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World Libraries: Academic Libraries in Two Hemispheres: Different Cultures and a Shared Vision Academic Libraries in Two Hemispheres: Different Cultures and a Shared Vision

Abstract: Two educational institutions, miles apart geographically and culturally, teamed together in a collaborative effort to promote learning, share resources, and deepen cultural appreciation. Since 2000, the College of St. Catherine (CSC), a women's Catholic liberal arts school in St. Paul, Minnesota has sent education and library professionals to the Unidad Academica Campesina (UAC) in a remote area of Bolivia to help develop UAC's library and library services as well as work together on a variety of research projects. The UAC library, with its limited collection and lack of computer technology, serves a severely economically challenged student population. The collaboration between the two schools resulted in modifications and upgrades such as physical expansion and access to closed-stack materials. In addition, a member of the local Carmen Pampa community was selected to be trained as the UAC librarian, who later participated in a six-week internship in the CSC Library. Various barriers presented a number of challenges for those involved in the exchange: cultural differences, communication difficulties due to technology accessibility, geographic distance and cost of travel, language issues, and funding. In spite of the challenges, students and education professionals experienced cross-cultural activities that expanded cultural awareness and appreciation, and deepened and understanding of each country's core library values.


How do we, librarians and future librarians studying in schools of library and information science, learn about international libraries and ways of accessing information in other nations? We can read about others who do work abroad, but as in most learning, there is nothing in the world like experiencing something for oneself. When an American college entered into a collaborative relationship with one in a remote area in Bolivia, no one in either country quite knew what to expect. The results have included mutual learning, sharing of resources and a deepening of cultural appreciation.

This article reports on one collaborative effort between the College of St. Catherine in Minnesota and Unidad Academica Campesina in Bolivia. The hope is that this relationship will eventually grow into a program in which students in a U.S. pre-service library education program will gain experience working with students and staff of a rural Bolivian university. Prior to implementing this program, the two institutions have been working together to better understand the needs and practices of each other.


In the fall of 2000, the College of St. Catherine, a Catholic liberal arts college for women in St. Paul, Minnesota, signed an agreement with the Unidad Academica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia. The agreement spelled out opportunities to develop and conduct research and curriculum development in biological sciences, human nutrition and rural family health. The focus of this cooperative work was to link students and faculty at the College of St. Catherine (CSC) with those at the Unidad Academica Campesina (UAC) in joint research projects as well as to assist in developing UAC's library and library services.

Since 2000, several groups of CSC faculty and staff have visited UAC, participating in the educational activities of the university and in developing opportunities for students and faculty from UAC to spend time on the CSC campus.

The UAC at Carmen Pampa serves six mountainside provinces of the Department of La Paz in western Bolivia. Located ten miles south of the city of Coroico in the province of Nor Ungas, the village of Carmen Pampa is connected to Bolivia's capital, La Paz, by a steep and narrow mountainside road. The sixty-six mile trip takes five to eight hours by bus or car, depending on the weather and current condition of the road. The region is comprised of dense cloud forests and is situated on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains.

Founded in 1991, the UAC at Carmen Pampa is a four-year university with approximately 600 students offering baccalaureate-level degrees in public health nursing, plant and animal science and education. It is a rural branch of the Catholic University of Bolivia and is situated to serve the country's most economically impoverished population. The mission of the UAC is to serve "the poorest of the poor" through education, research and the community outreach programs. It is fulfilling its mission by developing a new prosperity through sustainable farming, the prevention and control of debilitating and terminal diseases and the creation of enduring applied research programs in agriculture and public health.

"We can read about others who do work abroad, but as in most learning, there is nothing in the world like experiencing something for oneself."

UAC's students are primarily indigenous Aymaran and Quechuan. They are the grandchildren of people who were indentured servants until 1953, when nation-wide land reforms gave all people small parcels of land to farm. The lifestyle of the citizenry is simple, agrarian and poor. According to the CIA World Factbook, [i] Bolivia is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in Latin America. With about seventy per cent of its population below the poverty line, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti. The World Bank puts the life expectancy in Bolivia at 62 years of age, and the rate of functional illiteracy at 35-50 per cent.

UAC's development has been guided by a ten-year strategic plan (1992-2002) focused on three main goals:

  • Build and equip sufficient facilities to house, teach and train the Bolivians students, drawn exclusively from the rural poor, in a Catholic environment;
  • Secure accreditation from the Catholic University of Bolivia but modify and adapt the curriculum to address community needs; and
  • Create an extension services program to reach beyond the student community.

