A lot of the interest in my Biblioblond blog has been generated by my accounts of my participation in the McGill University’s Librarians Without Borders trip to Asturias Academy in Guatemala in May of 2010. This experience remains to be one of the most challenging and yet incredibly fulfilling few weeks of my life and I’m always happy when people take an interest in our trip and the work involved in creating a library at Asturias Academy.
I haven’t done much with Librarians Without Borders in the past few years since my trip and so I’m very excited to be helping out with LWB’s first “unconference” in Toronto on Friday May 11th. I’m always happy to hear an interesting line-up of speakers and this event promises to be extremely stimulating for librarians who like to think and discuss big ideas surrounding global librarianship. Proceeds from the registration from this event will go towards future LWB projects.
I invite everyone in the Toronto area to come and participate in an interesting evening of “discussion, open debate, and exploration” all in support of a worthy cause!
To register online or for more information, visit the LWB website.
Today at lunch time, the McGill Librarians without Borders student group hosted Marjorie Gagnon, a librarian who volunteered for 5 months in Zambia. During her stay in Zambia, Marjorie participated in two library projects: The Book Bus and the Lubuto Library Project. Many students in librarianship have a burning desire to help people (even those stuck cataloguing in a back room want to help people find resources more efficiently by doing a good job classifying). Marjorie argued that because she stayed for 2 months at each project, she was able to observe the difference that books made in the lives of the African children who she was working with. By the time she left, she was able to see the progress in their reading skills, which is pretty rewarding! Many college/university students participate in this type of project during their “gap-year” when they embark on whatever volunteer-tourism program sounds most interesting. These student volunteers did not have the same goals as Marjorie since they had no idea what needed to be done in a library setting (Marjorie described their complaints at having to do a library inventory in the hot sun). Most of them preferred visiting the country’s touristic highlights to doing actual volunteer work. This did not faze Marjorie, she was able to draw upon her management skills from her job experience to prioritize projects and motivate others.
Marjorie did a lot of research before choosing to which projects she wanted to dedicate her time and energy. She was extremely helpful by giving us a list of other potential NGOs performing library work in Africa that she discovered during her research. This was extremely useful and I was able to copy down many of the names like Under the Reading Tree and Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL).
We were warned that a volunteer trip like this cost a lot of money and volunteers must cover their own expenses for travel, vaccinations, visas, etc. Luckily Marjorie has been working full-time for the past ten years and could afford this trip that was taken during a sabbatical year. I’m not sure that most MLIS students would have the funds saved up for the type of trip. Okay, I know that I would not be willing to pay these expenses when I am just finishing school and I do not yet have a secured job with income. Having said this, I will be going on a less expensive library-volunteer trip to Guatemala for 10 days in April. More on this in a future blog post…
This past week I have had the pleasure of volunteering at “Investir le monde numérique/Investing the Digital World”, a conference organized by ASTED and 7 other professional associations that reflected on the transformations in libraries due to the evolutions in information technology and also how information professionals can take a proactive approach in influencing information technology tools.
Volunteering at conferences is a wonderful experience for students. During the past few days I have met many interesting people who are interested in the same issues as me. Also, I have listened to thought-provoking speakers who approach their subjects from a different perspective than what is presented in university classes.
Although everyone knows that conferences are a fantastic opportunity to network, I was shocked to witness a certain volunteer take this opportunity too seriously. At the beginning of the conference, all the volunteers needed to find our name badges that were filed alphabetically with those of the conference attendees. When one volunteer couldn’t find her name, she became visibly stressed out; she was almost panicking. I told her not to worry because we all had to wear rather flashy hats that made us stand out as volunteers (see picture). The woman replied that she had just finished her program in library school and was looking for a job. Her objective in coming to the conference was to meet potential employers and if she didn’t have a name badge for people to learn her name then she would have been better off staying at home. I could barely contain my shock at how easily she announced this narrow-minded attitude to the volunteer co-coordinator and the other volunteers. Honestly, I had met her only moments before and I already knew that, given the opportunity, I would never hire her because she obviously
a) dealt very poorly with stress and
b) lacked the creativity to come up with any alternative solutions to her problem (i.e., she could have brought business cards to distribute, she could have been proactive in introducing herself so that she wouldn’t have to rely on people reading her name badge, etc.).
I am admittedly an extrovert and I needed no coaching to talk to people at the conference. However, I view these people as librarian colleagues who share my interest in how technologies are influencing libraries, not uniquely as potential employers or contacts for job opportunities. My favourite presentation was “Bibliothèque universitaire: nouvel esprit du lieu”. This talk was given by Silvie Delorme, the director of the libraries at l’Université Laval, my alma mater. She spoke of how the architectural elements and design of a building influences how people use that space, whether they enjoy being there and want to linger or rather if they come simply to accomplish a task and then leave right afterwards. Last year I did a project on contemporary architecture in academic libraries and this is a topic that I find extremely interesting. After the talk, I went to Mme Delorme and introduced myself. We spoke about her talk and the major renovation project that Université Laval has planned for its two libraries. I never mentioned the fact that I would like to work at Laval’s library one day, although I would, because I felt that it was not appropriate in the context of our conversation and it probably would have come across as being pushy. Perhaps I am naïve and I will think differently closer to my April graduation when I will be more actively searching for a job. However for the moment, I will appreciate my many experiences volunteering at “Investir le monde numérique/Investing the Digital World” for the interesting conversations that I had with the librarians and other volunteers present as well as the experience of contributing to such a successful event.
I encourage students in all disciplines to get involved in conferences in your field; it will be educational and a lot of fun!