By Edgardo Civallero, Library Coordinator with the Charles Darwin Foundation
Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz – Galapagos Islands
As a Library and Information Science student, I was taught that information is power — the power behind critical thinking, social change, effective improvements, and innovative solutions to the many issues affecting our world. After twenty years as a professional librarian, I know this to be true, and understand how important the role of librarians is in the organization, preservation and dissemination of information.
When I accepted the position of Library Coordinator at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands, I had clear ideas about what my new mission would entail. I suspected that living and working in such a place could be quite challenging. How couldn’t it be? An isolated spot in the middle of the ocean, 600 miles away from everything, a protected archipelago, full of restrictions…
After four months working at the library, I can say that being here is, indeed, quite challenging. My original ideas about the power of information and knowledge have been reinforced.
The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) was created in 1959. The following year, it was decided that a CDF research station would be built in the Archipelago. In 1964 the Charles Darwin Research Station was officially inaugurated, and in 1979 its library opened, devoted to serving the many resident and visiting scientists, researchers, volunteers, students, and the local community.
Nearly 40 years later, I lead a team of local librarians, Erika Loor and Lady Loor, with support from Galapagos Conservancy. The library comprises a general collection of about 3,000 volumes, including conservation-related titles and various textbooks on natural sciences. We also have special collections encompassing materials published in and about the Galapagos Islands, which include documents about the CDF and the scientific work conducted in the Archipelago. This important collection supports the CDF staff, personnel of other organizations, naturalist guides, local teachers and students, and whoever is curious enough to learn about this group of islands in the middle of the ocean.
The archives hold the CDF’s social and institutional memory. Administrative documents, books, notebooks, photographs, disks, maps, plans, slides, films, audio recordings, drawings, and myriad objects collectively tell the tale of 60 years of scientific work, adventure, curiosity, struggle, and discovery in Galapagos.
How can all this be challenging? Well, we have to deal with adverse environmental conditions — the library is located just meters from the sea, surrounded by nature, with high temperatures and high humidity. The Internet service is poor, and electrical supply problematic. Almost everything used here has to be brought from the continent, which means high prices and long waiting times. And, most importantly, we depend exclusively on external donors in order to do our jobs.
And what is our job, exactly? Right now we are re-cataloging and re-classifying our books to improve the search in our online catalog, while we inventory our journals collection and take care of the many damaged items in our archives. Once we comply with international library/information standards, we plan to inventory, for the first time ever, everything in the archives. Most of these items have not been checked in decades and were never identified, so we look forward to finding exciting surprises. After that, we plan to digitize everything, both as a preservation measure and a way to make that information accessible to everyone.
No matter how isolated the Islands may be, and how challenging living and working here may feel, I remain convinced that information is power. This power translates into action for the conservation of endangered species and the environment, supporting biodiversity, opposing extinction and pollution, increasing awareness…
And now, so does the rest of my team, and our users.
Edgardo Civallero has a degree in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Córdoba (Argentina). With previous training in Marine Sciences and Biology, he has specialized in knowledge classification, digital humanities, oral tradition, library services for indigenous peoples, and the recovery of endangered sounds (languages and music).
All photos © Juan Manuel García | CDF.
This project was made possible by the generous support of Dr. Ken Saladin and his wife Diane, who have been dedicated to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands for more than 15 years. They were instrumental in the endeavor to create a better library at the Charles Darwin Foundation to house 50 years of research and serve as a resource for scientists and the local community. Read more about the Saladin’s contributions to Galapagos conservation.