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What Have I Learned as an IFLA/OCLC Fellow?

by Alice Esguerra

Alice Esguerra and other IFLA/OCLC Fellows
The author (left), the first Filipino librarian to become an IFLA/OCLC fellow, shares her reflections on her experience. The deadline for applications for the 2009 IFLA/OCLC Early Career Development Fellowship Program is 7 March 2008.

April 27 of this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Dublin, Ohio, for a five-week training as part of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) / Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) Early Career Development Fellowship Program. We were five librarians from five developing countries: there is Kodjo Elolo Atiso from Ghana; Pauline Nicholas of Jamaica; Elisangela Alves Silva of Sao Paolo, Brazil; Nevena Tomic from Belgrade, Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia), and me from... the Philippines.

During the first four weeks, we were based in OCLC Headquarters in Dublin, where we sat for lectures and workshops about OCLC, its products and services. There I learned that from the original Ohio College Library Center founded by the Ohio College Association, and headed by Frederick Gridley Kilgour in 1967, OCLC has evolved into a “non-profit membership organization that has provided computer-based cataloging, references, resources sharing, e-content and preservation services to 57,000 libraries in 112 countries and territories” (Lensenmayer, 2007).

The fellowship program has also given us opportunities to visit libraries and cultural heritage institutions in North America. The first that we visited were the offices of the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) and the American Library Association (ALA), both based in Chicago and sponsors of the fellowship program. We also visited the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center, a 9-storey edifice, which is just one of 23 branches in the Chicago area alone. Next on our agenda was a visit to the Newberry Library, a special library devoted to the accumulation and preservation of knowledge in the humanities. There I found a copy of the Bible entitled "Ang Matandang Tipan Mula Sa Antiguo Testamento ng Santa Biblia" printed in Manila in 1814, still in perfect condition (talk about preservation!).

After Chicago, we headed to Urbana-Champaign and visited the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The center claims to offer "the best library training" in the US. While there, we went to the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and learned about their LIS programs. While still at Illinois, we had an opportunity to visit the Arthur Memorial Public Library, a public library and a special library in one because it caters to the needs of its special community—the Amish community, a remnant of people who fled from Germany due to religious persecution during the time of the Reformation.

Well, the tour won't be complete without a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC—claimed to be the largest library in the world (in terms of collection). But, would you believe that the Library of Congress is not really the national library of the United States of America? Well, it holds the distinction, and rightly so, but there are also the National Library of Medicine and the National Library of Agriculture. From the opulent Thomas Jefferson Building (which is the original building), the LC has grown to be a complex of 3 buildings, with the addition of the John Adams and James Madison buildings—all three are connected via an underground tunnel. By the way, the Library of Congress has one of the few remaining copies of Johann Gutenberg's Bible. It is displayed at the Jefferson building.

The highlight of our OCLC stint is definitely our participation in the OCLC Member’s Council (MC) meeting. The MC is composed of 66 delegates, elected from the OCLC regional networks and service centers. It makes recommendations on what libraries and the cooperative need; and represents the interests of general members (Lensenmayer, 2007). Through this experience, "we gained insight into issues affecting global library cooperation and the governance of a global library cooperative."

After four weeks of stay in the US, we proceeded to the "last leg" of the program and that is our trip to the Netherlands. We were based in OCLC PICA (Project Integrated Catalog Automation), the OCLC’s IT service arm in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Its headquarters is in Leiden, a province about 30 minutes drive from Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam.

Europe is indeed the "old world," for they still have their "artifacts" to prove it. The cobblestone streets, the well-preserved 16th-century edifices to the early books and manuscripts that date back to as early as the 11th century. In our visits to the Leiden University Library, Konninklijke Bibliotheek (Dutch National Library) and Haarlem Public Library, all in the Netherlands, to the Deutsch Nationalbibliothek (German National Library) and Universitatsbibliothek, both in Frankfurt, Germany, we gleaned traces of the past: the manuscripts written by monks during the Dark Ages, the ornately decorated incunabula during the Renaissance, the well preserved “private library” of a Dutch renaissance man, the locks of hair of Johann Sebastian Bach and some doodling done by Albert Einstein way back during his days at the Patent Office in Germany. All these speak of Europe’s passion for preserving the past as a legacy to the present generation. One would really be amazed at the time, money and effort they have spent to continue accumulating these relics and preserving them for posterity.

Of course, our European library tour won’t be complete without a visit to the IFLA Headquarters housed in the Royal Dutch Library in Den Haag (The Hague). There we met Mr. Sjoerd Koopman who talked about IFLA, “the global voice of the library and information profession representing the interests of library and information services and their users” (IFLA publication, 2007).

In conclusion, let me go back to the question “What have I learned as an IFLA/OCLC fellow”? I would answer: A LOT. More than the sights, the sound, the taste of US and Europe, I learned that librarians, no matter where we are or how we are labeled, share this common passion, which S.R. Ranganathan aptly stated: “of providing the right user the right information at the right time”—only this time, with the aid of modern technology. Indeed, technology has played a great part in the success stories of library services abroad; and we must embrace this knowledge, too, if we want to remain relevant amid the onslaught of the knowledge explosion. We also need to band together. As the adage says “no man is an island”; in the same breath, we can say that no library is an island. It is irrelevant if ours is a small library or yours is big, both big and small shall suffer if we will remain isolated from one another. We need to join hands and work together for the common good of the society that we serve. If we have done that, we are indeed part of global library collaboration—providing the right user the right information at the right time, no matter where they are.

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