March 11, 2010

A long overdue follow-up from South Africa

Lions and tigers and LIBRARIANS? Oh My!

People-to-People works with ALA members to hold a professional library science delegation, at least yearly. As I blogged previously, I went with a delegation of 28 US librarians to South Africa in October. This nine day experience was a life changing event and if you ever get a chance to go on one of these Ambassador programs, go! The program not only afforded me the opportunity to interact with librarians from all types of libraries from all around the US but to also see librarianship in an international context.

The professional program was amazing. We visited a small community library in Soweto, where Nelson Mandela grew up. This library, being primarily funded by the US, was one of the only libraries that kept its doors open to EVERYONE through the apartheid years. We visited three different university libraries and a large public library. We experienced the Mae Jemison US Science Reading Room which was overflowing with students - meaning there was actually a line waiting to enter because it was smaller than use demanded. We saw the National Library of South Africa and visited with the National Librarian, the president of LIASA, and the new IFLA president.

Not all of our time was spent in professional endeavors, however! The program is designed to make sure that participants get an opportunity to experience the culture as well. I had the opportunity to visit Robben Island, the island prison for dangerous and political prisoners and the site of Nelson Mandela's incarceration. One evening we had dinner hosted at the home of a local family. We went on a tour of the Cape Peninsula and Cape Point in the Table Mountain National Park - the place at which legend claims the Atlantic and Indian oceans merge. We also saw the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach, home to the rare African penguin in its natural surroundings and enjoyed the immense Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Lastly, some of took the opportunity to extend our trip for a three day safari. One free evening in Cape Town, I had the pleasure of meeting Alberta Mayberry (UNT IIS PhD '91) who is currently the Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa. It was amazing to learn about the international possibilities for graduates of our program. She and an amazing collection of her friends share dinner with me and before I knew it I was getting sage dissertation advice halfway around the world!

As a librarian, every time I go on vacation, I end up visiting a library. However, this trip I have deemed my Library vacation. I will be forever changed by seeing how appreciated libraries and librarians were, how information access was making a real-time difference in people's lives, and learning from those who've actually accomplished it that libraries can really be the heart of a free nation.