About Christina John

Christina is a first year master’s student in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She holds degrees in English & History from Chicago's DePaul University. Currently, she works as a Graduate Assistant at the International and Area Studies Library. She also works as an Alumni Relations & Special Events Intern for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Advancement Department. In the past she has worked in archives, museums, and the eclectic world of breakfast cafes. She is currently interested in non-traditional librarianship specifically how information science can be applied to benefit the fields of prospect research, fundraising analytics, community informatics, and knowledge management.

Libraries Without Borders

Libraries Without Borders logo Today’s world is home to 795 million illiterate adults and 72 million children not in school. While this statistic sounds medieval it is a reality that still exists in abundance. While the world increasingly uses communication tools like email, the Internet, and even digital libraries, millions of individuals are also being left behind.

This is where Libraries Without Borders (LWB), a five year old international nonprofit, comes in to help. LWB’s mission is to connect those in the developed world with access to books, libraries, and above all knowledge. Patrick Weil, LWB’s Chairman and founder, believes in the power of books and their ability to exercise the critical mind and facilitate democracy. The importance of being exposed to words and books becomes obvious when you try to imagine not being able to read; the knowledge held within books and words stays forever silent, exploring the Internet is impossible, and expressing your thoughts and opinions becomes immensely difficult.

Story telling in an emergency relief tent in Haiti after the earthquake.

LWB staff members set up a story telling in an emergency relief tent in Haiti after the earthquake.

Not only are books important to the mind but they also provide relief in humanitarian emergencies in which LWB plays an important role. In areas traumatized by events like 2010’s Haitian earthquake or the violence in Mali, Patrick Weil writes, “…the first priority is life, but when life is secure, what can people do if they are staying in a camp? They cannot do anything, and they can become depressed. Once life is secured, books are essential…They’re the beginning of recovery, in terms of reconnecting with the rest of the world, and feeling like a human being again.”[1]

An innovate model, Libraries Without Borders works to facilitate relief projects with values that emphasize:

  1. Local partnerships: Working with local organizations and agencies ensures the usage of libraries and books, in addition to fulfilling local population needs. LWB also encourages local publishing and authorship to help give communities a voice.
  2. Sustainable development: As millions of new books are destroyed round the world LWB works with publishers and institutions to re-purpose these books by putting them on the shelves of under-stocked libraries in the developing world.
  3. Democracy and human rights: Libraries are hubs of information access and democracy. Promoting them throughout the world safeguards democracy and human rights.
  4. Cultural diversity: Libraries are bridges between shared histories and futures yet to be built. Libraries are venues for the construction of multicultural and tolerant societies.
Trunks of books representative of Francophone literature accompanied public reader Marc Roger and his donkey when they left Saint-Malo for Bamako on May 31st, 2009.

Trunks of books representative of Francophone literature accompanied public reader Marc Roger and his donkey when they left Saint-Malo for Bamako on May 31st, 2009.

These values are evident in the numerous projects LWB has participated in, including bookmobiles in Haiti, training programs for librarians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, book trunks in Mali and Senegal, hurricane relief for schools in New Orleans, school libraries in Madagascar, Kigali’s first public library, and a Media Library for Innovation and Development in Cameroon.

At its core Libraries Without Borders recognizes the immense importance of literacy, books, and that libraries make them accessible. Indeed LWB is an important force within developing countries and disaster relief efforts because once life is secure efforts must be made to not only sustain life but also allow for intellectual growth, letting words flourish and thrive.

For more about Libraries Without Borders or how you can donate books or volunteer your time please visit http://www.librarieswithoutborders.org/ or check out their Facebook!

[1] Flood, Alison. “Disaster Victims ‘Need Books As Well As Food.’” The Guardian. 28 November 2012.

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An Evening of Romanian Folk Music

Are you a lover of folk music? Interested in the culture of East-Central Europe? Or perhaps just someone who wants free tea and cookies?

If you fall into any of these three categories you are invited to attend: An Evening of Romanian Folk Music.

This event is cosponsored by the International & Area Studies Library and the Music & Performing Arts Library in honor of International Week. Running from April 8th to April 14th, International Week is a campus wide initiative that seeks to provide a series of educational, cultural, and recreational events around campus that are designed to foster interest in our global community.  For more information about campus events in honor of International Week visit the International Week 2013 page.

