By GRAYSON STEEL
Battle Creek Investigator
AP Member Exchange
BATTLE CREEK – The shelves of the Willard Library contain a plethora of books covering countless subjects and cultures, but until recently there were few Burmese materials available.
A passionate library clerk and generous author changed that, reports the Battle Creek Enquirer.
Dozens of Burmese language books and magazines now adorn the library shelves, the culmination of a tireless effort by Library Clerk Par Mawi to serve and better represent the growing Burmese community of Battle Creek.
The expanded collection was made possible by Burmese author and publisher Aung Way, a friend of Mawi who donated several works from his personal collection.
“Seeing this…it made me cry” Mawi explained last week, her voice filled with emotion. “I’m very passionate about it.”
Mawi fled her native Myanmar in 2007 due to political violence, enduring three difficult years in a refugee camp before reaching the United States and finally settling in Battle Creek more than 10 years ago.
She has worked at the Willard Library for about five years and has made it her mission to expand the library’s Burmese collection for a while.
The recently donated materials are a huge source of pride for Mawi and exemplify the library’s mission. “to create a community of readers and a world of possibilities.”
“We always say the library is for everyone,” said Willard public relations librarian Kristine Pioch. “It welcomes everyone who lives here, so we have Burmese, we have a Spanish collection, we have a Japanese collection, we have a whole variety of books of all kinds that everyone is interested in. We really want to be the library of everybody.
Mawi remembers leading Way and other Burmese authors on a visit to the Willard Library in 2019.
Observing collections of Spanish and Japanese literature, the authors wondered, “Do you have a Burmese collection?
“I was like, ‘Yes, we have books (on Burma), but not (a) Burmese collection'” Mawi called back. “‘We have over 20 books here, but (they are written) in English.'”
Mawi asked the authors if they had any suggestions on how to acquire more Burmese-language books. They agreed to reach out once they returned home to Myanmar.
Soon after, the coronavirus pandemic gripped the world and political unrest in Myanmar further complicated matters, Mawi said.
On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military took control of the government after claiming there had been widespread irregularities in voting in the country’s November 2020 elections.
Opposition to the military coup sparked further unrest, with the difficult political climate making it increasingly difficult for Burmese authors to publish and distribute their books, according to Mawi.