Association of College & Research Libraries

The training of international librarians

Yvonne de Souza is head librarian at Columbia College in Vancouver, British Columbia;

Education for librarianship in North America involves preparation by means o…ormal program of studies at the end of whic…egree (such as the MLS) o…iploma (such as that for paraprofessionals) is obtained.

Whil…rofessional degree is the required education fo…rofessional position in North America, the cost of obtaining this in North America could be exorbitant for students from other countries. Apart from tuition costs, there are living expenses and airfare to consider. Governments of developing countries may not be able to afford the high costs o…ostgraduate degree program and there are very limited sources of funds from aid agencies.

Often library personnel seek further training, having undergone library education in their home country where this education (and not necessarily an MLS) serves as admittance into the profession. The level of English required to undertake an MLS program could b…ajor deterrent for librarians abroad.

A North American librarian conducting training in another country would b…ess expensive model. However, training in North America, no matter how short the program, offers the opportunity to observe how libraries in North America operate and gives insight into the standards in technical and pub-

lic services. Libraries can pla…ole in the education of international librarians.

This article documents the experiences of an internship at Columbia College, an international liberal arts college located in Vancouver, and presents suggestions to libraries that may be interested in hosting international library staff. The trainee was from the Center for Oceans Research Information in Vietnam. The mandate of the information center is to provide information for management decisions in the area of marine-related issues. The project was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. Tuition, air transport, an…er diem allowance sufficient to pay for accommodations and other living expenses for the trainee were covered by the funding. The training period was three months.

Planning the program

Limited funding sources coupled with the high costs of training librarians from different countries in North America, make it imperative that the program be thoroughly planned, yet allow fo…egree of flexibility and that strategies be put in place to ensure Success.

Use of background information

As most internships are shorter tha…ormal program of study, maximum use of time is crucial. To develop an effective training schedule, the trainer cannot work i…acuum with regard to the trainee’s background. The trainer should have:

• knowledge of the trainee’s background, language ability, skills, and knowledge (for example, does the trainee have experience with Windows?),

• knowledge of the type of library or information center that the trainee is from or will be working in upon return,

 ood understanding of the duties that the trainee will be performing, and

• an awareness of the conditions of the trainee’s work environment (for example, what telecommunications infrastructure exists? Is ther…ood Internet connection?).

The trainee should be asked to provide an outline of education, training, and work prior to arrival in North America. This could be in the form o…esume. Details regarding the information center under development and the mandate of the information center can also be provided by the trainee’s organization or from an overall project coordinator, if there is one.

English language abilities

While many international students have English language abilities, the level of this ability may need upgrading. An innovative approach would be to incorporate English language training into the internship. An academic library could work with the English Language Department of the institution to fit the trainee into an appropriate level.

Columbia College Library was fortunate in this regard, as the English Language Center is an extension of the college and its proximity to the library facility was convenient for the trainee. While improvements in language ability over suc…hort period of time would probably be modest, this improvement in speaking, writing, and reading abilities in English would:

• enhance the acquisition of library-related knowledge,

• improve the absorption of content information (marine resources),

• enable the trainee to adjust better to her new environment, and

• provide substantial opportunity for the trainee to mingle with language students from many other countries and to acquir…easure of confidence in communicating with library and other academic staff a…esult of becoming familiar with North American figures of speech.

Choice of training locations

The choice of an appropriate library venue could offer inherent advantages. Trainers and libraries considering an internship program, may wish to move away fro…ingle venue for training…ombination of carefully chosen library venues can open up the door t…roader training experience, allowing each library involved to concentrate on what it does best.

For example…rainee wanting to learn how to set up and manag…mall information center could spend about two-thirds time i…mall library and observe how different areas of the library operate and are interrelated, and the rest of the time i…ibrary wit…pecialized collection of interest to the trainee. In the case of the internship undertaken by Columbia College, the trainee was from an organization that deals with marinerelated issues. The training took place at two locations:

• two months at the college. (This allowed ample opportunity to interact with the trainer and mentor, work in different aspects of library operations, and observe the adoption of new technologies in smaller libraries and their impact on the delivery of services), and

• one month a…pecial library whose subject collection (marine resources) was closely related to that of the trainee’s work environment. This period allowed the trainee to work with specialized subject resources and to continue practicing the use of applicable software (e.g., Procite) already in place in the trainee’s information center.


Internship often calls for customization, as trainees may have undergone training in their home country and may wish to focus on one area of library and information work. This particular internship was unique in several respects. The training in Canada was preceded and followed by input and assistance fro…anadian librarian, who was the coordinator of the information component o…arger project (Vietnam-Canada Oceans

Project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency). Working with the executive administrators in Vietnam, gave this librarian the advantage of being able to presen…ibrarian’s perspective on the organization and running of the center’s library.

Preliminary interview

Although information about the trainee may have been gathered…ersonal interview is recommended, the purpose being to:

• explain the content and nature of the internship;

• inform the trainee of the trainer’s expectations (hours of attendance, readings, activity log, an…inal short report to includ…ew specific applications that the trainee would expect to implement on return to the trainee’s information center);

• to verify the trainee’s objectives /requirements; and

• to find out what particular areas/topics the trainee would like to see added and to ask for feedback after the trainee has had the opportunity to examine the training schedule.


Congenial training environment.During the internship, the trainee should be regarded a…ember of the library staff and keep the same hours. The trainee should be give…ood amount of work space, preferabl…eparate computer workstation, stationery, and access t…hotocopier. Borrowing privileges an…ersonal e-mail account should be made available…upportive and positive learning environment can mak…ifference to the trainee’s experiences.

