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Library Fellows Bring an International Perspective

As part of a new fellowship program, two French library students share their best practices while learning about the Harvard Library. 


ENSSIBMarch 31, 2015—Sharing best practices with international colleagues can be challenging due to language limitations, travel restraints and differing time zones, but this spring term those boundaries have been removed for two new resident fellows at the Harvard Library.

Raphaëlle Lapôtre and Lola Mirabail, two head librarians in training in the French national library and information sciences school, L'École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques (ENSSIB), are immersing themselves in American library management until May.

The internship program was extensively planned, but since the program is new to Harvard, the curriculum is partially fluid. Host librarians Lidia Uziel of Widener Library and Chris Erdmann of Wolbach Library see that as an advantage to set the fellows up to succeed.

“We are adding different elements organically in the practicum,” said Uziel, head of the Western Languages Division and bibliographer for Western Europe. Her past experiences in shepherding ENSSIB’s interns during her tenure at Yale, combined with Mirabail’s strong desire to experience North American librarianship, brought Mirabail to Harvard.

Raphaëlle Lapôtre and Lola MirabailMirabail is captivated by issues around how to build a user-centered collection in the current scholarly and publishing industry environments and while providing satisfying service to various constituencies. Her learning plan at Harvard includes, among other things, a comprehensive review of collaborative collection development activities, including the identification of benchmarks and best practices to improve existing workflows and processes. Mirabail is also actively involved in the Western Languages Division’s web archiving project of political ephemera, which capitalizes on her academic credentials in political science.  She shadows Uziel and colleagues in a variety of settings and functions. “Working at Harvard is very stimulating, and it’s very interesting to see that in France and in the US we are facing the same challenges,” she said.

“It’s quite an honor to be hosting them,” said Erdmann, head librarian at Wolbach Library and Lapôtre’s host. Her fellowship at Wolbach stems from her previous work on re-use of library data to improve library management.

“While writing my dissertation, I came to the conclusion that if it is true that access to information is today based on algorithms and data processing, and if librarians still have a political role to play in it, it would be important for us to learn about data science,” explained Lapôtre. Conveniently, Christopher Erdmann’s DST4L deals precisely with teaching data science to librarians, which Lapôtre learned about at a conference.

“At the Center for Astrophysics, I’m working on a study about the way French astronomers are citing other researchers in their field. In order to achieve that, I’m learning text mining, data wrangling and analysis, and also visualization. The people here are really helpful with the programming challenges,” Lapôtre said.

Academic libraries function a bit differently in France. Repositories and collections are state-regulated. Most French librarians are employees of the French Civil Service (Fonction Publique Française), certified via a national accreditation program. While they self-manage by university or local government, they work under more standardized policies than academic libraries in the US.

Despite of all these differences, the goals and the issues are very similar, agreed Lapôtre and Mirabail, which is why they find exchanges of best practices and international collaboration are so important.

Benefits to the program run both ways. “Having someone looking at our collection development practices from a fresh perspective is really useful,” said Uziel.

Even less than halfway through her tenure, Mirabail said she has already learned an enormous amount.

“This experience will be relevant for the rest of my career,” she said.