Working in a university library, as with any type of library, means a dedicated service focus which supports the goals and directions of the parent company or institution. While each individual university will have their own priorities and strategic directions, there are some themes that seem to resonate across the board. One such area is the recognition of the need for universities to internationalise. Internationalisation benefits a university’s staff, students, research, and institutional profile and competitiveness, to just skim the surface of its influences.
I work at Flinders University in South Australia, which has established a number of ways to incorporate internationalisation. One strategy is through strategic partnerships, including being a member of the International Network of Universities (INU). Within this network, a Special Interest Group for University Libraries has been established, and stemming from this affiliation the University Librarians (otherwise titled Head Librarians) discovered that they had much in common with regard to their services and how they were attempting to deliver them. The directions they were heading and their plans regarding negotiating future directions, looking at future concerns, issues, etc. also displayed close similarities. From this beginning came the idea of establishing a staff exchange program. Since that time, the library at Flinders has been involved with a number of staff exchanges, in particular with Hiroshima University Library, Japan. Hiroshima staff member Tomoko Sammi has just finished a 2 month staff exchange to Flinders, and in the next 6 months there will be visitors from Malmo University Library in Sweden, as well as another staff member from Hiroshima.
For my part, I went for a 3 month visit to Hiroshima in August to October, 2008. It was an amazing experience. I started with being a ‘Facilitator’ in the INU Student Seminar on Global Citizenship and Peace in my first week in Hiroshima, which was a great learning experience in which I got to engage/ connect/ network with students and staff from the 11 Universities constituting the INU. After this time, I worked for 11 weeks in the Central Library of the Hiroshima University Library service. This involved both space for learning as well as hands-on work. I was able to meet all of the different ‘Chiefs’ of the work teams at the library, and from this gained an understanding of the work conducted and the work flows of the system. In terms of hands-on work, I spent a good deal of time with the Digital Repository team, the Special Collections team, had a set desk shift at the Reference Desk serving students and also conducted some presentations about the Flinders University Library and academic libraries in Australia in the name of information exchange. However, substantively I was employed in the Academic Information Service Group of the library, and within this the major project that I worked on was constructing and conducting information literacy tutorials for international students with the Information Navigation Section. Chief Sho-San and her staff were great to work with and being part of a project like that really did help me see and learn a lot about the service in a very practical, as well as theoretical, way.
While at Hiroshima I was asked many questions about different aspects of library services at Flinders, and was lucky enough to have the support of staff at home feeding me information from their areas of expertise as required. The collaboration and teamwork that I was involved in on both sides was really positive. This process continues to grow through continued connection and collaboration that grows with further staff exchange, and staff members from both services continue to grow their available network of people and support, a process that is positive for both the library services involved as well as for the professional development of individual staff.
With Flinders University as a whole focused on internationalisation, it is important for the library to be similarly focused if it is going to successfully support the needs of its university community. On this university-wide level staff exchange helps this process. It also helps attain a higher visual presence on the competitive international academic stage. On a library service level we are able to learn much more about any number of areas of interest, one example being a greater understanding of the needs and expectations of international students studying at Flinders University. On a personal level, it was an unforgettable experience, providing an opportunity that I could not have received otherwise. In essence I feel that the range of benefits delivered through staff exchange programs such as I experienced is significant. If you or your service is thinking about an exchange, then I hope this has given a bit of food for thought.