By Lisa Norberg
One of the greatest perks (and there are many) to becoming a school librarian is the extended summer break. This summer was my first and I took the opportunity to spend seven weeks in Italy helping my partner’s family with their organic farm. It is a small farm (just under 10 hectors) made up of vineyards of red and white grapes and orchards that produce amazing apricots, plums and pears. For biodiversity, the farm also maintains an enormous garden filled with tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini, as well as a field of alfalfa, a dozen or more beehives and a couple of goats. While there is no shortage of work, we maintain a pretty lean crew made up of an eclectic assortment of family members, friends, two working artists, and a WWOOFer or two, usually college students from abroad.
This year, instead of enlisting WWOOFers, the boss (my partner’s sister) decided to hire one of the local refugees who had been resettled in northern Italy after escaping a jihadist insurgency and separatist fighting in Mali. He had made his way to Lugo, a city in the Emilia Romagna region between Bologna and Ravenna, after enduring one of those harrowing boat rides across the Mediterranean to the Island of Lampedusa, off the southern tip of Italy. My co-worker Ousmane is a wicked smart twenty-something with a broad smile, an easygoing manner and an incredible work ethic. Thanks to the Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, I was not completely ignorant of the troubles Ousmane had faced in Mali, but I was admittedly naïve to the level of subtle and overt racism and xenophobia he faces everyday as an African refugee in Italy. It was certainly nothing I hadn’t read about, but witnessing it firsthand heightened my awareness, gave me new insights and inspired me to do all I could to help educate the students and alumni that La Scuola would eventually return to Italy. My experience influenced the books I have started to order, the authors I hope to invite, and some of the sources I intend to use in my instruction. (I should note that I am also adding similar resources in Italian and French.)
As I return to New York on the heels of the ugly events in Charlottesville and in the wake of Harvey and the continued challenge to well-reasoned evidence of climate change, I can’t help but wonder, how has the summer influenced you? Was it a summer of consequence for you too?
Lisa is the director of the library for La Scuola d’Italia, an independent bilingual Pre-K–12 school in New York. While new to school librarianship, she has over 20 years of experience in academic librarianship, having held positions at Barnard College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Penn State Harrisburg, and George Mason University. She helped found the Open Access Network, a non-profit organization focused on finding a sustainable financial model for open access publishing, and has taught classes, workshops and consulted on library design, organizational transformation, and the evolving role of librarians in teaching and learning.