To date all three goals have been met. The UAC is now focusing on securing financial stability and on translating teaching and research into measurable improvements in the region's economy and health. [ii]

UAC's Library Facility

The UAC library consists of approximately 1,550 books that support the curriculum in nursing, veterinary science, agriculture and general college. In addition to the books, there are a limited number of videos, a daily newspaper, maps and games. There are no journal subscriptions and the library does not yet have Internet access. Students doing research for theses topics must journey to La Paz to study at the university.

UAC's library collection is organized in chronological order by the assignment of an accession number to each item, according to the order in which each was received. About one-third of the collection is cataloged using a system called Fiscero, which assigns Dewey call numbers, but has no subject-heading control. There is a card catalog, but it is not current and students prefer to use a shelf list to identify what they want by title. Many of the books have been donated from the U.S., with a small number in Spanish that have been purchased with a sparse acquisitions budget. The most-used items in the collection are those that are in Spanish, while English-language texts and resources have limited use.

UAC's students cannot afford to own their own textbooks and they may not take items from the library. This means that the library is heavily used, especially between classes. The prescience of a photocopy machine serves as on-demand printing of library materials, but unfortunately, the students must often use their food money to pay for the photocopies.

CSC and UAC - Sister Libraries

The library is seen as an essential element of the education offered at the UAC. In order to better develop the library and its collection, two CSC faculty members traveled to UAC in spring of 2001: Mary Wagner, the program director for the Masters of Library and Information Science degree, and Kathleen (Kathi) Rickert, who is Reference librarian at the CSC library. Based on this initial visit, an evaluative report was prepared regarding the state of the UAC library. Budgetary needs were submitted and a task force was formed to begin to address some of the library's needs.

The report prepared by Wagner and Rickert made recommendations to the UAC administration, a vision of how their library could be improved. The advice was favorably received, and since that visit in 2001, many modifications have been made. The physical library at UAC has been expanded and the closed-stack arrangement was opened for student browsing. Another recommendation that was acted upon was that Ms. Olga Jemio, a young woman from the Carmen Pampa community, was selected to be trained as the UAC librarian. Eagar to succeed in her new position, Ms. Jemio attended a training session for new library staff at the University of St. Andre in La Paz. Primarily focusing on cataloging, she interacted with others and learned the fundamentals of library service.

In Spring 2003, Ms. Jemio visited Minnesota for a six-week internship experience in the CSC Library. During her stay, Ms. Jemio rotated through the CSC library's departments, including circulation and the public and technical services areas. The goals for her were that she observe the library's operations, develop skills, engage in discussions with library staff and faculty in the Library and Information Science (LIS) program, and improve her English. Ms. Jemio also made visits to local Spanish immersion public schools and public libraries, and worked in the library of a local advocacy center, The Resource Center of the Americas.

The library task force established in fall of 2001 is comprised of CSC alumni, faculty, staff, library science students, and local area public and academic librarians, practicing and retired. Current work of the task force includes preparing letters of request and grant proposals to assist in the development of the UAC library collection and to support the on-going training needs of UAC's librarian. It is hoped that the task force can raise the funds to bring Ms. Jemio back to CSC for an additional eight-week practicum.

"'Where there is a will, there is a way' has never been a more apropos expression."

Once the UAC library is more fully developed, it is anticipated that students and alumni of CSC's LIS program will have seminar and practicum opportunities on the UAC campus. The current course in International Librarianship taught by Professor William Jackson, a noted authority on Latin American libraries, will serve as the springboard from which students will have a practicum experience in an international library setting.

In the near future, Ms. Wagner and Ms. Rickert will return to UAC to mentor and offer continuing training to Ms. Jemio. During this visit, time will also be spent in La Paz talking with potential donor agencies to support the ongoing collection development needs of the library at UAC.

Barriers to working together

"Where there is a will, there is a way" has never been a more apropos expression. Challenges to working with a college as distant and remote as UAC-Carmen Pampa include culture, communication, distance, language, and costs.

  • Culture: From our earliest days working with UAC, we tried to be cognizant of cultural differences, and tried not to be the "know-it-alls" that imposed our own agenda on another library. We had learned, for example, that many libraries in Latin America typically have closed stack arrangements. This was true of UAC's library, and while we had reservations about making the suggestion to convert their collection to open stacks, it was their own decision to do so.

