A Visit to Panama

By Lindsey Wharton, Extended Campus & Distance Services Librarian, & Michael Pritchard, Distance Services Library Associate

In February 2020, members of the FSU Libraries were hosted by the Florida State University – Panama campus in an effort to strengthen our partnership with the Panama students, faculty and staff. Our visit provided us the opportunity to promote library resources and services as well as learn about the teaching and learning experiences, both academic and culturally, of our students, staff, and faculty abroad. While Lindsey Wharton, the Extended Campus & Distance Services Librarian, had visited the Panama campus previously in 2014 and 2016, this was the first visit for both Michael Pritchard, Distance Library Services Specialist, and Dr. Gale Etschmaier, Dean of University Libraries. This campus visit marked an important occurrence for University Libraries and FSU Panama, as all were excited to reconnect with colleagues, work with the students, and introduce Dr. Etschmaier to the campus. 

Panama is a lush tropical country with what seems like a perpetual warm sea breeze & blooming landscape. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and it is easy to imagine just settling down into a happy and colorful life in the growing city. From Panama Viejo to Casco Viejo to the ever changing high-rise business district, the city is layered with culture and stories and histories. 

Florida State University Panama houses and educates both First Year Abroad students as well as a growing population of local Panamanian and Central & South American students who study at FSU Panama. Thanks to the 2 + 2 program offered in conjunction with Florida State University, International Programs, and Florida State University – Panama, students who are academically successful during their initial 2 years at the FSU Panama campus are able to transfer to the main campus in Tallahassee and pay in-state tuition. In addition, FSU Panama enjoys the benefits of being housed within the Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge), a shared campus of innovation and discovery housed in Panama City, Panama. The Ciudad del Saber sits across from the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal. It is quite difficult to describe this hub of creativity and wisdom; to see this culmination of planning and innovation, and watch massive barges and ships be lifted up and down is quite a magnificent experience . This prime location allows students to be able to choose to live in what are essentially on-campus dormitories, park and walk safely to class, eat at La Plaza (the local food court at the Ciudad del Saber), and — most importantly — access the FSU Panama library. 

The three of us began our visit bright and early, a necessity to avoid the scorching Central American sun and the lively Panama City traffic. We met with FSU Panama librarian Anthony Blackie at his office for a tour of the 50,000 volume library. This collection is the largest English language collection in all of Panama and contains several unique and specialized items on the history of the canal and the country’s unique relationship with the United States. We discussed the space and the collection, the changes and updates since the last visit by our library team, and ideas for growth. Some of these discussions included flexible seating and study locations, safe and secure internet access, physical resource availability and check-out processes, gender-inclusive restrooms and spaces, and the potential for space redevelopment and expansion. We were also able to speak to some of the student workers at the circulation desk and gain insight on working in our libraries abroad. Following this tour and introduction, we met with Dr. Carlos Langoni, Rector of FSU Panama, and Dr. Alexandra Anyfanti, Vice Rector for Academic affairs, to discuss the multitude of opportunities that exist for collaboration between FSU Libraries and FSU Panama and the short- and long-term goals of the campus. 

FSU Panama Librarian, Anthony Blackie, introduces the FSU Panama Library to Dean Gale Etschmaier

The FSU Panama team had coordinated and promoted a Lunch-and-Learn session, providing Lindsey and Michael an opportunity to present a library workshop to an audience of students, faculty, and staff. During this time for research guidance, open discussion, and critical thinking, Lindsey and Michael gave an overview of the resources and support that FSU Libraries offers our students studying around the globe.. Additionally, we hosted an open Meet and Greet with faculty where we focused on the benefits of Open Educational Resources and our IP Alternative Textbook Grant Program. We were also able to provide library instruction to multiple classes, guiding students through the research process and strategies for finding information to support their assignments. Our Libraries’ team received wonderful feedback from students and faculty alike with requests for asynchronous instruction and online library engagement for when we are unable to visit in-person. 

FSU Panama differentiates itself from the other international campuses as it is our only degree-granting campus and the majority of students are local to Panama and Central America as opposed to American students studying abroad. The students are afforded an intimate university experience at one of the most elite universities in the country. They are an incredibly engaged student population, exemplified in the standing room only lunch and learn workshop. The faculty and staff were excited to discuss University Libraries and engaged with our resources and services. We were blown away by the passion of the instructors, the diligence of the students, and the overall ambition of the FSU Panama team. Anthony Blackie has run the FSU Panama Library for many years as a solo librarian, managing the building and collection, ordering and cataloging items, providing research and reference support, and providing information literacy support to the campus community. Spending time with him was invaluable as maintaining and strengthening our connections with library staff globally further extends the reach of all we have to offer through University Libraries. 

There was something that really set the tone for our visit to Panama, and that was within the very first meeting with Dr. Langoni & Dr. Anyfanti. Gale Etschmaier reflected that the most valuable resource provided by FSU Libraries isn’t our eResources, our almost 900 databases or 1,000,000 eBooks, but our people. Our library staff provides the expertise, the skills, and the creativity to support the campus community, through our collection, our spaces, but also beyond our physical libraries and our traditional services. It’s our team that is the real treasure and these visits to our international and extended campus locations not only allows us to share and promote what we do but it allows us to grow our Libraries’ team. The reality is that our campus partners, our students who engage in library instruction, our faculty who tell students to visit the Libraries – they are all part of our library team, too. The time we spent in FSU Panama was time spent growing our team, taking the mission and vision of University Libraries global. We are lucky to have these inspiring members of our team working so hard to grow the University in beautiful Panama and we look forward to what comes next. 

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