Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

PD with a Passport: Reflections on Professional Development through Volunteer Work in Emerging Central American Libraries

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

PD with a Passport: Reflections on Professional Development through Volunteer Work in Emerging Central American Libraries

Article excerpt

Introduction

Professional development (PD) opportunities for librarians tend to fall under the categories of in-service training, webinars, online courses, and annual conferences. While such PD is necessary and relevant, it can become dull and repetitive. In early 2014 I found myself searching for a unique PD opportunity-something meaningful and creative to recharge my professional batteries. While browsing the Librarians Without Borders (LWB) website, I noticed a structured service trip to two emerging libraries in Guatemala. Excited by the notion of travel, being involved in the evolution of libraries in very disadvantaged areas of Central America, and testing myself both personally and professionally, I applied. What started out as a very scary "what have I done?" moment, became a very meaningful life experience. But volunteering internationally is not for everyone, and the logistics and preparation involved can be daunting. Starting out with a structured trip, as I did, is recommended for both your physical and mental wellbeing. The issues of trip selection, cost, health and medical concerns, personal and professional issues, and work scope should all be investigated before embarking on such a journey. Preparation and knowledge are key to a positive international venture.

Trip Selection

There are not many structured service trips for librarians (see Resource section). The LWB trip to Guatemala included librarians and MLIS students from Spain, Ireland, Canada, and the United States, most of whom found the trip through simple Google searches. The LWB trip required an application stating your professional experience, interests, fitness level, travel experience, and applicable skills. Twelve volunteers were ultimately selected from all applicants. For many, a deciding factor in applying was the fact that the trip included escorted day trips on the weekends: a volcanic hot spring spa, guided tours of historical attractions, a mountain hike, and a soccer game. In addition, the short two-week trip duration was attractive for those first timers unsure what to expect.

It is important to research any trip you are considering. Some tips for researching your trip beforehand:

* Look at blog postings and Flickr or Instagram pictures from previous groups.

* Reach out to your library association, and speak to any members who have participated or know someone who has been on previous trips with the provider you are interested in. Check what will be included and what won't, and tailor the type of experience you are looking for to the offered trips.

* Visit the Canadian government's travel advisory page to learn about any safety issues in the region as well as visa requirements. (http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)

Ideally you need to find the right balance of length of trip, cost, and locale. While my knowledge of Guatemala was limited prior to the trip, I was aware that it is a dangerous country, particularly for women. That being said, the short duration, reasonable cost, pre-trip training sessions, and correspondence with past participants reassured me that I was choosing the correct venue for my volunteer experience. In short, contact the trip provider and ask lots of questions.

Costs

Even though you are "volunteering" as a professional, you will most likely still have to pay a fee for your service trip. Such a fee can vary, and you will have to decide what you are comfortable with. While my $1000 fee was not subsidized, some employers or unions will pay this fee (and other costs incurred) from their PD budgets. It is worth asking your institution what, if anything, it might cover.

Additional costs may include your return flight, medications, supplies, any donations you may make, room and board, etc. Room and board was included in the fee for my LWB trip, as well as transportation while in Guatemala, recreational side trips, and a small donation to two libraries. …

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