By DAVE BLOSS
Rhode Island Library Report
TBILISI, Republic of Georgia (Nov. 20, 2012) --
MARK MULLEN is a lover of libraries.
He spent countless hours at the Royal Lane Library in his hometown of Dallas and the Durham (Conn.) library while a student at Wesleyan University.
As he traveled around the country, what he found was the fast-decaying remnants of the vast Soviet Union library system, which like so many civic institutions nearly collapsed after the Soviets relinquished control of Georgia in 1991.
“There was no real tax system, so there was an incredible lack of money for libraries,” Mullen says today. “Librarians were being paid 10 or 15 dollars a month. They were borrowing books from people’s houses."
“I remember being in a little village in northwestern Georgia in 2000 or 2001. There was a big old house with an abandoned balcony, and people would just leave anything for other people to read, six-month-old newspapers, whatever they had. They called it the ‘Reading House’ and people were sitting there reading all the time.”
MULLEN HAS SPENT a lot of time in rural Georgia the past 15 years while working for such organizations as the National Democratic Institute www.ndi.org and Transparency International www.transparency.org. “People in the villages had a great deal of respect for educated people, and they loved to sit around and chew over the big issues in Georgia.
“But as you listened to them talk, you realized that they had no idea about global issues, all the forces that were reshaping the world. They had no access to ‘big ideas’ from outside, especially in their Georgian language."
Georgia’s written language is at least 1,700 years old and has a unique 33-character alphabet. But because there are fewer than six million Georgian speakers worldwide, it’s not an attractive market for book publishers.
But Mullen was determined to give Georgians access to big ideas. “I wanted to find non-fiction about topics that nobody in Georgia was talking about, but the rest of the world is,” he says.
THE RESULT is Radarami, http://eng.radarami.org/index.html, a project that provides topical non-fiction books to Georgia and then strives to connect with its readers. The word "Radarami" is an invented noun made from two words used in Georgian mountain dialects that translate roughly as “what and how” or “what and why”.
Mullen and his team, which includes co-director Susan Smith and PR/outreach officer Mate Gabitsinashvili, conduct lengthy negotiations for publishing rights, arrange for precise translations, raise money to print 5,000 copies, and then distribute them carefully through bookstores and libraries nationwide in hopes of reaching a wide audience.
It’s an ambitious book list, which includes “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error” by Kathryn Schulz.
“Ms. Schulz’s book is a funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait,” says a 2010 review in the New York Times, which quotes Schulz as saying: “Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition."
Other titles already distributed include:
FUTURE TITLES include:
But Radarami also embraces technology. Printed inside the book covers is a four-digit number that readers are encouraged to SMS, which creates an auto-response that allows Radarami to record the name, village and region of the reader. Building a book club, 21st-Century style.
Radarami’s outreach goals include author visits. Katherine Schultz (“Being Wrong”) traveled throughout Georgia for 10 days after her book was published and distributed. “She found out that readers are the same, whether it’s a Georgian village or a Borders on the lower East Side,” Mullen says. “Although for the villagers, it may be the first American they’ve ever seen.”
Books are given free to libraries while bookstores are encouraged to charge about $1.20 for a copy. Nationwide distribution at this point is one man driving around Georgia for eight days, although the Georgian Post Office system, which closed completely a few years ago, is showing signs of returning to life.
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