Report on the Faculty Exchange between the University of Guanajuato
and Southern Oregon University

Submitted by Dale Vidmar, Associate Professor, Library Instruction Coordinator

It is difficult to submit a final report about my visit to Guanajuato because there seems so much I could say about the people, the place, the university, and the library. I quickly realized that my time was very short, and I wish that I had been able to find more time for my exchange. There are so many things that I could do here that would both enrich my spirit while at the same time offer something wonderful to the University, Guanajuato, Mexico, and the lovely people here.

One of my major goals was to improve my Spanish. Everyone in the Biblioteca Centro spoke Spanish to me at all times. While taking part in the daily life, everyone I met spoke Spanish. At times, I had someone to translate for me, but for the most part, I rarely asked for a translation. Whether eating in a restaurant, walking on the streets, or playing harmonica at a bar in the Jardin, Spanish was the spoken language, and my entrance into the culture depended upon my ability and willingness to speak the language.

In order to keep this report reasonably brief, I want to focus on the more concrete aspects of my work in Guanajuato. I believe the relationship between our two universities needs a tangible product as a result of the faculty exchange. As such, I offered to do some workshops and presentations that would allow me to share some ideas regarding the libraries, information literacy, learning communities, and teaching strategies. My first presentation was about Internet research for a group of Chemistry students at the university. I gave the presentation in both English and Spanish. The students helped me when I needed Spanish, and I helped them when they needed English. It was a symbiotic presentation where we helped each other. What was different was the battle with maintaining the students' attention was easier. Every few minutes I had to ask them what something meant or if they understood. The presentation went incredibly well.

The next two presentations were delivered to future teachers studying English in the Centro de Idiomas. I used three different group activities as part of the presentation about facilitating Learning Communities in the classroom. Evaluations that I received from the class indicated that participants really liked what I did--especially the part when I was dancing, and the other part when I compared learning and community to the search for love and acceptance in life--both spontaneous additions to my presentation. This was part of my comfort level in Mexico. I think I would have felt a little uncomfortable saying something like this in the United States, but in Guanajuato it was very appropriate. Remember, people sing as they walk in the streets here!

The most significant element of my visit to Guanajuato was the two-day, six hour per day workshop on Desarrollo Habilidades de Información--the closest translation I could find on Information Literacy. To think of facilitating such a workshop in English for 19 librarians from the state of Guanajuato and other states throughout the country as far as Coachilla near Texas would be challenging enough, but to direct the workshop in Spanish was almost beyond my wildest expectations. Although I had help translating some of my materials, I needed to translate other parts myself due to the technical nature of the material. Often I would research the Internet for materials in Spanish to discover the more technical words I needed--such as cognitive domains. If ever there were a time to use student-centered/active learning methods, this was the time.

Monday was the first day of the workshop. I arrived at the University and the Salon de Ashland early at about 8:30. The workshop was scheduled to begin at 9:00, so I assumed that I could arrive 30 minutes early to hook up the computer and such. Well, as it turned out the room was not ready. No computer. No projection unit. No one coming to bring any of the equipment I needed until 9:00. But heck, no problem. I was about to deliver a two-day workshop in Spanish. The fact that none of the equipment had arrived at 9:00 even though the participants had arrived had little to no effect on me. I could only hope that I would be able to hold things together in Spanish. Funny, I was not sure how to be nervous in Spanish. But after four long days of designing an educational plan, I mostly wanted to get started.

I began by introducing myself in Spanish. I said I would be speaking in Spanish--well, actually I clarified that to attempting to speak Spanish. Then, I had the participants interview another person who they would then introduce. While they were busy, the computer arrived. Unfortunately, the projection unit was not compatible with the computer. So I borrowed a projection unit from the Centro de Idiomas. Within a few minutes, I was up and running without losing the group to a technical glitch. As a matter of fact, the group seemed to enjoy the introduction exercise. The first hour passed quickly, and the workshop was taking form. I had set a collaborative and cooperative structure in which the participants talked with each other and shared thoughts and ideas.

