A Research Scientist’s European Adventure (Not to be Confused with National Lampoon’s European Vacation): Part 1

Passport stamp, by madmack / Flickr. cc-by-2.0
Passport stamp, by madmack / Flickr. cc-by-2.0

As many know, I have been awarded a six-month Chair of Excellence position at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M). I was in Madrid February and March and plan to return in May and June and September through mid-November. It’s been an adventure, but thankfully, not like the Griswold’s European Vacation, which was my biggest fear before I departed for Madrid.

I have been working with the Tecnodoc research group in the Departamento de Biblioteconomía y Documentación. My Spanish colleagues are very giving and generous people. Several Tecnodoc classes are held on Fridays at 4 pm — not a very popular time for classes in the US.

Most faculty speak Spanish and at least one other European language. Most understand English but some prefer not to speak English. Where do I fit into this environment? As one of the technical support desk staff said, “we speak Spanglish together.” He knows some English and is able to understand English and I speak some Spanish and usually am able to understand some Spanish so between the mix, we seem to be able to communicate. Most support staff and shop keepers speak Spanish. It’s not easy, but I seem to get by and everyone is very helpful. It’s amazing how well the game, Charades, works in everyday life! I do a lot of pointing and gesturing.

I studied Spanish for about five years during high school and a semester in college. I also worked for the Colorado Migrant Council about 33 years ago and was required to speak Spanish. However, I learned a Latin American Spanish and I am very intimated to speak the language. I have forgotten all verb tenses, except the present, so preface every sentence with, “this is going to happen,” or “this already has happened.” Everyone seems to find that amusing. I usually am able to follow a conversation, if the individuals speak slowly (which is rare) and to read some text in Spanish and get by with these. I attended a dinner party and a birthday party and followed most of the conversations but it is difficult to understand the jokes and humor since they often do not translate well. The Spanish pronunciations of words are very different than the Latin American pronunciations of these same words. At the beginning this was very difficult but now I am becoming more accustomed to hearing the pronunciations and understanding them.

I do want to learn Spanish and to speak Spanish while working in Spain. I feel it is a courtesy and only will benefit me in everyday life. The Spanish people really appreciate that I am trying and are very patient with me. I use the Rosetta Stone program that OCLC has provided and I am working with a private Spanish tutor, who lives in Madrid but prefers to teach via Skype.

I lived in a university residence hall that is across the street from the new main library in Getafe. It would take me minutes to get to my university office, which is very nice. The economy is not good in Spain and education, as many other services in Spain, are suffering financially.

I met with some of the librarians at the IE University in Madrid, who are very interested in doing some research with OCLC products. One of the librarians at the IE University is a doctoral student at UC3M and her dissertation work involves testing and identifying ways to make OCLC products, specifically WorldShare Management Services, available to the Spanish community. I have been invited by the director of the programa d’Informació i Documentació at the Estudis de Ciències de la Informació i de la Comunicació, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. InfoCom UOC, which is the iSchool in Barcelona, to speak to the faculty and students about our research and research methods. I will go there with the director of the UC3M LIS Program in June. I also have visited universities and libraries in Segovia, Toledo, and the Ateneo Científico, Literario y Artístico de Madrid.

While in Europe, I also spent time at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen, Denmark, which now is part of the University of Copenhagen. I gave 4, 2-hour lectures on qualitative research methods and presented an Open Lecture to faculty and students on how to make your LIS degree work for you. The course is a small, international course with 11 students. It has been a lot of work to prepare the classes (approximately 40 hours), but very rewarding and fun. It’s wonderful to work with the future leaders of the profession and to learn from them as well as share my experiences.

While at the Royal School we visited several libraries and cultural centers in Sweden and Denmark with the students and faculty of the international program. One of my favorite libraries is the Garaget (the Garage)  in Malmo, Sweden. They loan clothes, shoes, bicycles, and tools. They also provide a creative space with sewing machines. It’s like being in a friend’s home. (There is a great article about the library available online). The head of the library, Emelie Wieslander, said that the members of the community told the library administration what they wanted the library to be for the community and what the community wanted the library to offer and that the library listened and are providing these. The library is open for events after hours. There only are three rules: 1) the event must be free; 2) the event must be open to anyone; and 3) there may be no drugs or alcohol. Emelie said that the library has less thefts than any of the library branches in Malmo. She believes that if you trust people, they will accept the responsibility and be trustworthy.

I visited the Biblioteket Kulturværftet, or Culture Yard (Main Public Library), in Helsingør, Denmark with students and faculty from the Royal School. It was a great space and is on the sea and across from the Kronborg Castle (Hamlet’s castle). The library has some different designs and is very innovative. When we were in the library there was a very large class of seniors learning how to use computers and a knitting class that was very comfortable with tea and other refreshments. The librarian who gave us the tour stated that the library had 62,000 visitors in October 2013. Many of the visitors are tourists and cruise boat travelers. They use the library to check their email, read newspapers and journals, etc. since there are many Mac laptops located throughout the library. The new promenade from the train station to the library has increased the traffic as well. However, the local shops have suffered since the promenade diverts tourists from the town and directly to Kornborg Castle, the library, and the Maritime Museum. The entire building is 13,000 sq.ft. and the library has 7,000 sq. ft. She said that tourists perceive the Culture Yard library as “an exotic Scandinavian attraction.”

I have returned home for six weeks as I await the arrival of my Spanish Visa. I have enjoyed my stay in Europe and am glad that I have been able to have such a wonderful experience. I look forward to my return to Madrid in May, after I receive the Visa.