An American Librarian in Paris:
By Cheri Streby
An Interview with Teresa Ferguson
When people ask second-year MLIS student Teresa Ferguson what she did for her summer vacation, she has a very interesting experience to talk about. Teresa did directed fieldwork as a reference librarian at the American Library in Paris.
The American Library in Paris was founded by the American Library Association in 1920. The collection was started with 30,000 books that were left from the American Library Association’s Library War Service, which provided books to World War I soldiers serving in France. Their mission is to maintain a collection of and provide access to useful English-language books, periodicals and other relevant materials to English-reading and -speaking people in Paris. They also provide references services and encourage reading in English by children and young adults through special programs.
Teresa had been working towards directed fieldwork at the American Library in Paris before she started the MLIS evening program in June of 2002. She first started thinking about opportunities to do fieldwork in Paris when attending MLIS information sessions, and even before taking the GRE. Because she had this goal in mind early in the program, Teresa was able to fulfill the credit requirements needed to do a directed fieldwork and make the proper contacts with people at the American Library. Information about doing a directed fieldwork is available on the Information School website .
When Teresa first told me about her goal of doing a Directed Fieldwork at the American Library in Paris, I thought that it would be such a unique and valuable experience. It turns out that it definitely was. I was able to chat with her recently and find out more:
Silverfish: Was language a barrier?
Teresa: No, not really. The collection is 90% English. All of the staff spoke English. There were times that patrons would come to the reference desk and begin their questions in French, but were able to shift easily enough to English when I requested it. My coworkers also spoke English – the library director is from Canada and the manager of circulation is from New Zealand.
Silverfish: You are now working in reference at Suzzallo – what are the differences in doing reference work here at the UW and at the American Library in Paris?
Teresa: The collections are much different, which takes some adjustment – Library of Congress versus Dewey Decimal Classification. And the questions are different in nature. Many of the questions at the American Library in Paris were from expatriates living in France wanting to know how things work in France or French people wanting to know how things work in the United States. Questions here at Suzzallo come from students that have an assignment due in a few days.
Silverfish: Where there any frequently asked questions?
Teresa: Questions about gun control, abortion, education, affirmative action and other topics that are treated differently between the two countries. There is a hot topic section at the American Library in Paris which I found quite useful for these sorts of questions.
Silverfish: What other reference sources did you find useful in Paris?
Teresa: The number one reference source in Paris was the Chamber of Commerce of American Companies in France, which was requested daily. They also have a large travel and biographical (Who’s Who) section.
I also posted a list of my favorite resources to the Web before leaving for Paris so that they would be available to me just in case I got stuck and needed to ground myself with a good reference site or book to get me started. U.S. Government websites were quite helpful.
Silverfish: Were you the only intern working there this summer?
Teresa: No, there were two interns from Princeton, one from San Jose State and one from Wellesley. The intern from San Jose State was the only other MLIS student.
Silverfish: What would you say were the best aspects of your directed fieldwork experience?
Teresa: Well, before working at the American Library in Paris, I hadn’t done any actual reference work. I had an idea that I wanted to be a reference librarian but I wasn’t sure. Now I know that this is what I really want to do. Plus, the experience of living in Paris for six weeks in my own cool apartment and walking past the Eiffel Tower on the way to work each morning [was fantastic]!
Silverfish: How did you find your apartment in Paris?
Teresa: I’m a reference librarian! I consulted books and websites.
Silverfish: Would you say that this was a good learning experience?
Teresa: Absolutely – directed fieldwork allows you to learn so much more than in a classroom setting. You can research different directed fieldwork opportunities and focus them towards the kind of work that you want to do.
Silvefish: What advice would you have for MLIS students interested in directed fieldwork?
Teresa: Just do it!