Posted by: gmelvin | June 6, 2014

Remember what Bilbo used to Say?

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


GroupPistoiaSuch an appropriate quote. The experience of first stepping out, especially by someone who for much of his life just kept to himself, is an experience I cannot forget. Today, I am working on a master’s degree in library and information science, and I am about to receive a small taste of global librarianship.

But before I write any further, this particular post will set itself apart by a large degree from my previous posts. I will dive more into personal, abstract thoughts…rather than concrete details of events that I’ve experienced. While this deviation is partially due to course requirements of the Italy trip, another purpose is to describe my growing thoughts over basic librarianship, and my initial reaction to working with people from other countries. I will be as brief as possible.

Libraries typify an international language medium by which expression and preservation of history, culture, and knowledge are made through both the now and ages to come. Each one has her voice…a dialect I suppose, and she can be best described as more of action than object. It’s not really what a library “is” that matters, but what the library “does.” What purpose does she serve? How does she impact both present and future? What makes her an important and irreplaceable member of the community? A library cannot be defined as simply four walls and a roof. She should instead be defined as a voice that evolves with the needs of her community. Thus, approaching now from a global perspective, the opportunity I had in Italy with meeting members from libraries all around this world proved to be a most unique and enlightening experience for how libraries live within their communities.

Forty coordinators from sixteen nations – southern, central, and eastern Europe – have traveled to the San Giorgio Library in Pistoia, Italy to discuss new ways on how to reach out with more depth into their communities. During those three days, I had awesome one-on-one conversations with people from Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia, Spain, and much much more! Some had moved from the U.S., while others started their American Embassy life from simply low-key articles found in local newspapers. Even the Ukraine-Russian conflict had several interesting impacts on participants (especially as representatives from Ukraine were present). I’ve established several contacts, and have received some interesting details on daily life from places across the globe.

Discussion over lunch with a coordinator from Spain.

Discussion over lunch with a coordinator from Spain

By far my first…and hopefully not the last…my interaction with an international community of the 21st Century American Spaces workshop is something I highly regard in terms of importance and potential. And by potential, I refer to the potential benefits that participants may implement thru the outcomes of this workshop. Now, while I understand that working with representatives from other nationalities is quite commonplace in today’s world, such has never been an opportunity that I thought I would have the privilege to both participate and be a part.

Some in our group were somewhat daunted to present before this congregation of international representatives. And for good reason. We are students, from America, and not many of us have experience to present or talk before large crowds. But we did know this…and as a group, I believe we presented exceptionally well before the international audience.

Part of our class syllabus requires several presentations to be given that reviewed emerging and/or common themes found in American libraries. Presentations were divided in groups of two students, and were given twice that week. The first presentation took place during the 21st Century American Spaces workshop. We had no interpreter, for the common language was English. This presentation was short, and consisted primarily of a brief review into our topics. My group topic – along with a fellow classmate – was Sensory Storytelling.

Our second presentation took a different route, even though we presented in the same library. We specifically talked in front of the library staff and interested general public. We required an interpreter. Everyone spoke Italian.

To some, I guess, it may feel somewhat strange having another speak in a different language. Such reflected my initial feelings as well…until I got up to speak. Truthfully, in all points, the talk and interpretation instead felt natural – and I cannot explain that feeling. I found that an interpreter gave me a chance to recollect my thoughts when I didn’t have to speak, and it proved easier to remain more composed and observant over the audience.

Our interpreter actually taught as an English Language Learner instructor in a university next to the library. We talked for some time afterwards during a break, but I wish I had more time to get to know both her and the audience later that day.

I believe I’ll close up rather quickly now. In closing, I would like to say that I’ve been quite blessed to get a chance and opportunity to make this visit and presentation in Pistoia, and I hope for something similar in the future. The first week of Italy effortlessly jump-started my mind into transition from the USA. The following Saturday of this week, I will leave for Lucca on a personal, short one-day vacation trip. A nice retreat.


Can you promise that I will come back?”

“No…and if you do, you will not be the same.”

~ The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Opening dinner with coordinators from Azerbaijan and...I believe...Moldova

Opening dinner with coordinators from Azerbaijan and…I believe…Moldova

Group photo of 21st Century American Spaces Workshop participants

Group photo of 21st Century American Spaces Workshop participants



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