Libro Futuro

“The living library that transforms the community”. Mario Coffa interviews Izaskun Herrojo Salas

Entrevista en español

Intervista in italiano

Izaskun Herrojo Salas has been director of the Dominican Republic’s Emeroteca Library since 2016 and also an adjunct university professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santiago and Santo Domingo. Documentalist deals with Information Sciences and teacher of the laboratory of the subject Conservation and Conservation of Documents.

Izaskun, you are Director of the Dominican Republic’s newspaper library. In short, can you tell us about your work and what you do? 

Before starting I would like to thank you for the opportunity to be part of this incredible project and at the same time congratulate you on the excellent initiative. Sharing our experiences as librarians with other professional colleagues beyond our borders is, without a doubt, something inspiring, but above all a space for motivation and hope. Well, answering your question, briefly summarizing what we do is difficult, but I will try. The Hemeroteca-Library of the General Archive of the Nation of the Dominican Republic, is a specialized information unit that was created with the aim of providing academic and technical support to both researchers and archive professionals, supporting at all times the different study programs and professionalization of our most important asset, its staff. The Hemeroteca-Library also has a double mission, since by Law (418-82 on Legal Deposit) it becomes, together with the National Library and the National Congress, the receiving library of all the intellectual, artistic and scientific production of the country, fruit of editorial activity. The Newspaper Library-Library is divided into different work areas, we have the Collection Development division, the Organization and information representation division (technical processes), the Newspaper Library and the Digital Library. As part of the Hemeroteca we have a very special and highly relevant project for historians, which I do not want to fail to mention, which is that of the Dominican Daily Press. Well, with that said, my main job is to manage each of the areas of work, reviewing all the processes, proposing continuous improvements, promoting good practices at different levels and above all, continuing to be, with the institutional support of the Archive, an activist for libraries, promoting activities to encourage reading, cultural activities and support to research to not only satisfy the information demands of our everyday users, but also to “make new generations fall in love”. Today more than ever we need to think about generational changes, since we have an aging user population and we must take advantage of both scenarios, the experience and wisdom of the elderly with the energy and enthusiasm of the young, only in this way can we guarantee a hopeful and developmental future for our country.

What does it mean to be a librarian in the Dominican Republic? What is the value of the profession and what is the path to becoming a librarian?

The first answer that comes to mind is somewhat complicated to assume, but it is still a reality, being a librarian in the Dominican Republic is a double challenge. On the one hand, there is little support and recognition for the work of the professional librarian by political and social structures. It is a wonderful profession, but somewhat reviled, which has to demonstrate and justify its importance and impact within society on a daily basis. However, this challenge becomes at the same time a box full of opportunities, as there is much work to be done and many colleagues with excellent preparation, enthusiasm and vocation, eager to promote and position the profession and libraries towards the place where they are. deserve. This is a matter of public policy, so that libraries and librarians can develop and have a positive impact on society and reach a greater number of citizens, there must be a commitment from the State, which involves and positions libraries in the heart of the educational, cultural, scientific, economic and social programs, as a transversal axis for the development of the Nation. And on the other, the professionalization of the library staff. In the country there are very few training options in the area. The most representative are those of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, which offers a degree in Education, a mention in Libraries, and the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, which has a specialized Master’s program in Librarianship and Information Sciences. Outside of these two options, the rest are courses, workshops and diplomas organized by related institutions that are given infrequently. Therefore, being a librarian in the Dominican Republic is a double challenge that requires a lot of passion and a vocation for service.

How did the experience of COVID 19 affect libraries in your country?

At this point I can give you two different visions, if I were only with my experience, it would be very different from the reality lived in the country. The General Archive of the Nation made a courageous decision from the beginning and we were among the first institutions to join the work. On May 20, 2020, a first group entered and we began to provide service to the public in person. We develop our security protocols, which we rigorously comply with and we successfully manage to keep the public service to citizens active. Gradually and as it was possible, the staff was integrated until 100% was completed. Thanks to our digitization projects during the two months that we were at home, we were also able to guarantee minimums, supporting the education sector. So the experience lived has been intense, but very positive, it has allowed us to break down the barriers a bit and be present for people, and that is really very valuable. Accompany, guide and help in silence … However, the reality of libraries in the rest of the country has been very different. With the closure of colleges and universities, libraries were also closed and many library staff were fired and / or temporarily suspended. The lack of infrastructure at different levels, prevented providing service to users normally. Not only was it necessary to have digital information resources, but the same staff had the necessary technical skills, computer equipment and connectivity. At this point, we could realize that we weren’t ready for something like that. During the pandemic, librarians were completely expendable, or so we were led to believe. This has a lot to do with what I told you previously about the lack of political and social support and recognition, in this case the institutional one was also added.

