M U H L E N B E R G    M A G A Z I N E W I N T E R    2 0 0 1

Muhlenberg librarian helps to educate, entertain and enlighten in Zimbabwe
B Y    C A R L A    K O L O G I E

The small, wooden one-room sanctuary holds the honor of being one of the newest additions to the local community. Constructed without a generous capital campaign, heavy machinery or complicated blueprints, this recent enhancement boasts four glass windows, the only portals of light. And, yet, the interior is illuminated even on the darkest days. Built on stilts above the grassless earth, the year-old building is already home to ravenous termites bent on whittling the foundation away. Yet, the hunger of those who seek its offerings outweighs the destruction of the irritating pests.

Inside, tables barely large enough to hold a backpack allow individuals to gather. Yet, for those who are interested, there is always room enough.

The interior is stark and subdued. Yet, the atmosphere is hospitable and comes to life with the colors of children's artwork and the resonance of their laughter.

Warped wooden slats line the walls, crude scaffolds for the imperfect treasures that lie within. Yet, the framework of this one, primitive building extends beyond its four walls to support the town, and the riches increase in value the more they are spent.

The entire structure would fit with room to spare into the lobby of the Trexler Library, yet its purpose is just as significant to its patrons as Trexler is to the Muhlenberg College community. For the people of Nkayi, Zimbabwe, this is their institution of learning, of study, of entertainment. This is their library.

And, while it seems the two buildings are worlds apart, their connection is as close as the reference desk in Trexler. Martha Stevenson, head of reference and information services, spent four weeks of the summer of 1999 volunteering at the Nkayi library. What she learned could fill volumes. What she shared filled a whole community.

With the World Library Partnership Inc. (WLP) -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to building global understanding by promoting literacy, learning and access to information -- Stevenson was among the 10 pioneering librarians, ranging in age from 23 to 60, to travel to Zimbabwe in the group's first overseas mission.

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