Libro Futuro

Being a librarian in Asia and Africa. Mario Coffa interviews Ibrahim Ramjaun

intervista in italiano

 Ibrahim Ramjaun is Senior Librarian at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. He holds an MSc in Information & Library Management (Birmingham) and B.A in Library & Information Science. He reckons thirty nine years of working experience in academic, public, special and national libraries. He attended IFLA’s World Library Congress in Berlin in 2003 and the Jay Jordan Early Career Development Fellowship in Dublin Ohio in 2004. He has to his credit the publication of a number of articles on topics such as the information audit, national bibliographic control, job satisfaction, Islam and luxury consumption, Qur’an Quiz Book  and libraries in Al-Andalus or Medieval Spain. He was also President of the Association of Professional Librarians (Mauritius) during 2011-2013.

Ibrahim, in your long working experience you have had the opportunity to work in two different countries, not only geographically but also from a cultural and social point of view: Mauritius and Abu Dhabi. Briefly, can you tell us about your beginnings as a librarian in Mauritius?

I joined the LIS profession in the early 1980s in the wake of a severe economic recession with youth unemployment on the rise in the tiny Indian ocean island of Mauritius. In fact, I did not choose this profession. I just fell into it by accident so to say. I saw an advertisement for the Library Assistant’s course leading to the City & Guilds of London Certificate. I knew that idleness is the mother of all vices. So, I seized this opportunity while I was jobless at home after my college education. I had the opportunity to have an excellent foreign lady as my first coach. Then, I enrolled in another Certificate Course in Library Studies at the University of Mauritius. After this, I lobbied in favour of the introduction of a Diploma course in LIS. I had to wait for 12 years to see this endeavour come to fruition. Immediately after securing my Diploma with distinction, I started pressing the university to offer a top-up course leading to a Bachelor degree. It took me 3 years to negotiate exemptions or course credits with an Australian university and put them in contact with the University of Mauritius with the result that, in January 1999 the first batch was enrolled in this joint programme of which I was part of. So, as you can see, I had the ambition of become a full-fledged library and information professional since the beginning although I started from the humble beginning as a Library Assistant in 1982. Even after graduating, one is not automatically promoted as Librarian in my country. I had to wait until 2002 to be appointed Librarian at the National Library of Mauritius. Previously, as a semi-professional, I worked in academic, special and public libraries.

Africa is a very large continent and therefore with very different realities between the various countries and the various nations. But in general, what does it mean to be a librarian on this wonderful continent?

You are absolutely right. Africa is a huge continent comprising no less than 54 countries. Each country in Africa has its own specificities in terms of economic resources, language culture, education, priorities and standard of living. Inevitably, this result in unequal standards not only in library and information science education, but in library practices. Previously, there were limited interactions among LIS professionals in Africa mainly via the IFLA Africa Section based in South Africa. Quite recently in 2013, AfLIA was established – an African Federation of Library & Information Associations. This newly created federation is giving a greater impetus to librarianship in Africa. But, in general libraries are not as fully equipped as in North America and Europe. We still lag behind but hope to catch up by means of greater access to and dissemination of electronic information resources to our patrons as best as we can.

You then arrived in Abu Dhabi. What has changed? How has the new reality affected your profession as a librarian, as well as a man?

Since quite some time, I was longing for job satisfaction which I could not unfortunately achieve even after working for more than three decades in my home country. This was due mainly to factors such as favoritism, inequity, lack of meritocracy, an abnormal level of organizational politics and prejudices. I  took the risk of quitting a permanent and pensionable position to take up the job of Librarian on contract in a totally unknown country. This was a risky venture indeed.  But, thank God all went well. I had the privilege of having a very nice boss as Head of the Library at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. My adaptation went smoothly and my work was appreciated despite the harsh climate in summer which lasts for seven months. I have  learnt new things in a very modern and advanced library. Although I work twice or more than previously, I do not feel exhausted because here I can enjoy job satisfaction which is priceless.  In short, my contribution was valued and my superior did not hesitate to tell me his appreciation openly.

At the Library at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi where you currently work, I noticed that you have a section dedicated to Open Access and e-books (about 150,000) and computer stations with Apple computers. It seems to me that from a digital and IT point of view it is a very well equipped library, doesn’t it?

You are absolutely right ! The  Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi Library is well equipped not only in terms of printed books and serials, but more importantly with work stations, self-check out machines, quiet study rooms, subscription to no less than 23 reputable electronic databases in addition to open access ones. In practical terms, it means, that when the library is physically closed after 10.00 pm, access to e-resources on a 24/7 basis makes the library truly ubiquitous – the library without walls which is the trend since some decades now. In short, bringing information at your doorstep by a simple click anytime and anywhere. We have been complimented more than once by faculty members coming from Paris Sorbonne University on short assignments in Abu Dhabi for the excellent quality of our collection, the physical environment of the library and the excellent services.

You have published many articles but one in particular caught my attention: “Quiz book of the Quran: 300 questions 900 multiple choice answers”. What is it about?

As a library and information professional, I am quite meticulous and passionate about information. At the end of 2014, I attended a large book fair at Sharjah, one of the seven emirates of UAE. While selecting books for the university library, I was also curious to search for a quiz book on the Qur’an. To my disappointment, there were none such book. Then and there, this idea was mooted. So, I decided to start this work in my spare time at home. The underpinning idea which inspired me was learning with fun with minimum intellectual effort. This  holy book comprises several prophecies, scientific and spiritual truths which are worthy to be disseminated. That is what motivated me to have it published on my own. It is a non-profit venture in the sense that all the proceeds derived from its sale will go to charity.

After 31 years of library experience, what would you suggest to a young student who would one day want to do this job?

My humble suggestions would be : be forewarned that the library and information profession is not one in which you would earn a fortune unlike being an accountant, a computer professional, a lawyer, architect, engineer and so on. First you must be passionate about information seeking and have a desire to serve your patrons even after office hours. The task of providing the right information to the right seeker at the right time is a noble one even if you have to endure endless pain for this. You will feel an immense joy when your patrons express their satisfaction with the pertinent  information provided to them. There is no price tag on this feeling. Be adventurous, always innovative, entrepreneurial, adaptive to constant changes and willing to remain abreast with the latest development and learn from best practices worldwide. In short, merely holding a library qualification does not make one a Librarian. The best proof is in the trenches, at the level of service delivery. The library must become a place one seeks out  happily in enthusiastic anticipation of intellectual stimulation. Going the extra mile is the standard one should aim at!


Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.


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