Following two years of hosting professionals from around the world specialized in rare books and special collections, we decided to take a break this year—which, curiously, coincided with the Covid-19 crisis. Now, the aim is to review during this period the lived experience of the professionals, which included the visit of 13 librarians from 8 different countries: Germany, Canada, Estonia, The Netherlands, Italy, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. While most of them visited us through the Erasmus+ programme, three participants came of their own accord, with the support of their institutions.
Nevertheless, in this entry, we want to detail how CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva de la Universitat de Barcelona organizes these stays, so that other foreign professionals can consider whether they would be interested in joining us in the future. Let’s start, then, by evaluating the experience itself, which we believe has been very positive. The knowledge of the history, constitution, description, and outreach of the collections in our care has certainly brought us close to very different environments and traditions. However, in essence, the actual collections and how we manage them demonstrate how the circumstances are similar for the local and international librarians. This has undoubtedly proved to be the most gratifying aspect of the initiative, as we have seen that we speak a common language and have the same concerns and interests: we all long to preserve, describe, and promote our collections, as well as we can, to the society they belong to. We have also learnt that these divergences and convergences encourage dialogue, sharing, and learning.
Now, we will refer to practical issues in a Q&A format. We hope they will encourage foreign colleagues to participate in the initiative.
Where and when will the call for applications be published?
The University of Barcelona’s Office of Mobility and International Programmes announces the call for applications at the beginning of each year. However, the library announces it earlier, mainly through the Exlibris and CERL’s (Consortium of European Research Libraries) mailing lists.
Who is eligible?
Librarians from universities participating in the Erasmus+ programme who work or have experience with rare book collections are welcome to participate.
Am I eligible if I don’t work in a university library?
The CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva exceptionally accepts professionals specialized in rare books and special collections from other libraries who do not benefit from the Erasmus+ programme grant. In this case, the expenses must be covered by the participant or their institution.
Which is the duration, time of the year and schedule of the programme?
It lasts 5 working days, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Preferably, the programme will take place between May and September (with the exception of August).
What is the work plan?
The work plan proposed by CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva includes predetermined activities, but it nevertheless aims to contemplate the preferences of each participant. Likewise, applicants play an active role, which will be further detailed in a separate point.
Regarding the first ones, they are conducted by the staff at CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva, according to their area of specialization. The activities include: an introduction to the history and composition of the collection, a visit to the stacks, and an explanation of the different tasks required to describe and promote the collection.
A second set of activities corresponds to visits to the Historical Building, the Restoration Workshop and the Pavelló de la República CRAI Library. Similarly, other visits can be programmed according to the participants’ interests.
The third activity, which we deem as essential and very stimulating, is a final meeting between the participants and the staff at CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva. It is an important moment, since we comment on the experience and share points of view, which generally proves to be an enriching exchange for everyone.
What is the active role of the participant?
We consider this to be a fundamental aspect, since we otherwise would not see a real and effective exchange of knowledge and practices.
Firstly, the participants must prepare a presentation about their library, which they will give during the stay to the staff at CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva and, occasionally, to professionals from other CRAI libraries or other institutions.
Secondly, the participants will work on an aspect of the collection, usually connected with their respective geographical and cultural environments, interests and abilities. For example, the hours reserved for this activity can be used to add records for Material Evidence in Incunabula, to prepare a blog entry on a specific edition or to create a micro-exhibition.
Finally, we really encourage foreign colleagues to write a blog entry about their experiences.
In short, we believe that inviting foreign librarians to our library contributes to the creation of an invisible network of professionals, who work to ensure that rare book collections—the ultimate spaces and promoters of knowledge for many centuries—are known, researched and preserved, which in the end contributes to increase awareness about the past across the world.
There is no better way to illustrate this than by checking out the blog entries written by past participants.
Marina Ruiz Fargas
CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva
Translation by Anna Ferrer Anechina, revised by David Fernández