Pratt Institute, founded in 1887 (and named for founder and first president Charles Pratt), with campuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan, is rich in tradition and one of the most respected private colleges in the United States. It offers studies in architecture, art and design, creative writing and information and library science. In this respect, it is most closely comparable to our Fachhochschulen, our universities of applied sciences. At the invitation of Susan S. DiMattia and her husband, Ernest A. DiMattia, Jr., both of whom hold lecture and seminar courses at Pratt, I had the opportunity to speak with students at the Manhattan campus at 144 W. 14th St. about German and American librarianship.
My opening question: What are we really on this earth for? engendered a lively discussion among the 26 students in Susan DiMattia’s introductory course. The answers ranged from: to have fun; to be happy; to communicate and interact with others; to believe in something; to experience love and establish a family; to gather knowledge; to realize ideals; and to further peace in the world. And it was agreed that in libraries one can find a great deal of information on all of these answers. And that is why, even in the age of the Internet, libraries, with their media and service offerings, remain indispensable institutions that should remain open to all. In this respect, the students were amazed that in Germany people are charged a fee for using the public libraries. In the United States, public libraries are open to all and it would not occur to anyone to limit free access to information and media by means of an annual user’s fee. It also soon became clear that there are no substantive differences in the priorities of library work in the U.S. and in Germany. Here, as there, items on the agenda include: the promotion of literacy among children and young people; collaborative work with schools; the conveyance of information and media expertise, the interculturality of services; political lobbying work and fundraising in the face of the threat of budget cuts.
In the seminar led by Ernest DiMattia, who also is director of the <u>Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut, the focus was on management issues. Of particular interest to students, in addition to the concrete structure of management at the Municipal Library in Duisburg, were questions concerning the financing of libraries, which in the U.S. is accomplished with the help of private funders, whereas in Germany there is only public funding. In addition, there were questions about the role libraries play in the life of the city and in the municipal infrastructure. It was clear here that efforts to open libraries on Sundays have been successful in many places (in New York, for example) because many businesses are open on Sunday and therefore shopping can be combined with a visit to the library. One student wanted to know how the collapse of Cologne’s City Archives could have happened and how it should be interpreted. Perhaps as a sad symbol for the disparity between the political assertion that culture and education would play a major role in and for Germany, and social reality. Pointing to this are the current efforts aimed at cutting the cultural budget, cuts that are expected across the board following the upcoming elections. And finally, there were questions about library education in Germany, which, with the introduction of Bachelor’s and Master’s programs within the framework of the Bologna Process, will be unified with the educational systems within Europe, and come to more closely resemble education in the U.S.
And it was regretfully noted that graduates of library schools in the U.S. will have little opportunity of being employed by a German or other European library. Perhaps a follow-up project to “America@your library”, the initiative of the American Embassy in Berlin to distribute to a large number of public libraries in Germany information and media on the United States in English, could be “American Librarians@your library!”
Saturday, 26. September 2009
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