Librarian Delivers Books Across The Pond, Beyond
|Ruth Wales works to forward literacy all over the world through Operation Mobilization, a "traveling book fair" that offers low-cost or free books to people in cities where the ship Logos Hope ports. The photo above was taken in Sri Lanka, where the team facilitated the establishment of 10 libraries. —Submitted photos|
Once upon a time, there was a Sam Houston State University graduate with great passion—but she didn't wait for a prince to share it with. And instead of riding off on a white horse, she set sail on an international ship.
But Ruth Willover Wales has to admit that she never dreamed her love of books would quite literally float her boat.
"I've always been a reader," Wales said. "Here in the U.S. we can have any book we want; elsewhere, some kids will never own a book or even touch a book."
That's why Wales, a 2008 library science graduate, joined Operation Mobilization and spent three years aboard Logos Hope, a buoyant, traveling book fair.
The ship docks for approximately three weeks at each port of call. As many as 10,000 people arrive onboard each day in search of low-cost or free books.
However, Wales soon discovered that delivering books is one thing; what happens to the departing books is another.
"We give out a lot of books, but we didn't show people how to set anything up," Wales said. "You need to know how to keep them; otherwise, when we go back, the books probably wouldn't be there anymore."
To combat the problem, Wales helped establish training seminars to teach library basics, including how to develop a mission statement, catalog and group books, and establish check-in/check-out procedures.
Wales, along with librarians from other countries, conducted seminars in Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Literacy: An International Affair
|(Top): The crew of Logos Hope in Malaysia and (below) Wales addressing a group of men in the African country Sierra Leone.|
In Sri Lanka, the team facilitated the establishment of 10 libraries of approximately 300 books each, a small amount if you consider the inventory of most American libraries, but an absolute treasure trove for other countries.
And in Malaysia, Wales assisted with a library setup at a children's home. The kids were so excited, Wales said, that they took ownership, and to this day continue to be in charge of their very own library.
On another occasion, a three-day session in the Philippines attracted more than 300 people. During that well-attended seminar, Wales said, they gave away a set of encyclopedias…from 1989.
"Almost all of them wanted that set of encyclopedias," Wales said. "When you see that, or you see kids who are so excited because they have never seen a book, or you're talking to a teacher who says the kids don't like to read, but then you see that in their library all they have is textbooks and the kids are only allowed to look at them for an hour, you realize that good books are priceless."
Wales always knew she wanted to be involved in mission work. While earning a degree in Christian leadership at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, Wales worked in the on-campus library. Her experience there, in combination with a mentor's advice to secure a secular degree, is what led her to SHSU.
"My training at SHSU got me into the (Logos Hope) crew library," Wales said. "From there, I was able to create seminars and train other librarians/teachers from other countries. They thought it was such a privilege to have someone with a degree take time to teach them. After experiencing these places, I realize America is privileged to have set standards for trained librarians in school libraries. Librarians do make a difference."
Holly Weimar, assistant professor in the library science department at SHSU, said there are a lot of different ways to do library work, and Wales' version is admirable.
"It reminded me of dentists and doctors who load up aircraft with supplies to serve people in other countries where their expertise is needed," Weimar said. "Ruth came into our program knowing what she wanted to do with her degree and certification and freely shared this with fellow students and professors. She prepared to begin a very interesting career path."
Logos Hope is home to an international crew and staff representing more than 45 nations, who live and work on the ship. While onboard, Wales became engaged to ship engineer Mark Wales. The couple married in Houston in October 2012.
Wales is currently on dry land, collecting and cataloging donated books at the OM Ships office in Florence, S.C. Her current project, "Library on a Pallet," sends boxes of books and corresponding card catalogs abroad.
"The crew onboard doesn't have to know anything about libraries," Wales said. "They only need to deliver the pallets."
Wales said she still dreams of taking librarians overseas for more training, and while she may find her sea legs again one day, her happily-ever-after is on land or water.
"As long as I'm surrounded by books," Wales said, "I'm happy."
For more information about Operation Mobilization or Logos Hope, visit
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