From a digital point of view (social, distance learning) what can you tell us about the situation in your country?

Before the pandemic, distance education was in a fairly low-key situation. There were already some universities such as the Open University for Adults (UAPA) with virtual education training programs, but in general this type of training was rather limited to certain postgraduate programs in private universities in the country. In the wake of the pandemic, not only higher education had to adapt quickly to this situation, but also schools and colleges. The vast majority of private schools, or at least the most important ones, had options to continue the academic year, but this was not the case for public schools. At this point I have to say that the Dominican State has made great efforts in the field of distance education during this year and a half. Study programs have been created so that students could take classes through different media, television, radio, the Internet have been great allies. A whole mechanism of infrastructure and teacher training to continue with the study plans and support students from their homes. They have also provided mobile devices and even began to work on the connectivity part so that families could have access to the Internet without this entailing an additional expense. Many families have been affected by the pandemic and these minimum guarantees have helped to cope with this situation. Seeing that the State cares about the education of citizens, at any of its levels, is encouraging to say the least, since the priorities are clear. Now, from my point of view and experience, despite the efforts made, we have to keep working hard. It seems that this format of education has fully blossomed and has come to stay. We had been talking about e-learning and theorizing for years, but with the pandemic, we have been able to observe, or at least I, that one thing is theorizing and another thing is reality, and this reality is far from many of the theories developed Until now. We have been able to see first-hand how a distance education system operates and we have had to adapt and face hundreds of challenges, such as technological literacy, difficult access to technological equipment, inadequate study environments, the development of interactive and multimedia content, the famous digital divide, the lack of connectivity and / or stability of the network, the lack of electricity, the simultaneous activities with limited equipment (work, classes, etc.), the invasion of the private space, excess in the assignment of tasks, the dehumanization of education (contact with students is necessary), forms of communication or hyperconnectivity, among others. I think that the concept of e-learning has not been fully understood, since we have transferred the presence to virtuality, having students sitting in front of the computer for hours, without a doubt, it is something in which we must improve. However, my biggest fear comes not so much from the technical part, but also from the cognitive and content side. As I have been observing and from my own experience, about learning through digital media I keep asking myself: Are we really prepared for distance education? Are the students really learning? Will there be significant learning after all this infrastructure effort? Perhaps we will have answers to all of this in the not too distant future. I leave these concerns here…

“The living library that transforms the community”  is the title of one of your articles. Can you explain better what this means for you?

Through this article, I tell about the transformation experience experienced by the Juan Bosch Library (FUNGLODE), a specialized and academic library in the Dominican Republic, through the incorporation of a program of cultural outreach activities that we call the “Living Library”. Through cinema, music, literature, art, a circle of users was created and consolidated who saw in the library not only a building full of books, but also an environment conducive to continuous learning. In this sense, the idea is clear, libraries are not static entities, they are in continuous evolution and change, they are living entities that transform and allow themselves to be transformed. They are spaces not only to guard a bibliographic heritage, but it is also a space for research, culture, and socialization. Back then I talked about how libraries changed lives, how they put themselves at the service of the community and allowed themselves to be transformed, seven years later I reaffirm myself in my words, but what’s more, now I not only believe that they change lives, but also the save.

What would you recommend to a young student who would like to become a librarian one day?

This is a vocational and passionate job, in which you have to put your body, mind and heart. I recommend or “advise” little, but if you really like this profession you should know that from the moment you have the opportunity to work in a library, there will be no going back, this world will catch you in a thousand different ways. Every day in the library is an adventure, you will fall in love and it will be a good and lasting love, I promise you. Yes indeed! Cultivate patience for those who question that to put books on a shelf you have to study 4 years at the university, forgive them, they do not know what they say.



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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