Lessons in Patience and Pride:
Library Services in the Developing World
By Megan Summers
Ask anyone who has studied abroad to characterize their experience and most will describe it as being enriching and life changing, but also an experience that held a large share of frustrations. During my year in Quito, Ecuador, I found that along with classes in Ecuadorian history and culture, I experienced many lessons in the fine art of patience and flexibility. As you can probably imagine library services in the developing world are not exactly what I had come to expect after two years at Boston College. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Walking into the library of my university in Quito, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), was like being transported back in time. The library itself was smaller than the library of my high school. The interior was reminiscent of libraries shown in 1980s teen movies. Posters of 1980s television and movie personalities adorned the walls encouraging people to “Get Out and Read” (in a country where most of the population neither speaks nor reads English, I found this more than a little ironic.)
From a foreigner’s perspective, the library seemed to be a great example of inefficiency. Students were allowed to take out a maximum of three books for only a few days at a time. Security guards manned the exits of the library and insisted on looking through the bags of students as they left, to ensure that no one was taking out more than the three books allotted per student. I can remember many times when I was running to get to class only to be stopped and forced to wait behind a long line of other like-minded students. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy to be on time for many of my classes.
Like at BC, professors at USFQ required us to do extensive research papers and projects. However, in Ecuador this is much easier said than done. The library did have a number of computers designated for “research” purposes, if by research you mean looking for websites on the internet. I quickly learned that I would have to forgo my reliance on LexisNexis in exchange for free articles found from Google searches, if I ever wanted to find articles for my classes.
However, what the USFQ library lack in electronic resources, it made up for with entire section devoted entirely to Ecuador. You could find a wide variety of books chronicling the history of Incan empire to modern social and political issues in Ecuador.
I realized just how valuable this section of the library was when I researched the banking crisis that occurred in Ecuador during the late 1990s. I did not know a thing about this crisis before I lived in Ecuador. Through both living in Ecuador and using this resource at USFQ, I found out that in 2000, Ecuador replaced its former currency, the Sucre, with the US dollar in order to curb inflation and stabilize the country’s economy. Hence, Ecuador is one of only a small number of foreign countries whose official currency is the US dollar.
The average American would probably never know this. And isn’t this what libraries are supposed to do? As much as my experience navigating the library system of USFQ could frustrate me, I must give the university credit. USFQ faces the same obstacles as other universities in the developing world—trying to keep up with rapidly changing technology without the resources that we sometimes take for granted in the developed world.
Even despite the many obstacles and frustrations, the library was a place where I always knew I could find friends studying or catching up on homework before class. It serves as a meeting place for students on campus, but even more importantly the USFQ library preserves the history and culture of Ecuador for both Ecuadorians and exchange students alike.
I came back to the US with two very important life lessons I probably would not have expected. My experience abroad, the USFQ library included, gave me a new appreciation for the incredible opportunities and resources at Boston College and a new sense of patience and adaptability I never knew I had.
Megan Summers is a 2006 graduate of Boston College and currently a student in the Graduate School of Social Work. She studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador during the 2004-2005 school year. She works as a Graduate Supervisor and ESL Tutor at the Connors Family Learning Center.