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Casas de palabrasBibliotecas y pueblos indígenas en América Latina
Un proyecto de Edgardo Civallero

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Casas de palabras. Un proyecto de Edgardo Civallero

The project | Presentation

"Casas de palabras" (Spanish for "Houses of words") is the most common name given to libraries (or similar spaces) working in Latin American marginal areas, especially in indigenous and "ethnic" communities. The expression reveals another way of seeing and understanding libraries, and for this reason it became the name of this project.

Libraries are institutions whose presence in Latin America (and in other parts of the world) has not been without conflict. An external graft, both a colonized space and a colonizing instrument —but also a platform for learning, resistance and rescue of knowledge—, libraries have had with indigenous societies, rural communities and subaltern groups ("minorities", "ethnic" and "marginal") of Abya Yala a complex relationship, which is still being built and defined.

Something similar can be said of the "book" format and other written products, of writing itself, and of skills such as reading.

Since 2017, through the project Casas de palabras (formerly Observatorio de bibliotecas y pueblos originarios de América Latina and Proyecto Bibliotecas indígenas), I research and analyze, among other things, the ways in which knowledge is produced, stored, circulated, and expressed in indigenous, rural, and subordinate communities in Latin America; the (positive or negative) impact that libraries, books and reading have had in the epistemic and identity structures of these groups; the barriers that library-related and reading promotion programs have faced when implemented in those indigenous, rural, and subaltern spaces; the ways in which the former have been received, rejected, adapted or adopted by the latter, and the outcomes of such interactions; and the modifications to be made in Latin American public and academic policies so that they dialogue more fluidly with the realities, possibilities and needs of these (and other) populations.

With Casas de palabras I seek to elaborate a first "state of the question" — a complete, critically analyzed, updated and carefully documented corpus of information on the relationship between libraries, books and reading, on one hand, and knowledge, identities and realities of Latin American human groups that have been historically excluded, on the other. The information that I intend to recover is too dispersed or directly invisible, and includes, for example, the general situation of traditional knowledge in the continent (distribution, validity, oral and written / printed uses, needs, problems, proposals and threats) or the role of libraries, archives, books, publishers, reading programs, and other media (especially new technologies) in its recovery, preservation, and dissemination.

The experiences, ideas and knowledge collected are organized in three axes:

(a) In orality and traditional knowledge, all the available information on traditional knowledge is collected, especially the one transmitted through the spoken word. Associated with it are the languages used and their vitality, the uses of orality, its usefulness to transmit certain knowledge, etc.

(b) In books and reading, on the other hand, data on the knowledge that has been captured in written form is collected, together with the forms used to do it: the codes used, the publishing houses, the editions (private or public), and the policies and legislation related to this topic (e.g. edition of books as response to treaties and publication laws in support of indigenous peoples). Likewise, data on reading programs, their design, experiences and results are included.

(c) Finally, in libraries, information is organized about all spaces for the storage, conservation and management of knowledge, traditional or otherwise, in all possible formats.

The systematization of this (and other) information will allow, in the long term, to have a broad, solid and interdisciplinary information panorama, which turns to be essential to identify and understand the problems and deficiencies faced by indigenous peoples, rural communities and subordinate groups in relation to the management of their own knowledge and to information access. This panorama will also facilitate the elaboration of public policies and / or community action plans on areas such as intercultural education, preservation of threatened languages, recovery of knowledge related to sustainability, strengthening of identities, social inclusion or use of new technologies. On the other hand, the information collected will make possible the production of basic educational materials, recommendations, guides, work guidelines and manuals that support, at both a theoretical and practical level, decision-making and the design of projects related to houses of words.

I have been working in this subject area for 20 years, within the framework of Library and Information Sciences, with a transdisciplinary vision and within an international context. And I try to do it from an open, respectful and (self)critical perspective: one that finds support both in thought-action schemes such as the Epistemologies of the South and in the many corpus of traditional knowledge with which I have had contact throughout my years of work in Abya Yala.