Building libraries worldwide

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s libraries hold a special position among research libraries in Canada. Now the university is using that position to help develop libraries and enhance research with other institutions around the world, says Margaret Law, director of international relations with U of A Libraries.

She says the decision to make the libraries a part of that global endeavour is an example of the university‘s commitment to engaging with the international community.

“We’re the only major library that has international engagement as a strategic focus,” says Law, who recently returned from a visit to four of India’s institutes of technology (IIT)—a collection of institutes created by the government of India, partly, to train engineers and scientists.

“The university has stated its direction to be recognized globally as a research institution and also as a global citizen. Most universities that have taken an international stance, such as we’ve done, have not included the library. We’re different—the internationalization of the U of A includes the library and we’re out in front on this. We recognize that to support any kind of partnership, there needs to be the infrastructure.”

And from one university to another, Law is using the university libraries’ rare position to build that infrastructure by helping develop expertise in librarianship and build library collections worldwide, while enhancing research capacities at the U of A.

For example, she says, IIT Ropar offers a course that the university is well positioned to support.

“They have a course on Canadian literature but have a very limited collection. That’s an area where we have a lot of expertise, and we’re going to help them build a good Canadian literature collection so they would have good library support for teaching that. Canadian literature is of interest worldwide,” Law says.

From working with IIT Ropar, the U of A will receive research materials that will further develop its growing international position on global health.

“They’re going to help us build our traditional and indigenous collections in health and medicine, by providing us with locally produced materials,” says Law. “We have a number of researchers here who are interested in global health issues and we have a special collection that’s specifically focused on indigenous traditions and health practices.

“For example, one of the partners in India will be providing us materials for our health sciences library on ayurvedic medicine, which is a way of thinking about medical issues that’s different from the western perspective,” says Law. She also returned from India with drawings of India’s famous Ganges Canal from the 1800s that have been digitized. “We have a very strong teaching tradition here in the history of technology, science, the British Empire—this contributes towards that tradition,” she says.

In working with IIT Roorkee to enhance sharing rare digitized materials, the U of A’s library will be leveraging its Cadillac set of tools on digitization—seen in its Peel's Prairie Provinces website, which has received increasing global attention, from the Internet search-engine giant Google to an international team of researchers. 

“We are working on an Indo-Canadian best practices event, where we can share and learn from each other. One of the things we’re hoping to come out of that is specific ways in which we could share rare copies of digitized materials. This will be with librarians from the IITs and their Canadian counterparts,” Law says.

The growing need for such partnerships is a result of the increasing globalization, including academic, within which the university plays an active role as a global citizen.

“Information is international now,” says Law. “One of the things that technology has done is broken down the silos. That has provided us with opportunities to find out what other people think, what they know. We see an increasing interest in other perspectives and the library needs to support those beyond western perspectives on medicine, engineering, or any other fields.”