Dr. José Antonio Merlo Vega began his term as Visiting Scholar in UNCG’s Department of Library and Information Studies in February 2013 and will be a part of our community until mid-September 2013. Merlo received his Ph.D. in documentation from the University of Salamanca and his bachelor’s degree in Spanish Philology from the University of Salamanca, too. He graduated in Library and Information Science from the same University. Dr. Merlo is Professor of Library and Information Studies and Dean of Libraries at the University of Salamanca in Spain. He is also an expert on information literacy, social media, digital reference, and academic libraries. Dr. Merlo has published extensively and is a sought-after speaker. In addition to his own research, he has spent the past seven months collaborating and becoming familiar with the work we are conducting at UNCG and beyond. Merlo took the time to answer some questions about his experiences as Visiting Scholar in our department and about the LIS profession in Spain.
[Interview and translation by Ingrid Ann Johnston.]
1) IAJ: During your time as Visiting Scholar in the UNCG LIS department, what developments or goals have you targeted? What has been the focus of your work at UNCG?
JAMV: Given my double orientation as professor/researcher and Dean of libraries, I was very interested in knowing both about the functioning of a Department of Library and Information Sciences as well as that of a university library. In that sense, the experience has been very satisfactory, because I have been able to work very closely with both the LIS faculty of UNCG as well as with the staff of the Jackson Library. The professors have made me feel like a colleague, and the University Library has provided me with all of the information I have needed. So, I consider the objective of my goal – to get to know the librarianship and educational system of UNCG – complete. I am also sure that we will have stable collaborations after my stay has ended.
2) IAJ: You presented a talk on social entrepreneurship and libraries in Spain at the Third Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians in May 2013. What do you hope that the presentation communicated to library and information studies professionals in the United States about how social entrepreneurship works in Spanish libraries?
JAMV: The Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians was a very good opportunity to disseminate the work that is being done in Spanish libraries at this stage of the economic crisis. The focus of the journey was entrepreneurship, and I wanted to show the ways in which Spanish libraries have innovated their service models upon no longer having budgets. The presentation was also a tribute to Spanish libraries that are ensuring that users do not have to experience the cuts that libraries must endure.
3) IAJ: An ongoing project you are working on is one that you have named “Bibliotecas en acción” (Libraries in Action). Can you talk some more about the aim(s) of this project and how its research will support the perception of Spanish libraries before the recession?
JAMV: The crisis is lasting too long in Spain, and the ill-advised economic policies do not help to improve the situation. Libraries in Action began as a tool to gather information and experiences about how libraries are helping their community and how the community is helping libraries. The methodology of the project was collaborative, since the same libraries have been able to contribute their experiences. In the study, which I have carried out during my stay at UNCG, the experiences are gathered into groups of actions, covering both economic strategies as well as political protests or social subsidies that libraries are offering in these moments. The first presentation was at the Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians in May. I have presented this work in other forums, and I will present the final results as a speaker at the closing ceremonies at the Journey of Libraries Conference in Andalusia in the middle of October. Probably an article will be published in an American Professional magazine about this research.
4) IAJ: What are your hopes and/or plans for the future? What would you like to work on next as Dean of Libraries at the University of Salamanca?
JAMV: The University of Salamanca is eight centuries old, and its libraries combine the preservation of antique collections with the services it currently has to offer a modern university. I am proud of working at my University and to be a part of the development of its libraries. This sabbatical semester has helped me to learn and to sort out ideas and projects. Upon my return, we will initiate a strategic plan with which we will have the opportunity to reflect about what types of library services we need. We are the oldest university library and also one of the most innovative. Our identity is based upon protecting our past, meeting the needs of the present, and developing services for the future.
5) IAJ: During the past seven months, what have you learned about the library and information sciences profession in the United States as compared with Spain? What is the most positive aspect of the profession you take away from your experiences? Are there any negatives?
JAMV: The most outstanding aspect is the great value that libraries have in the United States for citizens. The professionalism of the collective librarian is also very remarkable – very committed to their work. The negative for me is the model of sustainability of public services, which relies heavily on private initiatives. However, I have been very fortunate for having been able to know, first-hand, about the educational, professional, and everyday reality of librarianship in the United States.