A Bavarian Librarian in California
Bavarian librarian Angela Güntner on duty at the University of California in San Diego Libraries, thanks to her work exchange through the German–U.S. Librarian Exchange Opportunity
After touring libraries throughout the German state of Bavaria as part of a library-visiting program dealing with information literacy training, I decided to extend that rewarding experience by taking part in the German–U.S. Librarian Exchange Opportunity cosponsored by the American Library Association and Berufsverband Information Bibliothek (BIB). I chose the University of California at San Diego Libraries as my preferred destination for a visit of four weeks in April and May 2011.
The organization of the trip went extraordinarily well and without any complications. Soon after I had submitted my personal profile and my library preference to the associations, ALA International Relations Office Director Michael Dowling put me in touch with Marlo Young, the coordinator of my stay at UCSD. She created a schedule according to my interests and always was more than willing to give me any additional support (including a pickup at the airport).
Right after my arrival, I was given the opportunity to introduce myself, my hometown, and my home library at a very pleasant welcome reception. My working schedule as a visiting librarian consisted of getting tours through different departmental libraries, joining several committee meetings, and discussing all aspects of library life in one-on-one encounters with department heads, library managers, and other academic staff.
I was situated in the Social Sciences and Humanities Library, located in the main library building, which is named Geisel Library in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as children’s-book author Dr. Seuss. There I got my first big surprise, because there was no office waiting for me, just a cubicle. Though well-equipped and rather comfortable, this construction reminded me, the spoiled European, of a changing room at a German indoor swimming pool.
Working conditions in the U.S. are different from those in Germany in many ways. In San Diego, for the first time in my entire educational and professional career, I worked on both Good Friday and Easter Monday. What I liked much better was the fact that librarians at UCSD aren’t required to use time clocks; it is a matter of mutual trust and personal responsibility to work one’s hours properly and to get one’s work done within the required amount of time.
But what I liked most were the outstanding and, to my mind, very successful efforts of the UCSD Libraries to create a “living room for learning” for their students and faculty. A living room just like at home—that was my impression when I first saw all the comfortable chairs and matching tables within the libraries and people sitting there, just talking or relaxing, next to those at their desks, working diligently at their computers.
Some were even taking a nap, and others were having a snack break, bringing their coffee, Coke, chips, and cookies. Food and drinks next to the books? Could that be true? Yes, it is. In response to my “German angst,” I was told that theft and book damage has not increased since these concessions have been made to the contemporary student lifestyle.
In the lively learning and research environment the UCSD Libraries seek to provide, there is outreach, information, reference, and training everywhere. Librarians, as well as nonacademic library staff, are well prepared for any question that may arise at the Information and Reference Desk, which even offers the option of highly specialized one-on-one consultations. Library classes are offered in cooperation with faculty in order to fulfill courses’ special needs concerning library use and academic research.
Nevertheless, the libraries don’t keep in contact with their patrons in person only. They have established a wide range of e-learning materials, such as a video clip about Geisel Library on YouTube or more conventional instructional videos offering a tour of the library, or help using databases or avoiding plagiarism.
My stay there led me to praise the UCSD Libraries as a sort of academic paradise; but sadly, a budget cut of $3 million means upcoming consolidations and reassignments. No one knows what the UCSD Libraries will look like in a couple of years; but I am sure they will still provide an atmosphere for all kinds of high-level learning. I offer thanks for this truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
ANGELA GÜNTNER works at University of Passau Library in Lower Bavaria, Germany. ALA and the Berufsverband Information Bibliothek entered into an agreement in 2009 to work together to promote and facilitate exchanges between the two countries.