The Past is Prologue

Today we attended the annual conference of the Fujian Library Association. Unfortunately for those of us who don’t speak Chinese, there were a lot of presentations and speeches that went past us at the speed of light. Nevertheless, we were treated like royalty, being seated at the front of the auditorium in the Jinjiang Public Library where the conference was held. There were about 250 attendees at the conference as well as the head of the Fujian Ministry of Culture, a distinguished calligrapher with whom we had dinner last night.

While speakers are presenting today, I am taking this time to reflect on yesterday’s main event. Wednesday afternoon, after lunch and checking in at the 5-star hotel we are staying at, we walked next door to the Jinjiang Public Library for a very special occasion – a gathering to celebrate 20 years of the Horner Exchange and 30 years of the sister-province/state relationship between Oregon and Fujian. Assembled there were nearly all of the Horner participants from Fujian, including all of the directors, past and present, of the Fujian Provincial Library. For two hours, we heard many of them speak about the impact of the exchange on their lives and their libraries, with continuing expressions of gratitude for how much they had learned and the friendships that the exchange had spawned across the ocean. The whole event was very moving. They continually expressed how, on their return to their home libraries, they started making changes to how they did things, especially adopting American practices of customer service and implementing automation of library processes. Many of them received promotions at work within a few years of their participation, with many now serving as library directors or other positions of responsibility.

One particular comment really stood out for me. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Chen came to OSU with a colleague, spending 2 weeks in Corvallis and spending time in each department of our library. Yesterday, he recounted something he witnessed during that visit. I was to take him and his colleague to lunch and had just met up with them someplace in the Valley Library. I think we may have been waiting for one of my colleagues to join us when I saw a library user looking a bit perplexed. I asked him if I could help him with something, at which point he confessed confusion about where a book was that he could not find on the shelf. I asked our Horner visitors to stay where they were (they spoke no English, so this was done with hand motions, with me hoping they would stay in one place) while I went off to the next floor up in the library to look at the shelf where the user’s book should be. I returned to our visitors in a few minutes. Mr. Chen was so impressed that I would take time away from what I was already engaged in to make the extra effort to help the user that after fifteen years, the story still stuck with him. I was really moved by his recitation of this event, which curiously I remember quite well.

The reunion of the Horner Exchange participants yesterday was capped by the publication of a book in Chinese and English in commemoration of this 20th anniversary of the program, filled with photos of every year of the exchange.   It also chronicles the connections between the Oregon State Library and the Fujian Provincial Library, going back to 1987. Although many have been responsible for the strength of those connections, I would like to call out three people who really worked hard to establish and maintain them over the years: Rosalind Wang, Jim Scheppke, and Ke Shaoning. Their dedication to the Horner Exchange and the bonds between Oregon and Fujian is a model for all of us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ke yesterday and was impressed with his understated manner and humility. He is the retired director of the Fujian Provincial Library, his name very familiar to me from numerous emails over the years during the planning of each exchange of librarians. While waiting to check-in in the lobby of our hotel here in Jinjiang, he approached me and began conversing with me. We spoke about his retirement activities and my interest in birdwatching. It was such a pleasant and relaxed interaction.

Back to current events: at the conference this morning, awards were given to association members for various reasons. The ceremony was very formal, with names announced and then the awardees being handed certificates from association officers. While they walked to the front of the room to receive the certificates, music was played: the theme from the Magnificent Seven! — Richard

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