more from these types of experiences – with meeting all the people – than they get from me,” Marrinan said. “I hope to take things (knowledge) from them, along with what we’ve learned at Western, and apply it in even more locations.”

For Gagne, the chance to spend time with an elder tops her list.

“While there will be a language barrier, we’ll still be able to communicate with them,” she said. “Just to sit with someone like that, and help preserve their history and experiences, will be the biggest honour.”


Shannon Marrinan and Monica Gagne are blogging about their ongoing experiences in Guatemala, where they are assisting at the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy Library in Quetzaltenango. Read about their journey.