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GSLIS at IFLA in Oslo, Norway GSLIS at IFLA in Oslo, Norway

A year later a different type of event — this time tied closely to the GSLIS academic program — took place in St. Paul (Minn.) and in Oslo. This came about after the 2004 IFLA General Conference, when some faculty discussed the possibility of more direct student involvement. For some years GSLIS has offered a course entitled “International Librarianship” (LIS 760), taught first by Sr. Lauretta McCusker (former Dean and Professor), and later by Senior Fellow William V. Jackson, who also introduced it on the College of St. Catherine (CSC; http://www.stkate.edu/) campus. (The M.S.L.I.S. program at CSC is a collaborative program with the degree awarded by Dominican University.) “International Librarianship” is now offered on both campuses with Professor Mary Wagner as teacher at CSC. With these antecedents, in 2005 Wagner worked out a for–credit course that combined class work in St. Paul, attendance at the General Conference of IFLA in Oslo, and field work in both cities.

This report details the learning opportunities and experiences of the course. In order to participate students had to take the course for credit (given in the second summer session on the CSC campus) 10 students enrolled. Class sessions were designed to provide an overview of information policies, libraries and library and information services in other nations and regions. Students were also introduced to the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) as an organization through a presentation made by Edward Swanson, a member of the IFLA Governing Board. A third focus was to look at how public libraries serve new immigrants — a focus selected since both the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area and Oslo welcome large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants into their communities. In addition to researching public library responses to these groups, students participated in field observations in public libraries serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. These experiences prepared them to continue their learning in Norway.

Arriving in Oslo, students made their way to Haraldsheim Hostel and settled in. On the morning of 11 August, they met Professor Tim Szlachetko, Program Director for the Scandinavian Urban Studies Term, a U.S. based program offered through the International Summer School of the University of Oslo. He lectured and led discussions on the history, politics, and culture of Norway, as well as introducing Norwegian librarians who were making presentations. Students visited a public library housing a special collection of anti–racism materials and providing services to diverse groups of immigrants. A trip to the Multi–Cultural Museum provided another opportunity to learn about the issues facing Scandinavian countries as refugees and those seeking political asylum continue to arrive.

On 14 August students received their IFLA conference badges, attended the opening ceremonies and began five days of going to paper presentations, engaging in conversations, and participating in the cultural activities planned for conference attendees. Students were required to interview two conference participants on the issues that face them daily in their work, on how libraries are governed, and on what services they provide to what populations within their countries. These interviews were reported and reflected on in the journals students began keeping in early July as the course started and in daily seminars. The daily discussions took place in empty conference rooms, hotel lobbies, and outdoor parks in Oslo.

Anticipating language barriers, students were initially resistant to doing the interviews, but after returning to the U.S, they said that the interview requirement was what made the conference attendance a highlight in their education for librarianship. Through the interview process they were able to talk with delegates from European, African and South American countries, as well as those from English–speaking nations. As students became more comfortable in their role as conference attendees (this was the first professional meeting for six of the ten students), they began to attend sessions outside their initial area of interest and to initiate informal discussions, often arranging to have coffee or a meal with other conference participants.

Since this year’s experience was centered around LIS 760 and carried course credit, financing was chiefly obtained through two fees. Students paid regular tuition for the course, but from this the IFLA conference registration was paid. A fee of US$850 was assessed to cover costs of the three–day seminar in Oslo, housing (this included breakfast), and a bus/trolley card. In addition, students had to cover remaining personal expenses (other meals, insurance, etc.) and to arrange air transportation to and from Oslo. Wagner estimates that each student spent a total of between US$4000 and US$5000. The CSC operating budget covered administrative costs. Should the IFLA meeting and/or time overseas become a required part of LIS 760, enrollment might fall because of higher costs for students. In such a case, it might be necessary to find outside funding in order to offer students a partial subsidy.

Would we do this again? Yes! Those who took the course with the required overseas component are recommending it to their fellow students. They have also made some suggestions — one of them that there be liaison with library schools in the conference site country to add another dimension to learning about librarianship in an international context. The possibility of home stays with library science students might also be explored.

Observations on the 2004 and 2005 experiences, student comments and suggestions, and conversations with foreign colleagues have demonstrated that there are many avenues (of which so far only two have been traversed) to meet the objective of the international librarianship course: learning about library and information science in cultures other than that of the United States. Practicing librarians in 2004 and students in 2005 have emphasized that their ideas of librarianship and their understanding of the role of archives, libraries and documentation centers in society is strengthened and deepened by such activities as those described in these two reports.

 About the Author

Mary M. Wagner is Professor and Director of the MLIS Program at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn.
E–mail: mmwagner [at] stkate [dot] edu

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