- ERASMUS delegated in Cardiff, thanks to Sonja Haerkoenen (image by Carla Marchesan)
European exchanges for librarians must go on!
Philippe Laux-Jan, Co-head of library at Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture of Toulouse (France)
When I came to Oxford in July 2012 to attend the ArcLib 25th anniversary Conference, as a speaker, I had a discussion, during the nice tea times we had in the middle of the morning and afternoon sessions, with Sarah Nicholas, who is subject librarian at the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University. She told me about an Erasmus session for librarians that was to take place in Cardiff in 2014 during a week. This information was very interesting to me because I had already heard of Erasmus exchanges for university staff members. Some of my French colleagues had talked about spending a week in Brussels at the La Cambre School of architecture for example, and how interesting it was to see other practices and ways of working in different countries. These exchanges were only possible between European schools sharing a partnership for students or staff members. At the Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture de Toulouse, were I work as co-Head of the Library since May 2012, (after 20 years spent at the Architecture school of Marseille as Head of the Library), we have exchange conventions with a lot of countries in Europe including Spain and Italy, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria and Romania, but none with the United Kingdom. We used to have some, but not any more…
So this session in Cardiff was a nice challenge to open new doors for my school, my library and myself. I contacted Sonja Haerkoenen, from the Information Services of the Cardiff University, who organized the session and we made it possible for me to come and attend from March 31 to April 4 2014. I could be funded by my School using both Erasmus and local funds.
I arrived in Cardiff on Sunday evening and tried to find my way from the airport to the city center where my hotel was. I was impressed by the big towers rising aside the 19th and 20th century buildings in the pedestrian area. On Monday March 31 at 9.00 we were welcomed by Sonja in the meeting room of the Arts and Social Studies Library. Then our week program was divided into visitor presentations, visits of campus libraries and presentations on current topics about libraries, in various venues on the campus, including the Bute Building where the Welsh Architecture School is located, on the 1st floor.
The group was composed of 25 European librarians coming from Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Finland, Poland, Sweden, Latvia, the Czech Republic and France. So the visitor Power Points included mostly presentations of each town and library. The Biblioteca Campus Maria Zambrano in Segovia (University of Valladolid, Spain), impressed me mostly because of its nice cubic work spaces and children rooms, which would be unusual to find in France in a university library. All the cities proved to have new buildings to welcome their students, which is so nice to see from an architectural point of view. Our Spanish colleague from the Biblioteca de Educacion of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, spoke about communication strategies in Spanish academic libraries, and I presented ArchiRès, the French architecture librarians network, and the new portal recently online (https://www.archires.archi.fr/). I already spoke about it at the Oxford Conference in July 2012, and it has recently become a public internet portal giving access to catalogues of 5 French Architecture Schools, that will be extended to all 20 ArchiRès member Schools in Septembre 2014.
Among the visits to libraries in Cardiff, the newest one was the Health Library located inside a hospital in the suburbs, which seemed to me rather unusual as in France, I think, we would separate hospital and student library in two different venues. The Cardiff Central Library has proved to be a wide and open space area with a piano on which people can play (with headphones) but I heard a part of the book collections had been sold and a some staff had been fired because the Town Hall had no more money. Shocking for a French to hear about selling public collections!
The presentation on topics focused mainly on information and digital literacy. I tried to translate the word “literacy” in French and was very surprised to know that the meaning was close to the word we use in French to talk about foreigners learning our language! So we, the French, must have a lot to learn in this field…
I visited the Architecture department in the Bute Building Library with Sarah Nicholas and asked a lot of questions concerning “subject librarians” and their work, as in France the Architecture schools are not part of the universities but separate and independent schools under control the of the Ministry of Culture and Communication. Together with a Swedish colleague, I had a conversation with two members of the IT department about the software used to manage digital information, as I will have to manage it for the ArchiRès network in France at the end of 2014.
Our stay in Cardiff ended with a visit to the European Documentation Centre. I asked Ian Thomson, EDC Director, how the center would manage the present debate in the UK about leaving the European Union. He answer that the Center would impartial and give all information available on this issue.
In conclusion, this experience was very beneficial for all of us, and the group was very participative with lots of exchanges, questions and sharing of different ways of working. We also shared pictures after returning to our own Schools, as everyone was keen to share this experience with his own colleagues. I shared pictures, digital presentations and topics with my colleagues in the library in Toulouse, and I hope this will help us for our project to renovate the library. And perhaps, Toulouse will make a permanent connection with Cardiff and exchange architecture students via the Erasmus Programme, which would be great.