A Week at Work

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.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

This title makes it sound as though a week at work is unusual and that is not the case. I have been involved this past week (and will continue to be until I leave for my Thanksgiving weekend holiday) in intense individual conferences with each of the selectors who have written the first drafts of the Summary and Format sections of their collection development policy statements. These meetings have taken place in Nermin’s “cozy” little office with Nermin present to clarify in Arabic my English evaluations of the selectors’ efforts. Sometimes, when two selectors are working in the same discipline, there are four of us and, when, in typical Egyptian fashion, two additional people are conducting other business with Nermin simultaneously, more.As I said, cozy.

In spite of the occasionally chaotic surroundings, we do manage to conduct reviews of the statements and to give direction for the next stages of the process. Some of the selectors have done reasonably good work while others have not. Nermin has asked me to be severe with the slackers, but I am more comfortable with a firm but diplomatic approach and am willing to give a certain latitude to those whose English skills are clearly not on par with the best of their colleagues. The sessions take the following form. I first provide a critique of what they have written, followed by recommendations and directions for improving their statements and prose. I also show them a “template” of what an acceptable policy statement should look like.Copies of that template are also e-mailed to each selector.

This template is a model that I made up for selecting in Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies and represents the sort of policy statement I would write if I had been given the same assignment. I tell them that they are not required (and indeed SHOULD NOT) follow what I have written slavishly, but rather to use the template as a source for ideas and forms that they can use. The selectors are then given a deadline for submission of the next draft and are encouraged to continue working on other sections of their statements so that ideally, by the end of my time here, they will have a fairly good, basic set of guidelines for doing the collection development part of their jobs. I stress that the collection development policies for their respective disciplines should do three things: the statements should serve as reminders to the selectors about what they are collecting and why; they should further serve as sources of information about the nature of their collections for their colleagues, defining their areas of responsibility and staking out their territory; finally, the policy statements should provide a basic overview of each disciplinary collection for those who will be using them.

The meetings, at least outwardly, seem to go well; the selectors leave with firm deadlines for the next step and clear guidelines for improving their statements. I try to find something positive to say about each person’s efforts and encourage them to contact me with questions or problems. I am anxious for them to keep working, especially since the big holiday, the Eid al-Adha` or Greater Bairam, is coming up and that means work in Egypt essentially stops for five days. People also tend to take their unused vacation time now, before the end of the year, so progress may be a bit slow from here out.

I also have been meeting fairly frequently with Amira Hegazy, the info. lit. unit head so that we can continue to make progress with that effort. The workshops in that arena have problems of their own but I think that we are doing better there now that the instructors and I have met a couple of times and we have a better idea of where we are going and why. There is always the issue of the discrepancy between what they tell me they want and the way I think it should be approached to deal with. A lot of that has to do with my own neophyte level of experience with this kind of work. My report to the library administration at the end of my term here will have to address this issue. It would help greatly if there were a better definition of responsibilities and a clearer statement of expectations for the next Fulbright person.

I have two Arabic lessons this week, too, and then I’m off for a week in Cairo and the desert. I am a bit worried about being away for so long, primarily because I don’t know how I’m going to pack everything I need in my backpack. Well, that’s a bridge to cross a few days from now.

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