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.
In August 2019, FSU Libraries once again had the opportunity to visit our international study centers as we travelled to London and Valencia to promote our library services and resources and learn more about the teaching, learning, and research experiences of our students and faculty abroad. While Mike Meth, Associate Dean for Research & Learning Services at FSU Libraries, and I had visited London and Florence in the summer of 2018, this was going to my first trip back to Valencia since 2015, and Mike’s first trip since he came to FSU in 2015. This trip was not going to be like any of our previous visits because we were going to experience the full excitement and vivacity of arrivals week. If you are unfamiliar with the workings of International Programs, Arrivals Week is when all the brand new freshman who are part of the First Year Abroad/First Semester Abroad first arrive on their respective campuses. During this week they are assigned flats, see the study center and the city for the first time, and get their first taste of FSU.
My interest in experiencing Arrivals Week in-person went beyond just wanting to see this annual on-boarding live. I wanted to integrate an introduction to University Libraries and our online services and resources into the carefully planned orientation sessions. It was an opportunity to get students thinking critically about information and about academic research right from the onset of their college career.
London, 2019 Image by Mike Meth
We started our visit at the FSU London study center, a polished and statuesque set of townhouses in Bloomsbury, just a block away from the British Museum, it is an area bustling with tourists and locals alike. Our meetings here included updates and discussions with the entire London staff, brainstorming support strategies with the London Director and Associate Director, presentation and meeting with the London faculty, as well as time spent with the IT/Library Manager and staff. A good amount of our conversations focused on how the Libraries could support the textbook and course material needs of the faculty and students, giving us a chance to promote our Alternative Textbook Grants for International Programs program.. We were also able to speak to the students twice: a quick introduction to all the new students about FSU Libraries and then an orientation session where we were able to provide an hour long overview of University Libraries, our services at the study center in London, and why using the Libraries is invaluable to students in their studies. It was a whirlwind of planning, exploring, collaborating, and teaching all in truly one of the most magical cities in the world.
Mike & Lindsey at FSU Valencia, 2019 Image by Mike Meth
We arrived in Valencia on a Thursday evening, and as soon as you step out of the airport, the warm, salty sea air transforms you. The study center is located next to one of the old city gates, and the remnants of the ancient city are everywhere, including the dorms, classrooms, and the offices of FSU Valencia. We were able to once again participate in the initial presentation meeting with the new students, and follow-up with a longer workshop for all the new freshman later in the week. Since we hadn’t visited in four years, the campus also organized a training session for the Valencia faculty in order to provide in-depth consultation on our resources and support services for teaching and learning. Mike and I also visited the libraries at the University of Valencia and the Polytechnic University of Valencia and toured the collections and facilities with the library staff. As all libraries become further interconnected and interdependent, exploring these connections and relationships abroad is an exciting new endeavor and we look forward to possible partnerships. FSU Valencia is unique to us because currently it is the only study center without a formal library space or designated library staff member. This requires thoughtful communication and outreach strategies so students and faculty are aware of the library services offered to them from FSU’s Tallahassee campus.
Old city gate in Valencia, 2019 Image by Mike Meth
Our goal was to introduce students to all that theFSU Libraries have to offer, our hundreds of databases, millions of eBooks, our 24/5 chat service, and guidance for students as they embark on this scholarly journey. There are so many resources at our fingertips to further enrich the global experience. Study abroad transforms just as Florida State University transforms. FSU Libraries provides the foundation for our students’ growth into scholars so that they can use all they have learned to transform the future.
Flamenco, 2019 Image by Mike Meth
These visits inspire me and my work as a librarian in so many ways. I am captivated by the work of the staff of the study centers – their passion, their long hours and careful planning, their care for the students, their ability to create a home away from home, while providing a taste of what Florida State University has to offer. All this in a beautiful city. I am awed by the teaching and the faculty – how they use every aspect of the city to provide a completely unique and encompassing learning experience. And I am energized by the students – leaping out of their bubble and all the comforts of the known to embrace and open up to the unknown, growing as scholars, as learners, as people throughout their months abroad. As with any trip surrounded by these type of people, there were so many magical and unexpected moments: fiery flamenco in a small, packed bar, museums so big it makes art feel endless and unfathomable, experiencing the happenings of Brexit in real time, sailing on the perfect blue Mediterranean. But, that’s the point, isn’t it? To experience the things that transform us.
In April 2018, Lindsey Wharton (Extended Campus and Distance Services Librarian) and Mike Meth (Associate Dean of Research and Learning Services) travelled to FSU’s international campuses in Florence and London. The goal of our visit was to familiarize ourselves with the the libraries and study centers there, meet the students and faculty, and strategize about library services and support for students and faculty studying abroad. The timing of our trip was fortuitous as it coincided with the conclusion of the spring semester and much of our experience was shaped by seeing students who had spent either their last semester or their whole first year abroad.
The FSU Florence study center is located on a quiet street within the city center, only about a ten minute walk from the duomo (photo below) or the ponte vecchio (photo above). Located within a renaissance palazzo, the building is everything you would expect from Florentine architecture, including vaulted ceilings decorated with historic frescos. The library and computer lab is hidden within a quiet courtyard, two doors over from the study center, and up a flight of stairs. Although not in the same building, the library is well used and also includes a faculty lounge. As we toured the library space with Amy (our iSchool intern in Florence), students were busy studying for finals with the same intensity we all expect in our main campuses libraries. Books line library walls from floor to ceiling, with individual and group study spaces dispersed throughout the four rooms. The Florence library intern works with the help of student workers to curate the book collection, assist students with textbooks on reserve and research questions. She also works with faculty to teach information literacy lessons and orient students to library services. During our visit, we heard numerous compliments about the work she was doing and how valued her contributions are.
FSU London is located on a beautiful street in Covent Garden, just a block away from the monumental British Museum. The study center is situated in a set of seven historic row houses, a remarkable fresco embellishing the ceiling of the main building. In the basement of the main building, sits the library which houses about 9,000 volumes. Students in the London study center have easy access to the library, as the student accommodations and classrooms are all accessible through maze-like hallways in the basement that connect the seven row houses. The London library is comparable in size and feel to a school library. The library has a front room where the staff and student workers sit in an open area, and where textbooks for short-term loan can be borrowed. The collection is in the larger room with shelves full of historic and modern titles and a large cabinet of DVDs. The London library is managed by the study center IT team, Lloyd and Dan, who focus on ordering materials, checking out the textbooks on reserve, and assisting patrons with a multitude of technology issues.
During our visit in both study centers, we spent time with the leadership of the centers, faculty and students. Throughout our conversations, we explored a wide range of topics, ranging from Aleph implementation to staffing and training. Since neither library has a full time librarian, we will continue working with the study centers to provide services from Tallahassee and to train the staff in both locations. While FSU students studying at our campuses abroad do not have access to our main campus libraries, we still want them to have a fulfilling library experience and provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed. From our 24/5 Ask A Librarian chat service to our citation management software, many of our services and resources are equally useful as whether you are studying in Strozier or in your Florence apartment.