Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Travel?

For the next two weeks, I’ll be in Italy with the Syracuse Library Science program. On this blog, I’ll be writing about the course, and reflecting on international librarianship (at my food blog I’ll write about my culinary adventures).

As part of our course readings, we looked at Peter Lor’s “Critical Reflections On International Librarianship” (2008). After examining the existing literature, Lor explicates a number of possible motivations for pursuing research in international librarianship. He unequivocally (perhaps too unequivocally) assigns value to certain motivations. Among the highest valued are “advancing knowledge” (using international comparisons to broaden the travellers network of intellectual and professional information sources) and “self-understanding” (using international comparisons to answer the big questions about librarianship “who uses libraries, how and why, and what barriers inhibit their use” (Lor, 2008)). This sounds great, right? But maybe a bit intimidating. We’re in Florence for two weeks (and I’ll be in Helsinki for one week) and, so far, I feel more like a tourist than a scholar.

Lor categorises the motivations of the tourist (“curiosity about how things are done in foreign countries, a love of travel and adventure, and the prestige that comes from having been where others have not” (Lor, 2008)) as “exoticism”, which he writes off as being the motivation with the lowest value towards the advancement of librarianship.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

On the one hand, I signed up for this program because I love travel. Already, I’ve been delighted by the strange and wonderful newness of Europe. On the AirBerlin flight, the complimentary toothpaste was clove flavored, not mint. This seemed so emblematic to me of travel, or adventure. Standing in the Dusseldorf airport bathroom, jetlagged and disgusting, I was absolutely delighted to taste cloves when the brush hit my teeth. To me, it was a clear and dramatic signal that my adventures were beginning. And once in Florence, the little details of otherness have continued to delight – the cobblestone streets, the red roof tiles, the cast iron window grates, and – oh my God – the food.

But, on the other hand, this is not a vacation. We’re in Florence to study international librarianship – for credit, with rigor, and with the tireless pursuit of knowledge and progress which all librarians should strive for. While in Europe, we should and must work to advance knowledge and gain self understanding, and not just through readings and discussions but through immersing ourselves in the Italian culture of librarianship.

It’s day two in Italy (and day one of the course), so we’re not exactly immersed yet, but I’ve been trying to reconcile my motivations for being here. Of course I want to pursue the lofty goals (that’s why I’m getting my MSLIS) but, right now (if I’m being honest), I’m more excited to be in Italy than to be visiting Italian libraries. That might change, or it might be OK. A love of travel and newness (Lor’s “exoticsism”) may have got me on the plane, I'm still a librarian, and I'm still here, so I intend to make the most of it.


Lor, P J. (2008). Critical reflections on international librarianship. Mousaion, 26(1), 1-15.

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