iSchool students discover community engagement in Russia

Ellen Knutson
Ellen Knutson, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Last month five iSchool students traveled to Moscow with their instructor, Ellen Knutson (MS '02, PhD '08), to learn about community engagement in Russian libraries and to experience Russian culture. They completed the trip as part of the Community Engagement course (IS 418), which explores the multiple ways that information professionals in libraries and other settings learn about, collaborate with, and provide service and outreach to community members.

The group visited five libraries: the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, Russian State Library, Turgenev Municipal Library, Russian State Library for Young Adults, and Bogolyubovo Village Library. In addition to touring and meeting with directors of continuing education programs at the libraries, the students enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at how the Russian State Library catalogues and moves its vast collection through a self-propelled monorail transport system. Through the series of educational activities and participation in a roundtable exchange about libraries as a community center, the students also completed a new certificate in International Library Practices at the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature.

On the cultural side, the group visited the Kremlin Museums and Red Square. They explored Old Arbat Street where they attended a musical performance called Soundtrack (music played on modified instruments and everyday objects) and toured historical sites in the Vladimir Region, including Suzdal—one of Russia's oldest towns.

Pictured, left to right, in the Francotheque Cultural Center at the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature: Lauryn Lehman, Alexis Cantu, Allison Van Rhee, Lainie Formby, Keely Ward, and Ellen Knutson.

The Russian trip reinforced the concepts students learned in Knutson's course.

"Community engagement should be a concern across the board for all library staff, not any one 'outreach' department," said MS student Lainie Formby. "I learned that partnerships with existing community organizations and institutions are key."

The students were impressed not only by the libraries but also by the hospitality of the people they encountered on the trip. They also appreciated that their Russian counterparts treated them as colleagues and not just students. 

"I really enjoyed that in Russia there are libraries devoted to specific topics," said MS student Allison Van Rhee. "The Library of Foreign Literature is made up of cultural centers for pretty much every language or country you can imagine, and there is even a library just for young adults!"

Knutson has been collaborating with Russian librarians through regular trips to Russia since the early 2000s.

"Seeing Moscow and Russian libraries through the eyes of my students was a real treat. Their enthusiasm was infectious and renewed my belief in the importance of cultural exchange as a way to deepen global understanding and create international professional relationships," she said.

The Bogolyubovo Village Library made a video about the iSchool group’s visit. The song is about librarians.

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