Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship

v.3 no.1-2 (Winter 2002)

The English-Speaking Librarians' Club of the Ukrainian Library Association

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G. Jaia Barrett, Deputy Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries

Janet Dolya
Kiev National University of Technologies Design Library

In the midst of enormous social, political, and economic transition taking place in Ukraine, a group of approximately 30 librarians has found that coming together twice a month in an English-Speaking Librarians' Club is helping them to help themselves, their libraries, and by extension, helping the users of their libraries. As part of the ever-growing civil society in Ukraine, the Club has become a professional center for networking, cooperation and education for librarians and information specialists of Kyiv.

We decided to tell this story of the English-Speaking Librarians' Club in this article with the hope that English-speaking librarians living and visiting elsewhere in the former Soviet Union will look for similar opportunities. To our knowledge, none of the library associations in the other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States have yet established such a professional unit. For readers in the U.S., we add a word about the name of the group. The word "club" is commonly used in Ukraine for groups that come together around a common agenda but it does not carry the connotations associated with the word "club" in the West. In design and in practice, the Club we write about is an open, professional group that meets during work hours to discuss issues of importance to libraries. In the U.S. it would probably be called a Round Table.

The English-Speaking Librarians' Club is a part of the Ukranian Library Association (ULA) and operates under the auspices of the ULA and the Information Resource Center (IRC) of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. The ULA was itself founded in 1995 to provide Ukrainian librarians a voice in their profession and to promote library services within Ukraine. In 1997, sparked by the persistent requests of Ukrainian librarians for more exposure to the English language, and to information about libraries in the USA, Peace Corp volunteer and librarian Donna Usher, then living in Kyiv, founded the English-Speaking Librarians' Club with the enthusiastic support of ULA President Valentyna Pashkova, Director of the IRC. The group has met regularly for the past four years, survived the transition precipitated by the departure of its founder, and shows every sign of strong leadership and a robust agenda for the future.

Ever wonder what happened to that visiting Ukrainian librarian you met when they took a tour of your library? or that wonderful librarian from Kyiv with whom you shared lunch at the San Antonio ALA? Chances are good that before and after their study tour of libraries in the U.S., they participated in the English-Speaking Librarians' Club. Meetings have been successful in fostering the confidence of Ukrainian librarians to compete for fellowships to travel and study in the U.S. In addition, the meetings provide a forum for them to share their U.S. experiences upon their return. In the last year alone, three club members won such awards.

No matter where you stand on the issues associated with the globalization of cultures, a working command of the English language is a valuable skill, especially for librarians. The fact is that English is the key to a wealth of resources for a librarian's own professional growth and for responding to questions from their users. The need for Ukrainian and American information specialists to communicate and understand each other professionally and personally becomes more apparent every day as the cultural contacts grow and deepen.

A part of every Club meeting then is to encourage practice in the English language. A regular feature of meetings is reporting on events in members' libraries, of conferences attended or fellowships concluded, and announcements of professional opportunities. Speaking in English, listening to each other (as well as an array of native English speakers) helps members and also their colleagues in their home libraries to stay informed of new issues and developments and to exchange views on these issues. The Club is also the place where current publications on library and information issues are discussed and often distributed.

Club founder Donna Usher is also credited with introducing a certain atmosphere to the meetings, an atmosphere that has proved instrumental to the Club's long term success. Perhaps to her it was so natural she was not conscious of how significant it would be to the group dynamics even after her departure from Kyiv. Alien to Ukrainian librarians was the expectation of their participation in Club discussions. Unlike the authoritarian-styled meetings that were the norm here, Club meetings are a place where it is not only OK for everyone's voice to be heard, it is expected. This is difficult at first for new members but an atmosphere of trust and mutual support helps make a bridge to turn listeners into speakers. This doesn't mean that everyone's ideas or views are agreed with; however, having a safe place to air different views, without reprisal, is an experience with implications far beyond Club meetings.

Anyone working in the library and information sphere in Kyiv, who speaks some English, may become a member of this professional group. The Club now includes about 30 representatives from various types of libraries. These include: public libraries for adults, children, youth; special libraries and other special information institutions of Kyiv, university and medical libraries, and the two national libraries. People attending are trained as librarians, information specialists, computer engineers, and also include faculty members of Kyiv National University for Culture and Arts, a psychologist, and other specialists who work in libraries. Meetings are held twice a month; typically once in a member's library and once in the IRC of the U.S.Embassy.