Content-based learning experiences.In this case, the broad subject area of ocean resources policy and legislation was the subject base around which the various activities revolved. Whether using search engines, creating and arranging bookmarks or creating records for the organization and retrieval of Web sites, in-depth indexing for improved access, the material sought was within the broad scope of the subject areas of the trainee’s library marine-related issues.

One particularly relevant exercise was the use of the ASFA (Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstract) thesaurus in indexing marinerelated resources…ontent-based framework ties together different activities.

Activity log.Keeping an activity log should be considered. In this instance, it was helpful as it compelled the trainee to write in English. The trainee also compiled readings, notes, and worksheets. The package served not only a…og of what the trainee did, but also a…eference tool for the trainee’s future use.

Cataloguing/indexing templates (especially of relevant format types), notes, useful Web sites collected by the trainee, and mail lists addresses were typical items. Keepin…og also helped the trainee to hav…ense of accomplishment.

Periodic evaluation.Even thorough planning may not result i…erfect training schedule. However, if periodic evaluation is built into the program, it can provide the opportunity for the trainer to modify sections of the program to accommodate special needs that the trainee may have expressed and thus ensure that the content, focus, and methodology are in line with the objectives.

Tutorials, readings, and assignments

Apart from practical experience, readings and assignments can enrich the internship. The trainer can choose to have these completed at home. The trainee could be asked to do some research and identify useful articles, providing excellent opportunities to use databases (such as “CARL,” “Proquest,” or “EbscoHost”) within the library or at another library. Having the trainee complete this at home reinforces things learned during the day and helps the trainee focus on the training program and not feel homesick.

Tutorials can take place onc…eek or onc…ortnight and provide the opportunity for the trainee to raise questions, seek clarification, and engage in discussion with the librarian (and mentor) who is overseeing the internship.

Site visits

Site visits could easily turn into jus…isit. If structure is built in, albei…oose one, it introduce…ocus…ite visit could be one where the trainee searches databases that are not available to the host library.

While several types of libraries can be included, one of them should b…ibrary that is similar to the library that the trainee is from.

It was fortunate in this instance that the Pacific Salmon Commission Library could accommodat…isit, as the nature of the collection was of great interest to the trainee.

Trainees can prepare for library tours or visits by obtainin…rief description of the library/information center and the clientele it serves. The preparation can also take the form of encouragement to ask questions and guidance as to the kinds of questions that the trainee can raise and what specific things to observe during the visit.

It was noted that o…ite visit late in the training period, the trainee was more vocal and displayed greater confidence in asking questions of the host librarian than on an earlier visit, attesting to the value of the English-language training.

Ease of adjustment

The trainee should be met upon arrival at the airport and accompanied to the home where he or she will be living. The level of anxiety that the trainee is anticipated to face, having to confront the unfamiliar, should be kept t…inimum. For many, it may be the first time away from home and even the mundane escalator can b…ovelty.

Meetin…rainee before the program begins can melt the ice and enable the trainer to obtain some insight into the trainee’s personality, likes, dislikes, and special needs. It i…ood idea to allo…ew days as “free” time to get over jet lag and settle in. Homestays should be selected on the basis of ease of obtaining public transport to and from the training sites and the receptivity of the family to people of diverse ethnic origins.

Information helpful to trainees include places to shop for groceries, awareness of seasonal prices, getting to know the transit system, and becoming familiar with the legal tender. Social graces and etiquette are skills that the trainee may need to acquire quickly.

Assistance beyond library matters is indeed time consuming yet crucial to the success of the program because it eases the anxiety of adjustment to North American life.


Libraries that are interested in taking on an internship program have to be aware of the time and effort involved before undertaking suc…rogram.1 Whether the internship fo-

cuses o…pecial area of library operations or attempts to provide an overview of library operations in North America, o…ombination of both, there is no doubt that to ensure success, careful planning and the flexibility of making necessaiy changes, coupled wit…ommitment of time beyond regular training hours are key ingredients.

The training period spent i…orth American library provide…irsthand look at the standards that libraries in North America adhere to and presents an environment whereby the trainee can reflect on the application of certain procedures, services, and applications and envision possibilities for the trainee’s own library/information center. This way, there is more o…ense of participation and involvement.

The success of the internship at Columbia College can be attributed to several factors:

• incorporation of English Language training;

• practical nature of the training program; awareness of working conditions in trainee’s home country;

• awareness of professional needs of the trainee;

 egree of accountability;

• highly customized training schedule to meet specific, realistic objectives;

• content-based framework;

• congenial atmosphere of the training environment;

• close contact with the trainers at both training locations

• opportunity for feedback and modification of the program; and

• follow-up activities headed by the Canadian librarian (project coordinator, information resources component) o…eturn visit to help implement further developments.

The library staff who participated at different levels benefitted from the contact in different ways. All staff learned about another culture. Daily communications were enlivened. The professional staff who had greater contact with the trainee benefitted most from the exercise. For the trainer and mentor who formulated the training program and coordinated it…ealth of experience was reaped.

While training one librarian over suc…hort span of time may seem insignificant in the larger scheme of things, it is nonetheles…orthwhile experience. A…esult of this internship, one more foreign information center is running better and providing better service than if this training never took place.

Library staff development in this context complements other aspects of the development project of which information service enhancement is an important part. The coordinator of the information component reports that visible progress is being made at the information center and the trainee maintains contact via e-mail.


1. Nicoletta M. Hary and Francesca L. Hary, “Hosting an International Librarian,” College and Research Libraries News (March 1995): 162-164. â–

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