Colleagues, we are excited to announce the our newest episode (season 4) of the CPDWL Podcast Project where we feature library and information professionals who support and participate in professional development work.
Our guest host for this episode is Dr. Heba Ismail, CPDWL Standing Committee Member. Our guest is Essraa Nawar, Head of Library Development and Marketing and the Chair of the Arts, Exhibits and Events Committee at Chapman University, USA.
Dr. Heba Ismail
Transcript & Translations in Arabic and in English by Dr. Heba Ismail:
Translation (in English)
Welcome to the IFLA CPDWL podcast project. In this space we talk with library and information professionals who support and participate in professional development work.
My name is Heba Ismail, a CPDWL standing committee member and host of today’s episode. Our guest today is Essraa Nawar, the Head of Library Development and Marketing – and the Chair of the Arts, Exhibits and Events Committee at the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University, California, since 2009. Welcome Essraa!
Essraa: Hi Heba, thank you very much for the introduction and for hosting
- If you had to describe yourself using only one word, what word would it be?
Essraa: The word that I can say in English first is “disruptor”, someone who enters and messes up the world, but in a good way. He likes to change people’s thinking about different topics that they do not know anything about. Changing people’s ideas about the Arab woman, the Muslim woman; the Egyptian woman, and about the Arab world. Since I was born and lived in the Middle East or in the Arab world, half of my life in Egypt and half of it in Qatar, and after that I moved to work in Bibliotheca Alexandrina for four years, and I had the honor and pride to have a role in an ancient and authentic library and has an international reputation. When I moved to Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University, California in 2009, the world saw the Arab world or the Middle East in a different way. I decided to start a campaign entitled “Change your understanding” for the Arab, Islamic, and Christian worlds in our Arab countries, and then I moved to the word “disruptor,” as it refer to the person who works on various projects that make people think, and change their thinking about things they don’t know anything about.
Heba: That’s really wonderful Esraa.
- What compelled you to become a librarian? How did you get started?
Essraa: This question has been repeated to my ears a lot, and it is a strange story. I think I was born to be a librarian, but I did not know that until 2009-2010. Unfortunately, in the Arab world, people do not know what it means to be a librarian, whether an academic, public, or medical librarian, or various specializations in the wonderful field of librarianship to which I have the honor to belong.
I did not know that this profession existed, but throughout my life, I am a person who loves information very much, the idea of information, not only that I know it, it is not a stereotypical or typical image that I love reading, and I love going to the library. There is a lot in the field of libraries in this style. I love delivering information to people, and it is known among my friends and family that I love science, and I love to deliver information to people even if I do not have a background in this specialty.
When the Internet entered Egypt, and in 1999 my father – may God have mercy on him- was among the first people to enter the Internet, and at that time the Internet was through the landline phone, and it was very weak, but I had an obsession with the idea that I had access to all this information, and everyone who asked me, I mentioned that I could obtain the information, I wanted to reach this information. Then years passed, I specialized in English commerce, then obtained a master’s degree in business administration, then a master’s degree in organizational leadership. I was looking for a profession and could not find it, and when I worked in the field of business or data, everyone mentioned that I had something that we had not discovered yet, until I entered Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) and fell in love with the profession of librarians. Not as we see it.
Librarians whose specialties are based on working in books or lending it, this is a very important thing, but professions such as academic librarian, teaching, and research, I began to understand it more, and at the time of my transfer from Bibliotheca Alexandrina to the libraries of Chapman University, I found that the field is open and changing, I think that is something in my personality, I love change. Currently there is an attack on the profession, but all of us, thankfully, around the world, from the Asian and Arab countries to America are developing, changing, and as we say to ourselves – recently – we are rediscovering the role of libraries and librarians around the world. I started from Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and thank God, I spent about 15 years in the field without being a specialist, but in 2017, I took a master’s degree in library and information science from San José State University, and I hope to give to the profession what it deserves.
- What does global librarianship mean to you? Has that vision changed for you over the years?
