As part of the Open World Leadership Program, the Oak Park and River Forest public libraries hosted a group of Russian librarians to a tour of the facilities on Thursday, July 13.

“Any opportunity we have to talk with other librarians from other systems, other states or other countries is a learning opportunity,” said Dawn Bussey, director of the River Forest Public Library and coordinator of the local tours. “As our world continues to globalize in this information age, it is important that information professionals like ourselves take advantage of these opportunities to share, network and learn.”

The group of 10 Russian librarians spoke to Bussey and Assistant Director Jim Madigan of the Oak Park Public Library through an interpreter.

“Librarians are among the best educated people in Russia,” explained Yuliya Sergeyevna Romanova, center head of the N.V. Gogol City Library. “Just like librarians in the U.S., we are always searching for new and creative ways to get people to read.”

In particular, she said they face real competition from the Internet. Russian libraries are just now developing CD and DVD rental programs, she said, to appeal to young people and to stay contemporary. Comparing notes with Madigan on popular reading selections, they discovered many similarities.

“Children love Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia,” Romanova said enthusiastically. “And also the classics like Treasure Island and those by the author Mark Twain.” She was less enthusiastic about adults, noting they prefer “authors from other countries. It is almost embarrassing to us that they prefer them to Russian writers.”

The July 2006 Open World Russian delegation was comprised of library directors and professionals, said Lexi Sobel of the International Visitors Center of Chicago, who were specifically looking to gain firsthand perspective of the mission and function of libraries in the U.S., how they share information and educational opportunities, the utilization of information technology, what collections and preservation techniques are used, special projects, and budget and economic resources.

This group of 10 was impressed by Oak Park’s literary history and immediately associated Hemingway with The Old Man And the Sea and instantly murmured “Burroughs” when the character Tarzan was mentioned.

The Open World Program was in Chicago July 8-15 through the International Visitors Center of Chicago. Dominican University was initially contacted for a tour and talk because it is the only university in the Chicago area that offers a master’s degree in Library Science.

“Dean Susan Roman of the Dominican program contacted me,” Bussey explained, “because I have worked with her on a number of projects, most recently the Oak Park-River Forest Storytelling Festival sponsored by OP-RF Rotary.” Bussey also works as an adjunct faculty member, teaching in Dominican’s Library Science program (she’s an alum).

Roman talked with the Russian group about Dominican’s MLS program, and she and Bussey gave them a tour of the Dominican Library. “We also decided to show the delegates an example of a small and historic library, which is River Forest, and then also a large modern library, which is Oak Park,” Bussey said.

Irina Mikhaylovna Novikova, library manager for Nizhniy Novgorod State Linguistics University pointed out that nowadays, “The only censorship of books in Russia by the government is those with subject matter that support Fascism.” Of the scope and size of libraries in their country, Novikova said it varies region by region and depends on how educated the local mayor is and how committed he is to bringing it to his townspeople. Libraries in Russia charge a small fee for a library card, she noted, to impress upon people that a library card has value and is to be appreciated. There are also fees for computer and Internet use, printing and, of course, for overdue materials.

The visitors admired devices that the library has available to accommodate people with special needs such as an enlargement screen for those with impaired sight. They also were impressed by the range and depth of technical books, which Madigan explained met the needs of the area audience of professionals who wanted up-to-date and specialized information on subjects such as computers, law and the like.

The Open World Progam provides prospective Russian leaders with an introduction to American democracy through visits to local governments and communities in the United States. The goal is to strengthen democratic principles of free speech and access to information and promote educational opportunities in the participants’ home country. Of shared concern with the U.S. is the limitation of budgets for the support and development of libraries.

“We hope someday there will be reading on the moon,” said Romanova.

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