10 Questions: Gimena Campos Cervera: Growing Up in a Country Where the Government Tried to Control Access to Information Taught the Recipient of the 2009 SLA International Award to Value Librarians and the Role They Play

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At the 2009 SLA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., Gimena Campos Cervera was given the SLA International Award in recognition of her instrumental role in organizing an annual international conference on libraries in the 21st century, which has helped to create and strengthen an American-Italian library network in Italy. Originally from Paraguay, Gimena is employed at the U.S. embassy in Rome as the senior information researcher in the information Resource Center. Her career spans a multitude of national and international organizations, including the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Health Organization. Information Outlook spoke to Gimena a few months after she returned to Italy from SLA 2009.

Q: What's the role of information specialists in the U.S. State Department? How are they utilized?

The primary purpose of the Information Resource Centers (IRCs) at the U.S. embassies is to offer timely and authoritative information to foreign audiences in support of U.S. policy and public diplomacy goals. The IRCs provide access to information about U.S. politics, government, law, economics, society, culture and the arts that is needed either for professional or personal purposes.

Each IRC responds to local conditions and needs, but in overall terms, IRC information specialists are highly regarded by host country users. They are considered to be progressive and innovative professionals who offer reliable, accurate and balanced information. In addition, IRC professionals act as a bridge between the U.S. LIS community and local library professionals, bringing models of sound library practice into the country.

Q: What are your duties at the U.S. Embassy in Rome?

As the IRC senior information researcher, around 60 percent of my time is dedicated to reference research, both for inside and outside audiences. External requestors may be university professors and students, members of the Italian government, artists, journalists, publishers, or the general public. Internal requestors are U.S. diplomats working in the U.S. Mission to Italy, in the political, economic, press or public affairs sections, or in the ambassador's office.



Another core duty is engaging the Italian library community in a dialogue on the future of the profession and facilitating the dissemination of U.S. best practices in the LIS field. Other aspects of my work are related to managing the IRC collections, assessing our Web resources, disseminating U.S. government information resources, and acting as director in the absence of the IRC director. The State Department is encouraging the use of new media in diplomacy, so we include this perspective in all aspects of our work.

Q: I understand you are associated with the 21st Century Librarians program. Please tell us about the program.

The 21st Century Information Professionals program represents an effort to create an ongoing dialogue between U.S. librarians and information professionals and their Italian counterparts. We focus on future trends in the profession and on the impact that information literacy can have on the corporate world, the government, and academia.

We have reached out to about 200 members of the Italian library community--not a big number, but a group of strategic contacts with whom we are planning future activities, especially in the field of professional development. With SLA Europe, we are trying to encourage Italian information professionals to become members because we think the professional development courses offered by SLA--like Click University--can be a great opportunity for them.

Q: Describe your professional development as a special librarian. How did you get from Paraguay to Italy?

I got my bachelor's degree in foreign languages at the University of Asuncion, in my home city in Paraguay. …