Essraa: That is a great question, Heba. Someone like me can only say that I am a global librarian. Although I live in America, I already have a global mindset. I describe myself as the child of the third culture. I was born in Egypt, lived in Qatar, and returned to Egypt. I worked in Bibliotheca Alexandrina. I spent a long time in America since 2002 between the East and the West Coast in California. I entered the field of very different studies. In Egypt, I was very fortunate that there was an introduction to the English and French languages from a very young age. I traveled to many countries. I came to America when I was very young. I had a global vision from my reading and from my travels when I arrived in America… America for me, it was something, and when I lived in America, it became something else. The vision changed, because America is not what you are seeing on TV. It is not about politics or movies.
On the contrary, although America is a newly established country, it is an inveterate country in the field of libraries, and the vision has changed because of my work with American librarians and how they are passionate about learning students, whether at the level of public, academic, medical, or cooperate libraries and introduce American libraries to the whole world.
At the beginning, I was reticent about how I defined global libraries, I was focusing on initiatives within America such as social and economic status; social justice issues within the American society, but over time, even the university administration was encouraging me to connect students and society to the world not only the Arab world but very different worlds through the different communities that live in Orange County.
The vision and the whole world changed, not only after Covid-19, but after many events in the Arab world. When I started my work, there were no Arab Spring revolutions, 2011 changed the world, and as you know that American libraries play a role in educating society, and the first thing I was asked to do after 2011 is to prepare an event on the Arab Spring revolutions, and the Egyptian revolution and what happened in El-Tahrir square.
I organized exhibitions, and worked with various embassies of Arab countries – and I would like to thank them for their cooperation with us -newspaper photographers who arrived in America and talked about what happened in the Middle East and in Syria. To this day, every month or two weeks there is something that connects us to the world, because the world has changed very much, especially after Covid-19. I will not say that it has become a small village because the communication means makes students eager to know and understand, and there is nothing better than the library to be the main source of information for students, researchers, or faculty members in different universities.
- What are some library conferences or associations have you been involved in? Have you attended IFLA before?
Essraa: I was honored to attend IFLA 2016 in Ohio, where I was recognized as an IFLA fellow. I participated in the poster session, and I was very happy and excited that my poster was accepted, I talked about marketing in academic libraries, thankfully, the poster met with great luck from visiting people who spoke to me about it, and now the poster is in the digital repository of the university, and anyone can see it. It was the first time for me to attend IFLA, and it was a dream of my life. As you know Heba that the IFLA Centre for Arabic Speaking Libraries (IFLA-CASL) is located in Bibliotheca Alexandrina, I did not work with IFLA before, but I knew the role of IFLA, and the head of the libraries sector was Dr. Sohair Wastawy, she was very involved in IFLA, and my dear friend Dina Youssef Salib was the director of the IFLA-CASL.
Heba: Dina Youssef is currently the Head of Library Sector
Essraa: This is new information for me. Dina is one of the wonderful people, and she participates in different conferences
Essraa: I was still a student preparing a master’s degree in library and information science, and I was recognized as an IFLA fellow. I attended the wonderful conference in Ohio, and I met many people, and this conference opened my eyes to the field of libraries not only in Egypt, but in the whole world, and in different countries such as Asian and European countries.
Like most of the librarians in the United States, I attend the American Library Association (ALA) conference, and since I specialized in academic libraries, I am part of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). There is a wonderful conference, the Middle East Librarian Association (MELA) conference affiliated with a European association, sometimes I do presentations. I also attend conferences of local associations such as the California Academic and Research Libraries Association (CARL) and the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC).
Attending conferences has become much easier in the time of Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and virtual seminars. Sometimes I try to attend in person or virtually, in order to be aware of the latest developments, thankfully the information is available everywhere and at all times.
