By Justine Humphrey, MA student on the Library and Information Science programme
At the end of May I will be finishing my library job for the summer, but just in case I miss the library environment I shall be working for ECHO Refugee Library http://echo-greece.org/projects/ in Athens, Greece. Together with, Education, Community, Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) the aim of the library is to nurture a space of learning and creativity, a place to cultivate the mind – that one part of us that can never be held captive. It is a place where goals and ambition can be worked towards, regardless of the grim reality of the present. The library space provides the following:
- Books and a quiet reading space
- Access to online learning and information on educational opportunities
- Language learning resources and informal small group tutoring
- Advice on university and job application processes
- A space for community-led creative workshops
Back last September I discovered the project from a poster in the staff-room at work giving details about Simon, who was walking from the Bodleian to the British Library to raise awareness and funds for the project. It caught my eye and I immediately thought about volunteering, but as I had just returned to work for the new academic year and was about to embark on a Masters in ‘Library and Information Studies’ I decided now was not appropriate, so I put it to the back of my mind and decided to wait for the right time to make contact. I started my course at UCL in early October and within two weeks I discovered that my fellow student was the Simon in the poster at work. This brought the project to my full awareness again and I started to wonder if I might be able to focus my dissertation around it.
Soon after this I had a meeting with my supervisor where I discussed the possibility of working as a volunteer for ECHO Refugee Library and using the research to write my dissertation. I expressed my concern around the sensitive nature of the refugee situation and how I did not feel comfortable using interviews and questionnaires under such fraught circumstances. My supervisor suggested I approach it as an auto-ethnography; with a degree in anthropology this was music to my ears.
With the coincidence of meeting Simon and the support of my supervisor it was confirmation that I was meant to volunteer and work for the project. So, plans have been made and both myself and Simon have committed to spending initially three weeks in June as a volunteer team to operate and support the mobile library in Athens. The cherry on the cake was when we both bid for UCL’s Dean’s Funds of £200 and were offered the full £700 for travel costs and expenses, I was blown away. Apparently this is unprecedented and confirms the commitment from UCL and their support for this unique project.
So the plan is to travel to Greece, work with ECHO Refugee Library and write about the experience as an auto-ethnography for my Masers dissertation. Along the way I hope to support and raise awareness of both the refugee’s plight and the importance of a mobile library. On my return and having lived the experience I will share more of my travels with a mobile library.
Justine Humphrey, Library Assistant
Oxford Brookes University
If you would like to support ECHO and help them keep ‘dreams and drive alive’ go to: https://chuffed.org/project/echorefugeelibrary