It turns out that if you’re a curious, motivated individual in the Swat Valley or Ado-Ekiti, access to knowledge and information means a lot to you: it can, in fact, be central to your values, your education, your livelihood, and the way you explore and understand the world. “Knowledge is a weapon to change the way of people’s thinking,” Kusmarni told me from Jakarta, in a sentiment that was echoed by everyone who answered my ad. But information, they all reminded me, is only valuable if you can get it, and use it, where you live.
Joseph, from the Ekiti State University in Nigeria and Owusu, from Donkorkrom, Ghana, told me of the insurmountable difficulties they and their classmates face when attempting to use Western collections: paywalls, geoblocking, and membership requirements routinely stand in their way. “You can imagine my frustration when I stumble across a site that has all the information I am seeking only to be informed that my geographic location does not have access to this,” wrote Joseph. Owusu’s stories echoed these frustrations, but he added hopefully, “To have an online digitized library that is free to be accessed is in my opinion the best thing that can ever happen to me and most of my mates at the University.”
It is an article of faith in our community of scholars, institutions, and collections that we work for a noble purpose: that building, preserving, and disseminating knowledge is one of the defining acts of a wise and enlightened society. But our success in these endeavors will be defined by the choices we make—what we choose to catalog and digitize, what we share with the world, and under what conditions we permit or restrict access to our wealth of resources. Remarkable people like Kusmarni, Owusu, and Joseph seem to be everywhere—all over the globe as well as in our local classrooms and communities. Will we in the Hidden Collections program act as if we believe in their genius? We can and we should.