The first day ended with an excellent discussion about the future of libraries and librarians in a rapidly changing environment. Much of the discussion centered around the infrastructure of technology, the perception others have about libraries and librarians, and the difficulty of initiating change. The group discussions were the key to successfully coordinating the workshop in Spanish, and at the end of day one, I was both exhausted and elated. My head was spinning from the Spanish and ideas that had been generated from the workshop.


The second day was much more intense. I began the day with another small group exercise to allow participants to arrive as they needed, settle in, and become engaged and active immediately. The exercise centered around the following two questions:

1) What will you do to prepare yourself for the future?

2) What will you need to prepare yourself for the future?

The small group discussions were very intense and the ideas generated from the total group ranged from creating a positive attitude toward change and innovation to creating a plan or design that articulates the vision of the library in the future.

The plan for the future was a perfect segue into my presentation about goals and objectives. At the end of the presentation--totally in Spanish--the small groups of 4 and 5 created goals and objectives for moving their libraries into the future and integrating information literacy skills into the mission of the libraries and the respective universities. The ultimate goal that I tried to accomplish in the workshop was to use the strengths of the 19 participants to generate ideas and share them with each other.

At the end of the second day, I had a difficult time thinking in English or Spanish. I felt that I had somehow accomplished more than I had set out to accomplish. My Spanish was still not anywhere near fluent, but I was significantly more comfortable. The participants were very gracious and appreciated the methods behind my madness as much as the content. For all of us, the end of the workshop was a beginning of a vision--a vision that extended beyond the library, the university, and the community. It was a vision for the future of their country and their people. I would never have thought in my most grand expectations that we would have come so far. This was the essence of my experience in Guanajuato. I could only hope this was the beginning, and a future exchange would one day allow us to go deeper.

 

Recommendations for the Future

The relationships that I established with the personnel in the Biblioteca Centro and the Centre de Idiomas, as well as the librarians that attended the two-day workshop on "Materials and Methods for the Development of Information Literacy Skills" were significant primarily because of my limited ability to speak Spanish. Although I have been studying Spanish for five terms at the University, I need to learn much more to approach fluency. However, my limited understanding of Spanish enabled me to speak to peopleCeveryone from the waiters at the restaurants to my fellow librarians. It opened doors that would have otherwise been closed to me. It also demonstrated respect for the Mexican culture and language which conversely enabled me to claim a higher degree of respect both in the university system and on the streets of Guanajuato.

Having a translator could have helped somewhat if I could not understand the language, but generally the subtleties of the people and the culture would have been lost to someone who is monolingual. Whether I was in a restaurant, hotel, or the Library, the people of Guanajuato spoke to me in Spanish. The only exception to this rule was when I visited and presented at the Centro de Idiomas. Most people who worked there or the students taking classes spoke at least two languages. Spanish was not a necessity there, but again, speaking Spanish gave me better credibilityCespecially with the students. I do not know if I can emphasize the importance of learning Spanish enough. I am an adamant believer that our university needs to place a higher degree of emphasis on learning Spanish prior to a visit to Guanajuato in order to maximize the intercultural exchange of faculty. For the most part, a successful interchange depends on mutual respect, and the first order of respect demands some basic knowledge of the language.

My other recommendation is that the work I began--and the work that Josue Aranda began--with the interchange between the Southern Oregon University Library and the Biblioteca Centro de la Universidad de Guanajuato continue. If I have the opportunity to return, I believe that the participants in the two-day workshop would benefit greatly from another workshop in which we revisit the themes that were discussed and pursue the topics further. The 23 days that I spent in Guanajuato helped me realize that I could have done much more if I could have been there longer. My visit to Guanajuato was limited by other commitments. With additional time, I could have worked more with the Web development team at the Biblioteca Centro. Also, I could have visited the departmental libraries and some of the libraries in other cities near Guanajuato. In preparation for a possible exchange in the future, I will continue my study of Spanish by taking classes at the university.