Librarians (l.–r.) Raymond Pun (a 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker; First Year Student Success Librarian, California State Univ., Fresno), Scott Collard (head of specialized research svcs. & social sciences, New York Univ.), and Justin Parrott (acquisitions & research svcs., New York Univ., Abu Dhabi) are the editors of Bridging Worlds: Emerging Models and Practices of U.S. Academic Libraries Around the Globe (ALA; LJ 3/15/17, p. 129). Here, they discuss the inspiration for their new book, the role of academic libraries in global initiatives,the challenges facing librarians today, and getting started in an international career.
How did you plan the idea for your book?
RP: Over the past decade, the three of us were seeing universities partner with other entities or launching full-fledged campuses abroad to create new opportunities for research and teaching, and we felt that academic libraries have also played a critical role in supporting these initiatives. At the time, Scott, Justin, and I worked at New York University [libraries] in different locations, and we wanted to include [in a new book] our experiences along with other universities’ collaborative efforts.
What advice would you offer those institutions interested in building an academic library abroad?
RP: I would start with [examining] the core mission of the university. Are they focusing on a specific area like liberal arts or health sciences? From there, colleges and universities can identify curriculum to focus on. More broadly, the library needs to think about basic services such as access policies, digital experiences, and specialized research needs for these groups.
SC: A central component will be space planning, which presents many challenges when working abroad and often from a distance. Start early in understanding how your collections will be built and e-resource licenses configured and adjusted, as those processes have long time lines for completion. Lastly, [prepare for] staff planning, [which] is complex work.
JP: Clear communication protocols are essential for creating functional and integrated services. Librarians need to tailor their work schedules to accommodate time-zone differences. Teams that will work together over long distances should spend longer periods of time working together in person to build professional relationships. In our case, NYU’s technical services librarian spent three months in New York before permanently settling in Abu Dhabi.
What are some of the challenges
in building a collection abroad?
SC: In most of our case studies, the library is following the larger institution’s needs and development priorities. One might start with conversations between library leadership(s) about opportunities for collaboration. Creating networks of expertise across sites via shared services for reference (for example, using a single tool for chat or email service) would allow libraries to take advantage of complementary strengths and may be achievable at lightweight scales.
JP: From a technical services point of view, a decision will need to be made whether to have one catalog with a single integrated ILS system, or two separate catalogs. Based upon these decisions, libraries will need to select appropriate vendors and modes of shipment. If the abroad library intends to acquire many rare or local materials, they should keep in mind that specific expertise will be needed to properly catalog foreign-language items. Libraries need to sufficiently answer the questions of where to get materials, how to ship materials, how to adequately represent materials in the catalog, and how to circulate them—all of which relates to their relationship with the home institution.
How are academic libraries supporting global initiatives?
JP: Academic librarians are assisting a number of digitization projects that document and preserve local heritages and histories. For example, Arabic Collections Online is an initiative driven by American partner libraries that hosts open-access digitized Arabic books, making this otherwise rare material available for users globally. The challenges of these initiatives involve numerous administrative and technological decisions such as funding and staffing.
SC: Libraries can play the part of connector between global locations of an institution, fostering the sensation of an interconnected university. It’s a great opportunity to broaden your reach and also comes with the challenges inherent in keeping our libraries working in concert across distances and time zones.
Are library schools preparing students for global library careers?
RP: Yes and no. Scholarly communication is certainly changing rapidly, and some schools are recognizing the importance of this area and data sciences; these are two key areas that are significant trends in global librarianship. Research collaboration is an essential skill as well.
SC: Not particularly, but many of the same valuable skill sets are needed [for librarians] regardless of locations. Building or maintaining foreign language expertise would be useful for someone looking to have this kind of career.
JP: My studies focused on librarianship in the U.S. (school, public, or academic), with little focus on international issues. I imagine an elective course or a unit within core courses on international issues would be a welcome addition to the curriculum.
What did you learn from this project?
RP:As a result of technology, you can instantly collaborate with anyone. We had authors from all over the world collaborating with each other.
JP:But having one editor “on the ground” in each of the three main locations (New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai) allowed for personal conversations to take place, rather than the delay that comes from electronic communication.
SC: There are a lot of ways to “do” global libraries. A lot of interesting, talented people have taken this route. Though there seem to be a number of challenges in these kinds of situations, the opportunities and advantages seem very compelling.