I was honored to attend the “Immigrant Birds” forum held by the Egyptian Library Association (ELA). At the American Embassy in Cairo, I gave a presentation to librarians interested in knowing my experience in the USA. Thank God, I had many opportunities. It is important for other people to see what they are doing, not everything is applicable, but sometimes it is just an inspiration, or an idea, that they can apply in the place where they work in a slightly different way.
Heba: It is very true it can give them the vision to develop their works in another way, and use what they saw, and employ it according to their own environment.
- What are you most excited about in the profession?
Essraa: I can answer this question for an hour. I am so excited about the profession. It is very changing, contrary to what people expect. There is a stereotype that people who work in libraries are quiet people, who sit in their office and read books all day, and this is far from the truth. You, Heba, for example, are a very active person in the library world, and your role in IFLA is well known, and I am the same. Most of the people interested in the profession of librarianship find themselves widespread in the society, and are always involved in discussions on various topics, and they are changing. Nowadays, we are talking about the digital world; data world; artificial intelligence; and Metaverse. As librarians, we are included in these talks, whether public or academic librarians, how do we make libraries have a role. All research issued by IFLA, ALA (American Library Association) or ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) or any specialist in the field proves with conclusive evidence that the profession of librarianship or libraries in general, whether academic, public, medical, or cooperate, their role will be stronger and stronger than at any other time because we are in the information age, but in the era of false and misleading information. Our role as librarians – and we understand that – our role is greater much more than the beginning, our role is changing. Our role is to change and develop ourselves, and have a vision of what is happening around us.
The narratives that people mention that the profession may die and will not exist; I feel that it is a false narrative as every day proves that libraries as you may know that the statistics for the number of libraries in America are more than Starbucks, especially the public libraries that serve the middle and lower-middle classes, and they are very large. In American societies, particularly in some classes of people who do not find the resources to buy books for their children, or cannot take them to after-school programs, the library plays this role, the same thing in academic libraries. This is what makes me happy. I look at tomorrow and what it brings. I am open to change, even the way I work and the way I think. I am very fortunate to work in a changing university or academic library, which was able to benefit from the changing set of skills that I have, my love for interfaith dialogue, my love for exhibitions, arts and programs and my love for cultural diversity. They always look at the skills that I have, and the skills of my colleagues, and how it can be employed and how it helps in the profession and in the institution itself and that is something that makes me happy and excited.
- What’s a professional development tip or advice that you’d like to share with others, particularly those who are new and/or would like to be involved in library association work?
Essraa: That is a very good question, and because I reflect that on my professional career since the time I graduated from 2002, whether it was in the librarian profession or other professions that I practiced before I became a librarian. “Create the opportunity for yourself” Some people are always waiting to give them the opportunity, or work, or support them in attending a conference, or invite them to speak at a conference. Applying this to my life and the professional development opportunities that I got over the last ten or fifteen years, many times it was opportunities I created for myself. In the sense I visit various conferences’ websites, or the institutions that we talked about during this meeting, and find the opportunity, apply for grants, search for the person responsible for the grant, and don’t be afraid to ask if there is funding or not.
The worst-case scenario is not attending in person, and attending conferences and seminars virtually. The idea of creating opportunities has become much easier than before. I always say that I should not wait for people to attend a conference, or wait and do nothing because there is no funding, because the library cannot support us. Sometimes I hear this in America, and I hear complaints from my colleagues in the Middle East from Egypt or outside. I always mention that it is not a requirement that you go in person, you can attend virtually, if you like to attend virtually, there are multiple opportunities such as funding for fresh graduates or newly librarians, from diverse backgrounds, and who speak more than one language.
Create the opportunity, look for it, the opportunities are there, you just have to be present in the right place and at the right time, the issue is not a matter of luck or funding, or the difficulties was overcome, on the contrary many times like IFLA, I wished to attend IFLA, it is a global conference, It wasn’t supported by my organization, as there are many other local conferences my organization could have funded my travel to – but when I created the opportunity for myself, they didn’t mind making time for me to travel, in a nutshell “create the opportunity” reach out to people who are in the field form a long time before you and this is what I did. I thank the mentors whom I have known for years. I met them in the libraries they work in. I took the time to communicate with them over the phone, or I read what they wrote. Any professional in the field of libraries is well-known in the matter of “sharing information” Most of the people who we mentor are those who want to pursue the same profession.
