Thursday, May 26, 2005

Pride of Profession

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2005 IFLA/OCLC Early Career Development Fellowship Program. Tomorrow night, Nancy and I will take Selenay, Thomas, Xiaoqing, Edwar, Lela, Muhammad, and Gillian to BD's Mongolian Barbecue, which for some reason has become our restaurant of choice for the last group meal of the Fellows' stay. Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that isn't really over yet?

In the scan, we talk about how collaboration is the librarian's secret weapon. We know how to work together to serve our customers in a way that is not natural behavior in other industries. And other the last four weeks I've gotten to see one type of that collaboration in action.

We've met some of the leading lights in the library field this month. In Chicago, Karen Danczak-Lyons, the acting Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, welcomed us to her library's annual staff in-service day and taught us about the Fish Philosophy from Seattle's Public Market. Paula Kaufman, the University Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, spent an hour telling us about what it means to be a research library director in the US today, and Barbara Ford and Susan Schnuer of Illinois's Mortenson Center for International Librarianship gave us a tour of the campus's libraries and the grad school of library and information science, despite the fact that they were leaving the next day to do a 20-day consulting trip to Africa. Leaders of ALA and American Theological Library Association took time from their days to talk to us. We heard Judy Krug talk about the work of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

At the Library of Congress, Deanna Marcum and Beacher Wiggins spent the morning with us, telling us about the challenges and pleasures of managing the collections of the largest library in the world. Then we got jaw-dropping tours of LC's Jefferson Building and the scanning center tucked away in the Adams Building.

Joe Branin, the Director of Libraries, and Jim Bracken, Assistant Director for the Main Library at The Ohio State University, Don Barlow, the director of Westerville Public Library, the staff at Columbus Metro Library, and Belen Fernandez, Director of Franklin University Library, spent many more hours with the Fellows.

Delegates to OCLC's Members Council volunteered to serve as hosts for Fellows, to help them understand the sometimes arcane business of the Council. We heard exhilarating talks at Members Council by Kurt De Belder from the University of Leiden, and Stewart Bodner of New York Public Library, as well as concepts for the future from Lorcan Dempsey. (Lorcan's presentation is available on the OCLC Research site; the other presentations will shortly be available on the Council's web site.) Sjoerd Koopman, the education director for IFLA and one of the members of the Fellows' selection panel, flew in from The Hague to attend Members Council, to offer a program on international library activities for OCLC staff, and to meet the Fellows. And Karen Whittlesey, who is soon to depart ATLA, also joined us in Council.

OCLC staff offered their time, their experience, and their insights, and, in many cases, opened their homes and families, to the Fellows. This helped them get a better sense of what living in the US is like, Desperate Housewives and Friends notwithstanding.

As I was driving home tonight, it occurred to me that there probably aren't many fields where a group of young professionals from seven countries from around the world could be welcomed by the top leaders of that profession, and given the royal treatment these librarians received. Silly or sentimental as it sounds, all of this reminded me of why I wanted to be a librarian in the first place. I wanted to be in a profession where people matter more than borders, where ideas matter more than things, where sharing matters more than owning, where what one holds is freely offered to all. We don't always live up to these ideals, but for the last month I've seen what can happen when we do. And it renews my faith in the whole bloody thing.

The other stunning realization is how much we learn from the Fellows while they are here. Of course, we learn about the libraries and the educational culture in these countries, but we also learn an immeasurable amount about how we as an organization (OCLC) and how we as a profession (American librarians) are perceived beyond our own borders. This is invaluable. Hanging out with these seven people for the last month has been a post graduate education in the old Robert Burns stanza.

If you know of any institution or association that would be interested in joining OCLC, ATLA, and IFLA in sponsoring this program, please contact me. Jay Jordan, our CEO, said at lunch with the Fellows on Tuesday that he wishes the program were much larger. If we can get more co-sponsors, that can happen. (Of course, Nancy Lensenmayer and Susan Saggio might kill me for suggesting this today!)

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