Another American in Kyiv who plays an important role in the Club is Eleanor Valentine, Director of Field Programs of the Parliamentary Development Project (PDP). The PDP is a U.S. Agency for International Development program operated for Ukraine by Indiana University. Trained as a librarian, she is quick to see connections between the agenda of the PDP project with that of the Club. On several occasions, the PDP has hosted Club meetings. Topics discussed include the development of testimony for hearings on the library law of Ukraine (the first public committee hearing held by the Ukrainian Parliament) and the role of libraries in making government information freely accessible to citizens of Ukraine. The Club, and all of the ULA, provides the PDP with access to the Ukrainian library community, and contact with the PDP provides librarians first hand knowledge about how citizens participate in democratic government. Also through PDP, Club members receive PDP publications and other information translated into Ukrainian about how democratic societies function, a rich resource for Ukrainian library collections.

There is a good tradition in the Club of inviting other American visitors in Kyiv to attend the Club meetings. Among the guests to date have been John Sheridan and Vira Skop (both ALA Fellows), Lynn Brooks and Natalia Montvilov (Library of Congress), Eric Johnson (U.S. Department of State Information Resource Officer), Mary Jackson (Association of Research Libraries) and most recently Martin Gomez (Executive Director, Brooklyn Public Library).

Contacts between the English-Speaking Librarians' Club and American librarians intensified in the fall of 1998 when three American librarians moved to Kyiv for two years. Donna Usher quickly got them involved in the Club to share their professional knowledge with the group. By good fortune, their experience in U.S. libraries was spread among corporate libraries (Mary Bowen), school libraries (Nancy Silcox), and university and research libraries (Jaia Barrett). Their participation in the English-Speaking Librarians' Club was richly rewarded with insights into libraries and Ukrainian culture. Just as with colleagues they have come to know at ALA meetings, the contacts developed through the ULA are both professionally significant and personally rewarding.

Club meetings are also opportunities for members to showcase their own libraries. The Club has visited many Ukrainian libraries, especially to learn how new technology is being put into place. Among the tours were: the Lesia Ukrainka Public Library of Kyiv, the Anna Akhmatova District Public Library of Kyiv, the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine, the Book Chamber, Volodymyr Vernads`ky National Library, the D.Chyzhevs'ky Regional Research Library of Kirovohgrad, and the State Library of Ukraine for Children. There was also a tour of the school library at the Kyiv International School with a special focus on a new automated circulation system, and a visit to the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy to see the American Library donated by the U.S. Embassy. In addition, Club members had opportunities to visit the offices of the British Council, the Goethe Institute, the French Cultural Center in Kyiv, and other foreign institutions.

In their relatively short history, Club members have produced three major products. Most ambitious is the English-Ukrainian Glossary of Library and Information Terms (1999). The Glossary, with approximately 500 library and information terms with explanations translated by Club members, was presented to the Kyiv library community as well as sent to the regional libraries of Ukraine. An electronic version of the Glossary is posted on the Club webpage http://lucl.lucl.kiev.ua/eng/gloseng.html. Another club product is an English translation of The Law of Ukraine on Libraries and Librarianship (1995). The translation, made by Club members from the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine, is available on the Club web site.

A third product, also undertaken by a Club member from the National Parlimentary Library, is a Ukrainian translation of the Dublin Core (DC) Metadata Elements Set. This translation contributes to the work of an international effort to promote a shared understanding of how to describe web resources in multiple languages. Club members also organized a Dublin Core Task Force to create a DC web page ( http://lucl.lucl.kiev.ua/win/metadata.html) with background information (translated into Ukrainian) about metadata, the Dublin Core, and the DC Metadata Elements Set (Version 1.0). There are plans to develop this web page further, adding a DC-template that can be used to register the growing number of Ukrainian web resources.

The Club web site is hosted by the Leisa Ukrainka Public Library http://lucl.lucl.kiev.ua/eng/clubengf.html and is a growing resource. It presents information about new Club activities as well as a longer version of this article that includes personal observations about the Club's value written by some of the most active members.

Currently, the Club is being led by US Fulbright Scholar Gentry Lankewicz Holbert, who is visiting on a lecturing grant in Kiev at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Beginning in October 2001, she has facilliated interesting discussions and presented on the topics of "The Alabama Virtual Library: An Example of Collaborative Purchasing of Databases” and “Using Library Skills to Earn Extra Income as an Information Broker."

On first hearing of it, an English-Speaking Librarians' Club may not sound like a change agent for a new civil society within countries of the former Soviet Union. However, experience in Kyiv suggests otherwise. It won't change the country by itself; however it has broadened the outlooks of those who participate and are comfortable with change. The experience of Club members demonstrates just how innovative people can become when they are exposed to like-minded colleagues, eager and impatient for change in their libraries. The Club provides an outlet that channels this eager energy in useful ways even while the library systems within which many members work evolve at a slower pace. The English-Speaking Librarians' Club of ULA will continue to meet, to welcome new members and guests, and to provide a forum to speak freely in English about the challenges and opportunities librarians share.

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