Elena Negruta, an accomplished folk singer studying for her masters at UIUC, will be the evening’s performer.

The event will feature Elena Negruta who is from Moldova, part of the former USSR. She began singing as a folk artist and at 14, and  won 1st place at the Golden Stork international youth talent festival in Nikolayev, Ukraine. She successfully participated in numerous national contests, where she variously won first, second, and third place prizes. She studied at the Academy of Music, Theater and Arts in Chişinău where she won the only folk music scholarship in the country. She participated in the choral ensemble “Gloria” as a soloist, with which she performed in France, Spain, and Poland. Switching to classical singing after immigrating to the U.S., she won 3rd place at the NATS competition in North Carolina in 2011. Currently she is studying with Sylvia Stone for her Masters in Vocal Performance at the UIUC School of Music.

Elena will be accompanied by Daniel Dig a guitarist who is currently a Research Assistant Professor in UIUC’s Department of Computer Science.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 from 5PM – 7 PM

Where: Main Library Room 321

Hope To See You There!

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Making the Invisible Visible: The Secret Vatican Archives.

With the surprise and somewhat sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI the Catholic Church and the Vatican have been thrust onto the world stage. While the world will be focused upon the conclave of cardinals who will elect a new Pope at the end of this March, little attention will be paid to the world beneath the Cathedrals of Rome where miles and miles of underground shelving and antiquated parchment make up the Secret Vatican Archives (Archivum Secretum Vaticanum).

Some of the 50 miles of bookshelves in the Vatican secret archive Photo: The Vatican Secret Archives, Vdh Books

Some of the 50 miles of bookshelves in the Vatican secret archive Photo: The Vatican Secret Archives, Vdh Books

Perhaps made famous by its depiction in the 2009 film based off of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons the archive has always had an aura of mystery, conspiracy, and black legend attached to its name. While much of this has been exaggerated in film and literature the archive does hold some of the world’s oldest and most influential documents including priceless materials such as:

  •  Handwritten records of Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition
  • The 1530 petition from England’s House of Lords asking the Pope to annual Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon
  • Letters from Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis during the U.S. Civil War
  • The papal bull excommunicating Martin Luther
  • Letters from Michelangelo including one where he complained about not receiving payment for his work on the Sistine Chapel.

Founded in 1612 the Vatican Secret Archives is a treasure trove of documents whose materials cover a time span that stretches from the 8th to 20th century.  Specifically, the archives is the central archives “of the Holy See and contains the historical archives of different private and public institution,” which include various religious orders and famous families and individuals[1].

For most of the world, the archive’s priceless cultural items have remained hidden deep within the Vatican for over 400 years. In fact it wasn’t until 1881 that Pope Leo XIII opened the doors of the archive to scholars from all faiths and nations. Even today there are strict limitations to what archive users are able to view and access. For instance no materials dated after 1939 are available for public viewing.

A document from the Vatican Secret Archives with Galileo's own signature.

A document from the Vatican Secret Archives with Galileo’s own signature. Photo Courtsey Lux in Arcana Exhibit

And yet in the spirit of open access and freedom of information that is foundational to the library and information world, even the Vatican’s Secret Archives is trying to shed light into its often hidden archive. This metaphor is perfectly illustrated in the chosen name of the archive’s first ever exhibit Lux in Arcana or “Light in Mysterious Places.”  Opened from March to September 2012 the Vatican assembled an exhibit to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the archive’s founding.  The exhibit, which can be sampled online, hopes to promote a greater sense of openness by displaying 100 of its most prized original documents. Historically the archive’s documents have only been viewed by few individuals outside the Vatican, however the Lux in Arcana exhibit opens the archive’s contents up to millions of eyes around the world. The Vatican Library is also following this trend to share its materials with the world with the recent announcement of its ambitious project to digitize large portions of its collection including the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed using movable type in Europe. [2]

With the unprecedented Lux in Arcana exhibition and now upcoming election of a new pope the Vatican, a bastion of tradition, shows signs of change and evolution.


