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For Librarians Only (Well, at Least Mostly…)

This post is part of a series of posts documenting my trip to Egypt. To read from the beginning, go to the first post and follow the links at the bottom of each page.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

On Wednesday, after a week of silence from my new colleagues at BibAlex, I e-mailed those with whom I thought I should be dealing primarily and asked them when they wanted to take the “next step” and what they thought that step should be. The response was not long in coming. Omnia Fathallah replied in short order and suggested that we meet Thursday (today) at 2 PM. The heads of reference, electronic resources, collection development for the library, continuing education, and art and multimedia were expected to attend. I also received an explanation—in a roundabout way—for the lack of communication from the staff over the past week. It seems that there is a major “corporate communications” workshop being conducted by Prof. Caroline Stern of Ferris State University which extends over this week and next. Thus, my project is on hold until this activity has concluded. This week, a group of librarians from Bahrain is also participating in some of the training, so the professional staff is up to its metaphorical nostrils in work.

A group of us did meet this afternoon; there were five in attendance in addition to your reporter and, with a smaller group, we actually managed to agree on an outline of how we would like to proceed and the approach we agreed upon is an odd one, perhaps, but it gives us an entreé to the process of getting off square one. One of the topics that keeps emerging from the talks I’ve had with the librarians here is the library’s collection development policy. The first professional task I undertook when I arrived was to read the document carefully and completely. It is very much a “work in progress,” but my first impression was that it is a very thorough, well thought out, and well designed document. It is rudimentary in the sense that many of the units have not yet submitted their finalized contributions, but the overall structure is there.

This matter is weighing most heavily on their minds; they see the completion of the document as having a vital impact on both their collection development efforts and their information literacy program. Such being the case, we decided that we should begin work on fleshing out the document. A more complete collection development policy will hopefully provide the BibAlex librarians with a road map for addressing the many collection development issues they face and provide a way of directing the future of the information literacy program. How this latter component actually fits into the scheme is not really clear yet, but the idea had strong support from Mohamed el-Gohary, the continuing ed person. I can see ways of employing that effort in ongoing review and revision work on the document and in providing direction for the continuing education program, at least in part.

The overall outcome of the meeting was that we have a starting point and an outline of how to accomplish some of the work the BibAlex librarians think is important for advancing their mission or, more correctly put, their missions (plural), since the several specialized units have particular needs and requirements that are not always congruent with the aims of the main library. Finding ways to address that problem may be an added benefit to the exercise we are about to undertake.

The one glitch in the affair is that they would like to cram all of my work into a thirty-day period between the 20th of October (which marks the end of their corporate communications/Bahraini librarian training program) and the 20th of November, which apparently marks the beginning of yet another period during which many Egyptians (I’m imagining mostly Copts, but who knows?) take yet another “holiday.” I had not anticipated a period of such intense work on my part.

I understand from what some of my interlocutors said during our meeting that one reason they thought this would work best was that the director had led them to believe that the “research” part of my project was to receive highest priority. I have to disabuse them of that notion in a hurry so that I can work with them over a longer period of time. Whether this will work out or not remains to be seen.

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