When I heard about the Mortenson Program in 2011, the first question that came to my mind was: how do librarians from different continents like Africa, Asia and Europe, get along during four weeks of intense training and daily life in the U.S? Tough task! Today, after having participated in it, I must admit that a surprising number of similarities, and only a few differences, come to the surface after those four unforgettable weeks.
The Mortenson Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois (UoI) offers an annual associates program for information professionals from all over the world, to learn about new trends in American libraries. Since 1991, the Program has hosted around 900 professionals from 90 different countries. The training includes life on campus, lectures, labs, and visits to state-of-the-art libraries. The program is a fascinating immersion not only in the American librarianship experience, but in the Mid-West way of life.
For busy and often stressed professionals as we all seem to be, the UoI campus offers a great opportunity to pause, leave work at home and fully immerse in the student atmosphere of one of the most prestigious American universities. The UoI is located in the vast Mid-West plains, in the town of Urbana-Champaign. Its elegant English-style buildings are surrounded by huge parks, an arboretum, experimental gardens and nurseries. It is considered one of the best American public universities; every year it hosts around 40,000 students from 50 states and 100 different countries, and its library is one of the first academic libraries in the country.
Despite this bucolic setting, the Mortenson program is hectic. Every morning the alarm sounds punctually at 6:00 a.m. or even earlier. The day goes fast between lectures, role plays, exercises, Q&A sessions and visits to libraries in other cities and states. Visits include Chicago, one of the finest examples of contemporary architecture in the world and home of the American Library Association; the OCLC’s headquarters in Ohio; the various libraries of Illinois universities; rural and public libraries. Furthermore, barbecues and visits to communities like the Amish are offered, giving an enchanting local touch to the whole experience.
One of the main goals of the Mortenson program is to strengthen ties among libraries around the world, through the promotion of international education and understanding. The program is unique not only in the U.S. but worldwide, and offers an invaluable opportunity for personal and professional development. Its short duration – four weeks – represents a great chance for professionals who cannot get away from work for too long.
After four weeks of sharing and living with colleagues from different cultures, and being exposed to the American way of life, you leave the place feeling really enthusiastic and aware of the complex and interesting roles that libraries play in different countries. You believe more strongly in the immense value that information professionals bring to the future of information, knowledge and culture in our societies, and you know that you can become an advocate of libraries anywhere you live and anything you do.
For more information visit http://www.library.illinois.edu/mortenson/