  • Communication: The primary means of communication between CSC and UAC has been by email. While this is fast and easy in our work environment, Bolivia is much less developed. Until recently, UAC staff who wished to access email traveled seven miles, a journey that takes nearly an hour, to nearby Coroico with better services. In March 2003, the first Internet connection was made, and while it is expected that the campus would soon be networked, progress has been hampered by sporadic and unreliable service. It is too soon to know exactly how present and future library projects will be affected.

  • Distance: Traveling to UAC is not an expedition, but it is an experience. It takes a minimum of a day and a half to reach Carmen Pampa from Minnesota, and the airfare is more than $1,000.

  • Language: While Carmen Pampa does have English-speakers on their staff, any materials purchased for the library have to be in Spanish. In Minnesota, we have made use of online distributors to identify books and CDs in Spanish, and have benefited from Spanish-speaking staff, students and volunteers.

  • Costs: Money to fund collaborative projects has thus far come from a number of sources. CSC has provided faculty development money to fund travel and expenses for past faculty visits. The college also funded Ms. Jemio's visit this spring. The Carmen Pampa Fund, a local nonprofit that raises operating funds for UAC, has made a limited amount of money available for purchasing books, computers and for remodeling and furnishing the library. As with most nonprofits in these difficult economics times, the Fund struggles to make ends meet.

Other CSC/UAC initiatives

The nursing faculty at CSC has been actively involved with UAC. CSC Professor Carol Pavlish spent the spring of 2001 in Carmen Pampa improving her Spanish and investigating UAC's method of community-based clinicals. Her goal was to design a research agenda for undergraduate nursing majors wishing to complete their public health clinical requirements in the community-based services of UAC.

In the fall of 2001, Jackie Munoz, a nursing faculty member from UAC spent several weeks at CSC. Ms. Munoz lectured to undergraduate nursing majors, worked to improve her English skills and co-presented a paper at a national nursing conference.

Dr. E. Brooke Harlowe, a CSC associate professor of political science who specializes in Latin American studies, spent a month in Carmen Pampa during the summer of 2002. She was interested in the impact of the recent presidential elections on the rural population, and is working now to provide assistance to research teams at the university. Dr. Harlowe was accompanied by student Clara Burgert, and the two were awarded a grant which provided funds to return to Carmen Pampa with a class of six students for two months in Summer 2003.

"When an American college entered into a collaborative relationship with one in a remote area in Bolivia, no one in either country quite knew what to expect."

Dr. Kay Tweeten, professor in the biology department at CSC, has visited Carmen Pampa three times between 2000 and 2003. She has been working with faculty and thesis students on their research projects to assist them in obtaining review literature in Spanish to support their topics. Recently, she is helping identify an insect pest common to the area in an attempt to find a repellant for it. [iii]


The College of St. Catherine and Unidad Academica Campesina are learning from each other about how institutions of higher education educate students and meet the needs of their communities. Students, faculty and staff from both colleges are experiencing the excitement of participating in cross-cultural activities that link them to each other, but the relationship is not without challenges. Areas of conflict and tension require effective problem solving skills, and sharing technology poses challenges requiring more than technological solutions. Consideration of political and cultural "networks" is often necessary to make technology networks operational.

The library science faculty and students at CSC have learned that publishing in a global environment does not have its center in the United States. Library materials in Spanish are best located and purchased through publishing houses in Spain. Individuals hoping to participate in such tasks must take the opportunity to learn Spanish as a second language.

Being involved with UAC has brought home the idea that core American library values of democracy and intellectual freedom are not necessarily values in other world libraries. Recognizing the good and useful in one's own culture by recognizing the value of another culture offers areas for reflection and consideration. The relationship between CSC and UAC offers to each institution a richness that is shared among students, faculty, staff and alumnae of each institution, and has the potential to provide educational and life-long learning opportunities. Collaborative efforts such as this serve to enhance the lives of those involved and are essential in a world of global communication.



[ii] This description is provided by the Carmen Pampa Fund of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a 501c3 non-profit agency that raises funds in the United States to support the operating costs of the UAC. The Website for the fund is:

[iii] For more information about the Carmen Pampa and College of St. Catherine partnership, please visit the Website at: and Kathi Rickert's newsletter article at:

About the Authors

Mary Wagner is Professor and Masters of Library and Information Science Program Director, College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN, USA
Email: mmwagner [at] stkate [dot] edu

Kathleen Rickert is Reference Librarian on the St. Paul campus of the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN, USA
Email: kdrickert [at] stkate [dot] edu

© 2002 Mary Wagner & Kathleen Rickert

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