Heba: I completely agree with you on the “create opportunity for yourself” part. The issue is different, especially with the existence of the Internet, and communication with library associations and institutions such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, the American Library Association, and the Arab Federation for Libraries and Information. There are opportunities other than the past, available for librarians to obtain a scholarship, or a grant to attend the conference or to attend training courses offered by the various library associations.
- If you didn’t work in libraries, what profession other than librarianship would you have wanted to attempt?
Essraa: It is a completely different field, which is the nursing field, but perhaps what unites them is the love of people or serving people. In 2003 when I gave birth to my first son in the delivery room, the nurses were really impressive, not only their work ethic and care, but their attention to detail, and their intense love for their profession. They are truly angels on earth. In different circumstances, whether someone got sick or the children I gave birth to, I was treated very well.
From my different friendships here in America and across the world, I got to know people who work in this great profession, which is nursing, and I felt that it is a very difficult profession and not completely easy. I do not think that any hospital or clinic, or anywhere, can function without this great profession. I did not have the honor of trying this profession because it is a different field, and because it needs study.
What I discovered after that is that the nursing profession in America has a wonderful reputation, prestige and respect in American society other than in our Arab societies. That is what attracted me, as it magnifies the role of the male and female nurse, and this is what made me combine the librarianship and nursing professions together as they both share the same status, interest, and education. In order to be a certified nurse you must go through years and years of study and accreditation. All the time I observe the profession and how it is practiced, I told myself, perhaps in another world at another time I can work in this profession, but currently I am in the library profession and this is an honor for me to work in it, but I raise my hat to any nurse I meet anywhere in the world.
- Can you tell us about a recent project, presentation or program that you are working on or an upcoming event that you’ll be “zooming” in and what you might be presenting on?
Essraa: I will mention what I have been interested in for ten years, and the next presentation
I talk about it quickly, beside my work in the librarianship field, which is my work in the interfaith dialogue. I started it from projects at Chapman University when we shed light through books and exhibitions on the different religions that exist in society, such as Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. I got to know different religions that I did not know. I was very interested in the interfaith dialogue, and I had the honor that I managed many sessions through the library. This conversation took on a global nature, and I would like to thank the Egyptian state for supporting this project. We transferred it to Egypt through interfaith dialogue trips that reach Egypt; we met with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II in closed sessions or with many people from American society. This is something I am interested in, not only as an Egyptian but also as an American, and as a person who is very interested in the culture of difference and interreligious dialogue. This project is ongoing, as every week or two there is a session or discussion, or there is a gallery related to this topic.
Concerning the upcoming events, I am excited about it. There is a conference at the university on motherhood, and for the first time I will talk about my story as a working woman, and I have 3 children, whom I raised in a society different from the one in which I personally lived. I was invited by the university, and since I am a librarian, we prepared an exhibition that includes 60 or 70 books on motherhood in all its fields, and what was written about motherhood in an academic way, whether articles in periodicals or books. We tried to gather various authors, how they talked about the idea of the mother and her role. I am so excited to be with a group of scholars who have a good background in this field, and I will have the opportunity to talk about my story, as it can work as an advice to those who have a similar experience, or are younger or have gone through the same experience. I am hoping it will be a good one.
Heba: We were delighted to host Essraa Nawar, the Head of Library Development and Marketing – and the Chair of the Arts, Exhibits and Events Committee at the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University, California
Essraa: I am happy to talk to you today. Thank you, and good luck with the wonderful blog project, and hopefully you are always engaged in different projects that bring together colleagues from the profession from different parts of the world, and I wish all the best and success.
Heba: Thank you very much, Essraa. It was great having you on the podcast project of IFLA CPDWL.