NOTE: Remember, if anybody wants an autograph for their copy of my book, Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, http://marylaine.com/book/index.html, e-mail me and I'll tell you how you can get the message you want, inscribed on a paste-in-able slip of paper with my ExLibris caricature on it.
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GURU INTERVIEW, PART I: RODDY MACLEOD
a self-interview, by the founder of the Internet Resources Newsletter <http://www.hw.ac.uk/libWWW/irn/irn.html>, EEVL [the Internet Guide to Engineering, Mathematics and Computing] <http://www.eevl.ac.uk/>, and Pinakes, a Subject Launchpad <http://www.hw.ac.uk/libWWW/irn/pinakes/pinakes.html>
Q: You’ve been based at Heriot Watt University for some time, but you’ve also worked in Africa. Could you tell us about that?
A: That’s right. I spent two years at the University of Malawi, in the mid-80s, and two years at the University of Botswana in the mid-90s. After each contract, I came back to Heriot Watt.
Q: What was it like in Africa?
Roddy: I studied African history at Edinburgh University, so it was a great experience to travel within that continent and visit places I’d read about. My original intention was to go up the Nile from Cairo, and then overland to Malawi, but at exactly the time I arrived in Khartoum the war in the south of Sudan flaired up, and I had to fly to Nairobi. Then the Kenyan/Tanzanian border was closed, so I also had to fly from Nairobi to Lilongwe, but I did manage to travel around Egypt, northern Sudan and Kenya.
Q: Did you visit any libraries along the way?
A: Only one, at the University of Khartoum. There’s a wonderful wealth of historical manuscripts there.
I learnt two important things from working in the university libraries in Malawi and Botswana patience, and pride in my profession.
Patience was necessary, because in Malawi in those days the infrastructure was underdeveloped, so it could take a whole afternoon just to make one phonecall. Everything took longer, but despite that, there was a great belief in the importance of education, and the library was seen as a central resource. I remember one incident when I was crossing the border into Zambia. The border guards sometimes made things difficult for travellers, and there were horror stories of people being delayed for hours. On the trip in question, the custom’s officer asked me where I worked, and when I told him Chancellor College, he ushered me straight through, saying how good it was to meet me, how he respected the university, and especially the library where ‘knowledge was stored’. That attitude was not uncommon, and was so refreshingly different from the UK where, too often, librarians are portrayed as crabbed dragons only interested in silence.
In Botswana, the library was quite well-funded, and top-quality librarians were attracted there to work, under the leadership of Kay Raseroka, who has since become an important figure in IFLA. I had access to better computer equipment there than in the UK, and everyone was proud of the library and its collections. They were great times, spent with some lovely people.
They now have an impressive new library building, and are well positioned to benefit from the Internet. As you can imagine, access to networked information can be partricularly important for developing countries. Botswana is relatively healthy in economic terms, and can take advantage of electronic resources and the latest research findings, but in too many other developing countries this isn’t the case. I think that organisations such as INASP are to be lauded. [ed.: INASP is "a cooperative network of partners. Its mission is to enhance the flow of information within and between countries, especially those with less developed systems of publication and dissemination."]
Q: Are there any connections between the work you do nowadays on the Internet Resources Newsletter and EEVL, and developing countries?
A: Only really that the Internet Resources Newsletter highlights many Web sites and services which are free, and can, in theory, be exploited by those in developing countries, if the local telecommunications structure permits. EEVL has worked in the past with AVEL, based in Australia, and AVEL recently re- focussed to concentrate more on sustainable development resources. Sustainable development is particularly important in developing countries, and I’d be happy for EEVL to become more involved with such work, but, of course, funding needs to come from somewhere for this to happen.
Q: How has the Internet Resources Newsletter changed over the years?
A: Surprisingly little, actually. We still feature selected Web sites in each issue, but we’ve added occasional book reviews, news items, and recently a Blogorama section. I still use Word files and Word macros to put much of it together. These were written a long time ago by Gordon Andrew, who used to co-edit the newsletter, but they still work fine! The two Catherines (Ure and Ferguson) who now co-edit it have developed the Web site, but the intention is to keep everything simple, and this allows me to concentrate on the content.
The biggest change came when Catherine Ure developed an email version of the newsletter, and thanks to William Hann (see Ex Libris Guru Interview in #39) who’s Willco company distributes it, this has really taken off, with nearly 20,000 people now subscribing. It’s a free publication, and this is very important. It has no budget, so we could not produce it without such help.
Come to think of it, not only does the newsletter have no budget, it also has no editorial board and we don’t have to produce any annual reports or forward plans, etc. Thanks to Michael Breaks, the University Librarian, we can simply concentrate on the content. Too often, nowadays, projects get bogged down in report writing rather than simply getting on with things.
Q: Would you like to tell us about Pinakes, your subject launchpad?
A: That is a joint effort with Dave Bond, our Information Services Librarian. It’s a very simple idea that has worked quite well. It features links to, and thumbnail graphics of, over 50 subject gateways. The subject gateways, in turn, point to quality resources in their respective areas.
Stay tuned for the continuation of this interview in next week's issue, where Roddy elaborates further on subject gateways, EEVL, cross-searching of multi-databases, his personal subject interests, and his favorite resources for keeping up.
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Accept that change is constant, and constant learning is the only reasonable response. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when everything you need to know about being a librarian could be learned in library school. Learn to thrive on change. Anticipate it, smell it out, and chase after it. If you do this well enough, instead of being the victim of change, you will be its agent. And you will be able to mold change to serve your public better
Roy Tennant, "Strategies for Keeping Current, Library Journal, September 15, 2003, http://libraryjournal.reviewsnews.com/index.asp?layout=article
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