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The story of Xua Xua and Lig Lig Le

The need to explore our inner and outer worlds is fundamental to being human. Augusto Boal (2002) introduces us to an ancient Chinese fable which seeks to story how human beings came to consciousness of self and other. A woman named Xua Xua gave birth to a baby boy named Lig Lig Le. As he grew up she became aware that while her son was like her he was also different, independent of her. Through this consciousness of difference she became aware of her own self. She was, as Boal writes, now aware of her identity. She was now both ‘Actor’ and ‘Spect-actor’. Xua Xua was now able to conceive of and participate in a dynamic dialogue with her son Lig Lig Le in a new and profound way. We can imagine her sense of awe at this discovery and also her pain because of the complexity of the space wherein the dialogue of self and other takes place. This dialogue between two people and the ideas generated, argued, shared and remembered can be understood to be the first ‘library’.

The ancient cave paintings at Altamira, Northern Spain, and at Lascaux in France are examples of ancient art, and although the possible purpose of such art is disputed, it is clear that at a very early stage in human development people progressed from memory and the spoken word to the “permanent” recording of their lives. This early cave art can also be understood to be an early library except that now the “material” are more permanent.

The development of “alphabets” such as Egyptian ideograms and Sumerian Pictograms enhanced the ways in which human experience could be recorded. The discovery of papyrus along the banks of the Nile and its suitability for writing provided a fundamental leap forward in the creation of ‘books’ and vast libraries of papyri such as the great library at Alexandria. Later Gutenberg’s printing Press facilitatd widespread and relatively cheap publishing of books and the extension of education to greater numbers of people. In this age of internet, the silicon chip combined with software code, provides yet another ‘technology’ with immense capacity to connect local and global communities and to allow any individual or group to become a net ‘publisher’ and receiver of information.

The intrinsic human need to express, record and share connects Xua Xua to us in this new century through a powerful common thread. This thread is the fundamental and profound need of human beings to understand ourselves and others through ideas expressed as ‘dialogues’ and ‘texts’, including the printed and spoken word, theatre, music, art and indeed all forms of human expression.

Libraries therefore, have long been an important force in collecting and providing access to ideas and dialogues. Kildare Library service is currently in debate with our stakeholders on the fundamental question of how best to support a much wider and diverse range of imaginative and informational opportunities. The delivery of this strategy will be informed by such continuous debate and questioning.

While books and reading will remain a cornerstone of public libraries, other ‘technologies’ such as the spoken word, film, DVD, theatre, music, dance, storytelling are increasingly supported and provided. The worldwide debate about the role of public libraries has developed to encompass the concepts of local SPACE and PLACE connected to other places and spaces digitally, offering a much wider range of educational and developmental opportunities.

The key priorities within current National Public Library Policy are:

  1. Ensuring that Ireland embraces the opportunities of the Information Society
  2. Establishing an inclusive society in which all citizens can participate fully in the social and economic life of the Country

We look forward to the publication a new National Library Policy in the near future.

(Branching Out: A New Public Library Service, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, 1998).