By Alison Harding-Hlady
In February 2020, after four weeks of work and 33 hours of travel (thanks to a delayed flight and a missed connection), my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I returned home to Canada from Africa safe and sound, full of stories and insights to share with our colleagues (and families and friends) about our assignment with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) in Kigali. The question I am asked most often (after “How was the food?”—everyone wants to know about the food) is, What did I bring back to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) from the experience? The purpose of the assignment and my goals were pretty clearly defined (to provide four weeks of training on bibliographic description and cataloguing), and I think that all involved would agree that the objectives were met and the assignment was a success. The lasting impact of this opportunity on me and my work is a little less tangible. Of course, there are all the benefits of travel, and living and working in another place, even for a short period of time—broadening your understanding of the world, seeing new perspectives, and appreciating in a new way things that you have come to take for granted.
Professionally, I saw many other benefits as well. I really had the opportunity to improve and refine my skills in training and teaching. While I have participated in the formal and informal training of many colleagues over the years, this was the first time I had to develop a curriculum and learning plans, and spent such a concentrated amount of time delivering instructions. I learned to adapt as I went, identifying newly discovered needs and incorporating them into the plans. Patience and flexibility are always key! I also developed a new understanding of the cataloguing tools and standards that I already use every day. When you are teaching someone else how to use something, you really have to stop and take a step back, and you get a better picture of how that thing is constructed and how the different parts fit together. It was good for me to go back to basics and refresh my fundamental understanding of the tools and concepts. This will help me as I return to my “everyday” work of cataloguing.
Living and working in Rwanda, even for a month, was a life-changing experience for me, personally and professionally. It was a major challenge, taking me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am proud of the work that I did, glad that LAC is an institution committed to these kinds of partnerships and the development of the library and archival professions in Canada and around the world, and so grateful to have had the chance to share my knowledge and expertise with fellow librarians in another country.
To learn more about this special assignment, and to get an overview of the training that my colleague and I gave the RALSA staff, I invite you to read my previous posts: Ready for Rwanda! and An update from Kigali!
Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada. Her blog articles depicting her work trip to Rwanda were written before the COVID-19 pandemic context.