Thursday, November 08, 2012

Thrissur - Kerala - teaching Principals and teachers

I was invited by the Kerala University of Health Sciences (located in Thrissur, Kerala) to do a whole day workshop on literature searching on On October 31, 2012

The Travel

Travelling to Thrissur was a reasonably long act - flight to Kochi and then a 1.5 hour drive (of course that is like driving from Mumbai airport to the city area during peak hours). This time, I had the added mini excitement of driving from the Mumbai airport terminal to the aircraft which was in the International Airport area. We went "all the way" there only for our bus driver to discover that he took us to the wrong aircraft and to get us all the way back to the domestic terminal!

Then came a positive surprise. Nothing important, but fun and a "convenient one". The flight I was booked on was a Jet Airways one, with a 4-digit flight no. I could not even do a web check in - so I assumed it was a Jet Konnect flight. But it later was mysteriously renumbered to 3-digits. The "convenient/fun" surprise was that I got free breakfast. Sounds kiddish, but I do appreciate the convenience. And somehow, most often I feel that the food charged for on most flights are actually bad.

The ride to Thrissur was green, green and more green - something I adore about Kerala and that belt.

In Thrissur, I was put up in a small hotel near the University. It felt like a cross between an uppity hostel and a cosy home. The couple in charge were almost like hosts. The lady could speak only Malayalam, but she was full of smiles and chattered away. She actually asked me when I would come back next :)

The Workshop - And a Very Personal Experience

My workshop was on the next day. Now here was something that touched a chord in my heart. One of the faculty members picked me up at 9.25 am and drove me to the venue (a five-min ride). The Dean Research received me and escorted me to the hall where I would be speaking for the first hour (and later moving to the E-library for the hands-on sessions).

As soon as I walked in to the hall (I entered first), the audience stood up!!

And no - it was not an audience of students. Majority were senior faculty and six of them were Principals of Medical Colleges! Okay - granted that age wise I may be closer to the "senior" folks. But this was something I had not expected and I was completely caught off my guard! Deep inside my heart I am a medical librarian. And Principals would have been my bosses if I worked in a Medical College. Which means I would be the one standing up if they walked into an area where I was sitting!

I must admit that for a moment I was embarrassed and then regained composure, smiled brightly and said good morning to all and shook hands with one person I knew.

Now why did I specifically mention this incident here? One of the fairly regular points of discussion amongst librarians is their "status". They are right. Our profession, in my opinion too, is very very often not given the status it deserves.

I do not wish to go into details or even encourage a debate on this. All I am saying is that the problem of status has two angles - the "system problem" and a "personal angle" . As an individual, I know that I have reached the day when I get respected by seniors / people in positions / people with far higher qualifications and more. They value what I know and the work I do, and treat me as an equal. If I had only cribbed and lamented, I obviously would be ignored, leave alone being respected.

Of course my being treated with respect or as an equal, does not solve the status problem. I would love to do lots more to solve it. But apart from the "system factors", what is needed is that we (medical) librarians need to do two more things:

a) We need to "move" towards working "with" students and health professionals to help them solve information problems. This by working with them, and also constantly upgrading our knowledge in the field
b) We need to "let them know" about our abilities. And understand that they do not know many things that we know (which is not a bad thing!)

Unless we change these communication issues, status is going to remain a problem!

The Workshop - the actual session/s

Coming back to the program, after an initial lecture on the theory of information and its retrieval, we had pretty intense hands on exercises cum problem solving sessions. The whole group was extremely enthusiastic and worked really hard at learning. That was something! And again, I need to stress that the participants accepted that I was the teacher/expert and gave their all. I am sure no one thought about status at this point!

I must add some other good things that happened here. One was that the librarian of KUHS was extremely keen to learn anything more than he already knew (which was a pretty good deal). And the faculty of the  University discussed a lot about how to take these programs ahead. Kudos to the VC and the Dean Research and their team for organizing the event and for their interest in taking things ahead!

PS - For those not from India - we have a custom of standing up when a teacher / older person walks into a class / room


Pranab Chatterjee said...

"Vidya dadati vinayam!" The true knowledge imparts humility and wisdom. Hence I guess yo had a more than just a highly-educated audience...

Goral... said...

Wow! an experience well put :) :)