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CILA: Issue 3, Laurie Barnes

Issue 3, September 2018

Laurie Barnes, Prague, Czechoslovakia 

Tell us about your journey to librarianship.

Currently I am serving as a librarian with Open Door Libraries in the Czech Republic. We (my husband Jim and I) have been here since March 1997 and came to establish a public Christian library here in the capital city of Prague. With a collection of over 8,000 resources, we serve both Czechs and those in the large international community. We have partnered with and also serve as a resource for university and seminary students, including the Evangelical Theological Seminary as well as the theological faculties of Charles University.

The journey through life, libraries, and books is one that has been rich and full of various twists and turns. Seeds have been planted, which have germinated, grown, and matured with the passage of time. The seeds have included Saturday morning visits to the local town library in days of childhood and youth, progressing through the struggles of being a slow reader during elementary school, but being encouraged by parents who passed on a love of education and reading, and eventually thinking about educational pursuits and career options upon graduating from high school.

At that particular juncture of life, the choice was between working outdoors or as a librarian

-- both of which reflected two of my greatest passions in life. While always finding libraries intriguing and engaging places for learning and growth, I initially opted for a career working for the US Forest Service. While extremely rewarding work, with the passage of time and as God was calling, the path eventually led away from the forest. This included further educational pursuits including earning a BA in Bible and Theology from San Jose Christian College in 1992. Jim received an MA in Modern European History and later pursued PhD studies -- this is also a big part of how we came to be in Europe.

We eventually met Willard Black, the founding director of Open Door Libraries. With our  educational background and mutual love of books, this then led to the opportunity and an invitation to become involved in international library development work.  In 1994 less than 5 years after the Velvet Revolution, the event that toppled communism, we made our first trip to the Czech Republic to explore the possibilities. Without any formal training, but with professional library input, we began the process of establishing a Czech non-profit foundation, developing a board of directors, and working on all the various aspects of library development.

It was also at that time that I gave consideration to pursuing an MLS degree in order to improve the knowledge base and provide the expertise which would be needed to deal with current and future library goals and objectives. The work continued to progress for a number of years, and then in 2005 with changes in family dynamics (as our daughter had started school) I applied and was accepted into the program at Southern Connecticut State University.

Under the umbrella of Open Door Libraries, we have been involved in helping to support the process of establishing other libraries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). We felt that it was even more important and necessary to have a stronger and more solid foundation of understanding the principles and practices of librarianship in order to help support the work of these new libraries.

How long have you been a librarian?

In taking one class each semester, I completed the program and earned my MLS in August 2010. I am very grateful to the members of ACL (especially CILA) for their input and support as part of the process of completing my thesis, which focused on exploring the training and educational needs of paraprofessionals in small international libraries.

What facet of the profession or your day-to-day responsibilities are you most passionate about?

The most rewarding part of my work is engaging with those who visit the library and meeting the specific information needs of patrons – helping them discover resources.  If we do not have a particular item in the library collection, we also do special book orders. Many Czechs do not have the means to easily get English language books (no credit card and shipping is expensive). We will order from publishers or other sources and have people coming to the Czech Republic bring these things with them.

What are some ways you market services/resources to library users?

We send monthly updates to all library users and will highlight the different activities, including our various children’s programs, lecture series and workshops. Each month we feature a particular section of our collection both in the update, as well as in various parts of the library, such as the front desk and the children’s room. We often have people choose from these displayed books. We advertise in the monthly Czech Christian magazine and via an online presence.

What are low budget or free professional development venues that you participate in currently?

Membership in the Czech Association of Library and Information Professionals (SKIP in Czech) https://www.skipcr.cz/ affords the opportunity to attend various seminars – the most recent being on how the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) affect  European Union libraries. Each month there are also on-site visits to different libraries, which provide great opportunities to meet fellow librarians as well as observe best practices and seek out new ideas.

6. What is the single most challenging thing for you to accomplish as an international librarian? 

Being a solo librarian in a small international library one of the greatest needs is for an additional staff person who can handle computer/IT matters including working on website enhancements, which would free up my time for other aspects of library operations and development.

If CILA were to support your library in the future, what would your single greatest need be?

One of the greatest needs would be practical help including assistance with cataloging and processing a backlog of resources. We are also in need of upgrading our ILS, which will include record conversion as we transition to a new system.

If you would like to know more about Open Door Libraries and our work, you can visit https://www.opendoorlibraries.org/