Fairmont Sentinel Online (Fairmont, MN)
Posted on October 19, 2004
By Lori Haugen
FAIRMONT -- Even in Russia, Bryan McCormick can't get away from work.
McCormick, director of the Martin County Library, leaves Wednesday for a three-week trip to Russia, which began as a vacation.
While planning his trip, he enlisted a few friends he made when they visited Fairmont through the Open World exchange program in the last year, and the visit evolved. With them on board, he has built-in translators and guides, and a full slate of library visits: one long stay where he'll advise on marketing, reading program ideas, and children's library plans; a reception for alumni of the Open World program; plus a few tourist stops.
"It became a working trip," McCormick said. "I thought, 'How'd that happen?"" he says with a laugh.
And while he's there, he will shoot video for a piece he hopes will be aired on local cable television, he said.
McCormick has traveled to places like France and Ukraine, but he has never been to Russia.
"I've always been interested in Russian culture, their art and foods. It just appeals to me."
He'll spend most of his time in the Republic of Chuvashia, about 200 miles east of Moscow, on the Volga River. Chuvashia is the home of Marina Goncharova, who visited Fairmont as a member of the Open World delegation this summer. He will stay at her parents' house while he advises the staff at the National Library of Chuvashia Republic in the town of Cheboskary.
"I'll get the full experience that way," he said.
That library is one of Martin County Library's sister libraries, along with the Kozlovskiy Provincial District Library System, which McCormick will visit also, and the Berdigestyakh Provincial District Centrail Library System.
Russian libraries are quite different from those here, he said. While they may have many books, the books are old, and the spaces are broken up into lots of small rooms. Some areas are blocked off to the public, so patrons need librarians' help to get materials.
"A lot of the libraries there don't have the openness we do," McCormick.
He said after one librarian had spent time here, she said the first thing she was going to do was take a sledgehammer to the walls. "I'll get to see if she did it."
Often, he said, children's libraries are completely separate from the adults', he said, and there are few, if any, computers. Another new concept for Russian libraries: volunteer boards of directors, to help guide and make decisions. In Russia, there are often layers of bureaucracy to fight through before a change can be made, McCormick said. Volunteering itself is a foreign concept to them, he added.
And books are more difficult to come by in Russia. Publishers are encouraged to donate a copy of each book they publish to local libraries, so libraries with more publishing companies nearby end up with better, newer collections than the others.
"It's going to be exciting," McCormick said. "Most of my nerves are gone now. Once I get off the plane, (the hosts) will take over and I can relax." He returns to the United States Nov. 8, and he will spend a few days with family in his home town of Green Bay before returning to Fairmont.
Next year, McCormick hopes to visit Russia again as part of a People to People Ambassadors Programs visit of librarians. And he hopes to continue hosting annual visits to Fairmont from Open World exchange librarians.
The Open World program is a government-led exchange program that began in 1999 to encourage mutual understanding between Russia and the United States, and to provide support for Russians to strengthen their own democratic reforms. It gives emerging Russian leaders the chance to experience democracy and free enterprise in action, according the Open Word web site. It began with government leaders, and in 2003 it expanded to include cultural leaders, such as librarians, artists, and museum and theater directors. It is the first and only exchange program administered by the U.S. government's legislative branch.
[Reprinted with Permission]