Student Claire Bartlett expanded her knowledge of library management while also gaining international experience through the SJSU information school’s LIBR 298 Virtually Abroad course.
She came across the Virtually Abroad elective while looking for classes to take in the spring 2014 term. Taught by Dr. Paul Christensen, the course that debuted in spring 2013 allows Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) students to work remotely for information organizations that have a global mission.
“I liked the sound of a class that would help others while I gained experience,” Bartlett said, “and I like learning about other cultures and countries, so I thought it would be a good experience.”
Seeking a project for the course, Bartlett got unexpected help from her supervisor at her job. Having just returned from a service project for a school in Ghana that was building a library, the supervisor put Bartlett in touch with the Minnesota-based nonprofit coordinating the venture, Hand in Hand for Literacy.
Bartlett’s project involved creating a guide for the librarian at the Challenging Heights School in Winneba, Ghana, on how to prepare and run the library, which opened April 15, 2014. In addition, she created guides for the school’s teachers, students and community members on how to use the library. The guides were written in English, Ghana’s national language.
One of the differences she encountered with the Ghana library was the fact that it has no resources for buying books, but depends on book donations to add to its collections. She also had to keep in mind the local climate and other conditions that make it especially challenging to protect books from dirt and dust.
“I don’t know if the specifics I learned about libraries in Ghana will come in handy in the future,” Bartlett said, “but I learned more about what it takes to plan for and run different aspects of a library that I might not have learned otherwise.” The experience also impressed on her how important it is for information professionals to be flexible and learn about the populations they serve in order to best meet their needs. She recommends the course to other students “because it’s a cool, hands-on way to learn about libraries,” but she cautions that it requires a lot of work.
Bartlett earned her bachelor’s at Beloit College in Wisconsin, majoring in Spanish language and literature and creative writing, and minoring in women’s and gender studies. She has worked at Mount Prospect Public Library, near Chicago, since January 2011, and felt getting an MLIS degree would help advance her career. She started the MLIS program in spring 2012, and expects to graduate in December 2014.
Currently, Bartlett is the Mount Prospect library’s youth outreach coordinator. Her main responsibilities are planning events in the community, and to a lesser extent in the library. She also works on the youth reference desk and manages several collections, including foreign languages.
“I particularly like working with underserved populations, and working to bring them into the library and create services that are of use to them,” Bartlett said. “Ideally, I’d like to continue to work in outreach with children and families, but I’m open to new experiences too.”
“I think flexibility and openness are key. This project would have been an impossible feat if I couldn’t adapt my way of thinking about libraries and be flexible and open to the way others work.”
“I went to an American Library Association (ALA) conference, and thought it was really informative and fun. I had a hard time narrowing down which sessions to go to.”