[1] http://www.archiviosegretovaticano.va/en/patrimonio/

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Exploring the European Digital Library

In November of 2008 the European Union unveiled the European Library, a digital repository to preserve and make accessible Europe’s multitude of cultural materials.  Like all libraries big and small the European Library strives to provide free and open access to information for individuals all over the world. However, examining how the European Library obtained support and funding from EU officials reveals that digital libraries and the digitized items that they hold can be of immense political and historical significance.

What Is It?

An all access web portal, the European Library has a single search box which enables users to freely search for resources within the online catalog systems of “Europe’s leading national and research libraries.”[1] The online library provides users with free access to over 200 million bibliographic records and resources of which include artwork, maps, manuscripts, photos, films, and books from all over Europe.

A screen shot of the European Library homepage.

A screen shot of the European Library homepage.

Owned by the Conference of European National Librarians (CENL), the European Library has contributions from all of Europe’s 48 National Libraries and a growing number of research libraries. In its most basic form the European Library serves as an aggregate for Europe’s national libraries and archives by providing researchers with bibliographic and digital records for the items each user searches for. The European Library also allows for the downloading of its metadata content free of charge for data mining and exploitation purposes.

Why Does This Matter?

The European Library has evolved from a number of earlier library projects such as GABRIEL (Gateway and Bridge to Europe’s National Libraries) or TEL (The European Library). For years EU officials, while sympathetic and admiring of the idea behind the European Library, did not support the digitization project on the grounds that it was too expensive and that resources for the preservation of European culture would be better allocated elsewhere.  However, in 2005 Google announced the Google Books Project  which works to digitize works from America’s top libraries in order to make them freely available to the public. With Google’s announcement came immediate concern from “EU officials and cultural commentators” who voiced “that Google’s ambitious plans could result in important European literary works missing out and being lost to future generations.”[2] In fact, head of the French National Library from 2002-2007, Jean-Noel Jeanneney, claimed “Google’s plans could lead to a US-centric record of great literary and cultural heritage, neglecting diverse works in different languages.”[3]

Jeanneney’s concern for the implications of Google’s digitization are articulated in his book Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View From Europe. Indeed Jeanneney’s writing and criticisms give voice to an important issue that arises during the digitization process: what do we choose to digitize? This is an important question that libraries, cultural institutions, and corporate donors are facing.  Digitization projects are costly, time consuming, and labor intensive and it is inevitable that not every item in a library collection can be digitized. Nevertheless it is important to pay attention to the selection and funding processes that affect which items are chosen for digitization.

An image of Jean-Noel Jeanneney, former president of the French National Library (2002-2007), who helped raise support for the European Library.

Books, paintings, maps, and other cultural resources that are digitized can be made available over the Internet and therefore spread to anyone individual who has access to a computer. And because of the increasing use of computers and technology to transmit information the digitization of cultural materials, though not a perfect solution is powerful in that it provides institutions with the opportunity to make their collections more accessible to the world. Thus institutions that do (or can afford to) digitize their materials are in a powerful position to affect the historical memory for researchers of the future. For what we choose to digitize and make accessible today will be what digital library users of the future consider history. It is an important issue with serious historical and even political ramifications.

After Google’s Book Project announcement support and funding for the European Library began to grow amongst EU officials signifying that perhaps they do understand the ramifications of digitization and how it can affect the historical record. Next time you use a digital library like the European Library, or the Afghanistan Digital Library, or read a digitized book off of Google Books think about what sorts of books, artwork, and other items of cultural worth did not get digitized and what that could mean for the future.

Sources Cited & Consulted

“About – The European Library.“ The European Library: Connecting Knowledge. 2012. 9 Dec. 2012 http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/aboutus

“FAQs – The European Library. “ The European Library: Connecting Knowledge. 2012. 9 Dec. 2012 http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/faq

“History – The European Library. “ The European Library: Connecting Knowledge. 2012. 9 Dec. 2012 http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/history

“Support for EU ‘digital library’” BBC News. 4 May 2004. Web. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4512831.stm

Carvajal, Doreen. “European Libraries Face Problems in Digitalizing.” New York Times. 28 Oct. 2007. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/technology/28iht-LIBRARY29.1.8079170.html


[1] “About – The European Library. “ The European Library: Connecting Knowledge. 2012. 9 Dec. 2012 http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/aboutus

[2] “Support for EU ‘digital library’” BBC News. 4 May 2004. Web. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4512831.stm

[3] Ibid.

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