By Desmond Beharilal
The World map known as the Globe.
In many schools the world map was displayed in the form of a globe, and it was aptly referred to as such. I used to be very impressed watching the teachers carry the globe from one classroom to the next for different subjects such as history, geography and the guidance class which is comparative to the current Life Orientation lessons. Teachers used to gather the class around the globe and point out each country as per their lesson plan and further enticed scholars to visit such countries if such opportunities did arise. Over the years, some of us could not remember the contents of such lessons and the position of the various countries but took the opportunity to travel to some countries.
At UKZN Library Services one finds large world maps on frames or on charts which can be borrowed from some libraries. The reason I write about such lessons regarding the globe, pertains to the requests from students regarding the current situation between Russia and the Ukraine My writing has nothing to do with the actual invasion or war but simply to inform our potential library users to familiarize themselves with the locations of various countries by using the maps available at UKZN libraries which will equip them with the required information for their academic work and in their discussions regarding such topics.
I had a request for information about the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the economy of the United States of America. The student thereafter asked me about the locations of these three countries and their main source of production. I recalled the geography lesson and the globe, whereby the teacher pointed out the countries and their main sources of production, but I could not recall such details.
Fortunately, the Edgewood campus library has a large collection of charts and maps of the world, which I could refer the student to for such details. While searching for the world maps, I was asked about my views on the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it is a trending topic of discussion in the academic arena and on social media. I simply replied that the focus should be on the academic arena and not social media as I did not perform my tasks with personal preferences on any issues.
I was under the impression that libraries and librarians were very neutral in their political views, hence, over the years library staff were not allowed to become actively involved in, represent or promote their political views or partake in student protests to show support to any political party. Librarians tried to maintain the historical impression of both public and academic libraries with such a neutral stance especially in South Africa, due to our historical past which I will not go into details about.
I was pleasantly surprised when librarians from various countries that are affiliated to International Library Associations decided to share their political views publicly in support of a specific country during a so called “war or invasion”. Such international library organisations expressed their intention to call for peace and end to any wars or invasions. Such international associations focused on the preservation of libraries and museums rather than political engagements. As a graduate in Political Science, my view of international library organisations and libraries should be the hosting of seminars and discussions regarding the impact of such wars or invasions on library services and the preservation of materials and collections both nationally and internationally. I still do not see the correlation between librarians and politicians in the decision to wage war amongst or within any country.
Some South African universities do have memorandum of understandings with their counterparts in Russia and Ukraine and therefore the sharing of library resources or information could be affected. Universities in other countries could also have such MoUs and their librarians should maintain their neutral political stance and focus on the impact of such on their libraries.
I still firmly believe that librarians should not publicly share their political views and maintain the libraries as apolitical environments and assist library patrons with the necessary political information as required in their academic work. Library users are from across the political arena and should not feel intimidated using the libraries due to their political affiliations. Information on politics, politicians or political parties should be offered without any prejudice.
Please comment or share your views regarding librarians or libraries engaging in politics.