Postcard from Venice: Notes from a Study-Abroad Librarian

By Catherine Shreve

Two gondolas in the water in Venice

In recent years, librarians have taken a cue from news reporters and discussed the value of “embedded librarians” to support academic departments. This summer, I had the unique opportunity to put the concept into practice.

I had the privilege of assisting Professor Ken Rogerson’s new course, “The Art of Politics and the Politics of the Arts.” The four-week program, cross-listed in Public Policy, Political Science, and Visual Studies, attracted 22 students from across the disciplines. Our laboratory for intensive interaction with visual arts, music, and their relationship to politics was a city that famously embodies all three—Venice, Italy.

Librarians don’t typically go along on study-abroad programs. According to Paul Paparella of Duke Global Education, I was the first Duke librarian to do so. But to Ken, it seemed like a natural outcome of our years of collaboration on library instruction and new technology for teaching Public Policy undergraduates. So when he suggested the idea, I naturally said yes!

Professor Ken Rogerson

My role as program assistant started months before we arrived in Venice. As Ken developed the syllabus, I helped him find reading materials and classroom presentation aids. Duke’s art librarian, Lee Sorensen, recommended the ARTSTOR database that proved to be a wonderful foundation for our art slides. With ARTSTOR we could search for works by specific painters, organize them, and download them into PowerPoint groups, such as all the Tintorettos students might see when we visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Ken, a classical musician, identified the musical pieces he wanted to use and downloaded them to his iPod, which we could play on my portable speaker.

As Ken built the online course website, I created a library guide to go with it, and adapted links to Duke library resources so we could draw on them seamlessly from halfway around the world. Ken also created a Facebook page that the whole class used to share pictures and information, organize travel, and stay connected.

Students in Venice

In May, we all gathered at Venice International University, our home base on the beautiful island of San Servolo. Once there, my role evolved into an all-in-one librarian/teaching assistant/research assistant/technology support liaison. I helped set up Internet connections, troubleshot electronic access to Duke library resources, and even used my MacBook to translate Mac-written papers into a format usable on the office PC.

Each afternoon, Ken kept me busy hunting down examples that sprang from our discussion of class material. It was like a treasure hunt as I used both library and free resources to locate video and audio clips, pictures, lists, and websites for the next day’s class, showing everything from La Fenice opera house in the 1800s to the Bugs Bunny Rabbit of Seville cartoon. With these examples we built bridges from the familiar to the historical, generating group exercises and class discussion.

Although I was inexperienced at grading papers, my library background with citing sources informed my feedback to the students, and I was gratified to see them subsequently moving beyond Google for their research. I relished creating my unique role in the program, using my professional skills, life experience (and sometimes, I admit, maternal instincts) to assist this course. It was a joy to witness our students’ progress, through their papers and their increasingly informed contributions to class discussion. Informal chats with them outside of class confirmed my impressions of the program’s impact.

Back at the library this fall, I love running into “my” students, and I look forward to our reunion dinner. Some greet me with a hug and “Ciao!” Then we get to work finding sources for their next papers.

Catherine Shreve is the Librarian for Public Policy & Political Science

Catherine’s Reading List

Is a trip to Venice on your itinerary? Here are some of Catherine’s suggested leisure reading picks to get you inspired.

  • Joseph Brodsky, Watermark (1992)
  • Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (2004)
  • Lauren Corona, The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice (2008)
  • John Berendt, The City of Falling Angels (2005)

Find Out More

Catherine Shreve

Check out Catherine’s online library guide for “The Art of Politics and the Politics of the Arts”:

More Library Resources for Study Abroad Students:

2 thoughts on “Postcard from Venice: Notes from a Study-Abroad Librarian”

  1. I love it! I will be forwarding to our daughter Christine (a library services student at IUPUI). I am happy to be your cousin! I throughly enjoyed your pictures of your trip. The perspective was so much better than most tourists can provide.

  2. What a wonderful description of faculty/librarian collaboration, and what a rich experience this must have been for everyone involved!

Comments are closed.