As I pack in preparation to move from Gainesville, my home of 22 years (half of my life), I’ve been thinking about what Gainesville and UF have meant to me. It’s a lot. I don’t have totally coherent thoughts. I have strong feelings of joy for what these years have been for me and anticipatory joy for my future in Connecticut.
I’ve been thinking about belonging and home, and what these mean about being in and with any given place.
The robins just passed through Gainesville. I love seeing them in the air, and seeing all of the leaves, twigs, and berries they knock down when converging on the trees.
I remember a presentation at UF by one of Dr. Lillian Guerra’s students on a research visit to Cuba. The student explained that they had never been to Cuba before, and upon visiting for research they were also able to meet family they had never seen face-to-face. Their family told them it was so good for them to return home. The student explained the importance to them for researching Cuba, and to be able to return home, even when that home was a place they’d never been.
In thinking about belonging and home, this is some of the work that we seek to do in libraries. Libraries provide a welcoming place/space, and put in place conditions and resources that enable people to connect and flourish with their pasts, presents, and possible futures, done with collections, community, and services, which set the scaffolding in place to connect for belonging. This is done in many ways, and some are more abstract or less of a clear line from libraries to belonging.
With the Digital Library of the Caribbean, the connection is clear for belonging and home, with each email of thanks for materials being online, each meeting with partners and collaborators with these relationships dating back decades and even a century at the institutional level, and with each new connection. These are strong ongoing currents with specific events in the stream happening daily.
For other areas, the currents are strong as well. I remember the farmer who used to call me once a week to check-in on his family information as preserved in newspapers in the Florida Digital Newspaper Library–this is when the site was not yet robust, and he’d call to check-in and remind how much it mattered. If I wasn’t at my desk, he’d leave his number and what times he’d be in the field so I could call when he was in the house. I remember the phone call I got from a mom, thanking me for an item digitized from Alachua County. She said she wanted to call and thank someone because this was the first time she’d ever seen a photo of her grandfather, now she was able to share with her children, and it just meant so much that she had to call.
In talking with folks about leaving, with many folks at work and in the local community, we have remembered different events, and these speak to how we’ve connected and together made belonging.
While I was not born in Florida, I feel like I belong here, which I did not always. My sense of belonging is not limited or exclusive. Thanks to so many great friends and colleagues in the Caribbean, I feel like I belong several other places as well. I am excited to belong at the University of Connecticut, and in Connecticut and New England, and to help scaffold supports for greater belonging for others.