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Pratt Librarian Ray Cruitt Travels to Croatia For A Series of Lectures

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By Ray Cruitt

I’m leaving Vukovar, Croatia on an icy cold, rain-soaked day. Only yesterday I was taking a walking tour of Osijek in short sleeves, strolling along its river and through its town center with my host, Marija Cvetnic, an employee of the US State Department/US Embassy in Croatia. I had just given two presentations, one to the public librarians of Osijek and the other to approximately sixty library science students from the university. The library students all over Croatia are a tough crowd; they do not respond to questions or participate in any way during the presentation, and expect it to be straight lecture. In Osijek, I gave both presentations in a very cramped and hot space in the central branch of the public library whose exterior is still pockmarked by bullets and shrapnel from bombs during the “Homeland War” fought from 1991 through 1995, also known as the Croatian War of Independence. “Homeland” is the way Croatians refer to the war. 

I arrived in Croatia on Oct. 16, which gave me a couple of days for exploring the country. The weather was beautiful the first few days after my arrival and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is a great walking city; this is where I spent most of my down time.

Ray at Trsat Croatia 

At the time of this writing, I had already presented at three library systems and two library science classes. I have two more cities to visit, Zadar and Rijeka. Today, Oct. 22, however, was one of the more poignant experiences thus far. I had an easy day of just one presentation to the public librarians in Vukovar. After my presentation I was given a tour of the city by the librarian who leads the American Corners program for her library system, Anita Baier Jikovac, This city, which is located on the Danube River with Serbia in sight, was hit very hard during the war.

Anita gave me a tour of the museum of Vukovar, which was rebuilt after the war and has subsequently taken on greater meaning for the citizens by documenting the war and its effects. Anita herself, at the age of 16, had to flee her town with her family for her own safety. The museum tour was short; I really wish I could have spent more time there.
 
My presentations have focused on promoting business librarianship and stimulating interest in the subject while also demonstrating to the benefits of developing professional skills as well as establishing a business presence in the Croatian library system. I have to admit that before going to Croatia, I had no real idea of what I was going to say. No amount of research can prepare you for the reality on the ground. I wanted to avoid giving the same lecture on business librarianship that I would give to Americans, as I wanted to make the presentations relevant to the Croatian audience. It was on the plane flight over that I scrapped what I had done and wrote a new presentation; this one would be more general and would apply to all librarians despite their local circumstances.

 
Ray.University Lecture 

One of the things I wanted to avoid was speaking about what I call “explicit” resources; these resources would include actual, tangible resources such as books and databases. As we all know, every library system has a different collection of resources, all of which are dependent on the context of their location, funding streams, friendly governments, and politics; all of these factors play a role in determining the resources that a library chooses to acquire. Croatian libraries have very limited funding streams compared to US libraries. None of the public library systems I visited had access to databases, for instance; however, the academic libraries, such as the National and University Library of Zagreb, do have access to databases.  

Instead, I covered the notion of “tacit” resources—the librarian as a resource. All librarians bring experience and unique skills to their jobs, and this collective knowledge can be considered one of the most important resources a library has to offer. Because of the many constraints on Croatian libraries, librarians have to be particularly “entrepreneurial” in their efforts to provide information to communities, including the business community. We know, of course, that public library systems struggle according to their local circumstances. The Pratt library system is awash in “explicit” resources as well as “tacit” resources. The Croatian system, however, does not have the array of explicit resources that we possess. Therefore, having a staff of librarians with tacit knowledge—or expertise in business—along with the many ways to provide low cost, in-house produced resources, such as how-to guides, librarians can create extremely focused materials designed for their local community. So, how do you convince Croatian librarians that they can in fact offer something to the business community with or without funding?

 
Ray with students.Rijeka 

There are many ways around the funding issue. I spoke at length on outreach and effective means in getting information to the community as well as promoting community interest in the library’s outreach efforts. I’ve been told a number of times that this is not how Croatian librarians think. “They are very tied to textbooks and theory, and the idea of going out into the community and networking with the business community, developing a personal relationship with business people and organizations devoted to business and economic development, is foreign to them .” Yet I found librarians already doing this to some extent with other communities. The concept of outreach, however, is one that library directors and those involved in the American Corners would like to cultivate in the professional worldview of new librarians graduating from library science programs. 

One of the highlights of the presentation was the video I played at the end of each presentation featuring a wonderful business success story. The video details the success of a local couple in Cecil County who used the library’s small business center to do the research needed to launch a very innovative and successful company; the video was produced by the Cecil County Public Library with their Director, Denise Davis, and their Small Business Librarian, Laura Metzler. The video was a hit! I thought it really manifested the idea that a small business presence and good outreach in a public library system can have profound effects on the community. 

Presenting to the audience is a challenge, which may have something to do with the language. Students in Croatia are taught from an early age to speak English, but as I was told, one reason why I had difficulty soliciting their participation, even with simple yes-or-no answers, was because they are not used to that kind of interaction in a classroom setting; they also may have felt self-conscious because I’m an American. I did receive a lot of positive feedback from the librarians, students, and those at the Embassy, however. Marija, my host, was very good in the role of messenger. My big insight from this trip is that librarians really are the same all over the world! I really do think there is a universal sense of comradery among librarians and a common sense of mission.

Ray with US in Vukovar 

My tour ends tomorrow in Rijeka. Today, I went to Zadar to give two lectures. These two towns are on the coast, which is the main tourist area of Croatia. I was told that the members of the British ska/reggae band UB40 permanently reside in Zadar, raising their children there. So far, the cities I’ve visited are off the beaten path of tourists, which has enabled me to better understand how the people here actually live. The trip has been one of the highlights of my professional and personal life thus far. It felt like a real privilege to be invited and especially to be referred to this program by my colleague, Alexandra Fox, a very talented business librarian for the Arlington, VA public library system.

…now that I’m back in the states: a quick recap of my tour: it included a lecture at the Zagreb central library and at the Philosophical Faculty at the University of Zagreb for library science students. I had an interview with the head of the US Embassy/Croatia, then a visit and lecture to the Osijek public library and J.J.S Strossmajer University library students. Afterwards, I presented at the American Corners in Vukovar.  The last two days I presented at the Zadar public library and the University of Zadar--where I met two male librarians, a rarity in Croatia—as well as in the town of Rijeka at their public library and the University of Rijeka. The head librarian at the Rijeka public library was especially gracious and gave me a great tour of the town, including a spectacular view of the Adriatic Sea and a visit to a mountaintop where an active Franciscan monastery was located. The next day comprised an uneventful plane flight back (a good thing!) and an opportunity to recover from jet lag. 

 

 

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