Few would think to go to Portland, Oregon, by way of Cairo, but Joan Petit (MSLS ’06) took precisely that path. After graduating from SILS, Petit followed her enthusiasm for reference and instructional librarianship to the American University in Cairo (AUC), Egypt. Petit says the stability of her work helped her navigate the culture shock of moving her family halfway around the world.
“My job as Instruction and Reference Librarian at AUC was surprisingly similar to the same kind of job at an American academic library,” she says. “It’s amazing how quickly someplace so different can become normal.”
Living and working abroad is an opportunity she jumped at when she saw the job advertised in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "I was always intrigued by the idea of living and working overseas, and I’m glad we didn’t wait for the ‘right time,' which might never have come," says Petit. "It turned out to be a great decision for my career and for my family. Many librarians have contacted me with questions about working abroad, and I encourage anyone interested in international librarianship to pursue it for the long- or short-term."
To help answer librarians' questions, Joan wrote articles about job searching overseas for LISCareer.com, one of which is located here and another here.
Although she lived in Egypt before the regional irruptions of the Arab Spring, Petit feels her experiences there influenced her work as a subject librarian whose specialties include international studies and conflict resolution.
“Living in a primarily Muslim culture taught me so much more about Islam than I would have learned in a class or by reading. I understand Middle Eastern politics in a different way now–my world feels much bigger.”
Petit’s next move, to Portland State University (PSU) Library in Portland, Oregon, came with a new set of cultural differences.
“I was shocked the first time I saw someone interview for a librarian position in something other than a suit – and then I realized it’s the norm out here!”
Petit started as PSU's Humanities and Social Science Librarian. Her interest in the information-seeking behavior of faculty and students led her to scholarly research as an assistant professor. She is especially interested in how students do research – whether history students employ different techniques in searching for primary versus secondary sources, for example – and how they use technology in library buildings.
Petit transitioned to Librarian for History, Black Studies, Judaic Studies and Library Outreach Coordinator in 2013, and she is now the Communications and Outreach Librarian and an associate professor at PSU.
In 2016, she was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program grant to Ethiopia for the 2016-2017 academic year. She and her family left for Ethiopia on September 1, 2016, and will stay through June 2017. She is based in the Information Science Department at Jimma University.
“Jimma University is an ideal host for my project,” Petit said. “Their information sciences program is one of the few in Ethiopia that offers library and information science education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The university is well-established and offers a range of programs serving a large number of students.”
Petit is teaching information science classes, training staff, and working with the Jimma University Library, as well as conducting a research project focusing on open educational resources in Ethiopia. Open educational resources (OER) are course materials authored by faculty and made available online for free for use and adaptation by instructors at other institutions. However, in less economically developed countries, infrastructure limitations can be a barrier to the adaptation and use of OER.
“The city of Jimma is several hours away from the Ethiopian capital and lacks the internet and power infrastructure that follows expats, tourists, and NGOs,” Petit said. “If OER can work well at Jimma, it suggests OER may be a reasonable option for higher education elsewhere in Ethiopia, East Africa, and beyond.”
As her commitment to librarianship have helped her transition to life and work in the U.S. and abroad, the values and skills she learned at SILS have stayed with her.
“The more librarians I meet, the more I appreciate my SILS education,” she says. “While at SILS, I worked with some truly excellent librarians who continue to influence me.”
Courses with professors including Drs. Barbara Moran, Jerry Saye, Deborah Barreau, David Carr and Diane Kelly were particularly meaningful. But just as she encourages current LIS students to adopt an international perspective, she says that having an open mind about courses outside the core requirements can be unexpectedly useful.
“I knew I wanted to work in reference and instruction in an academic library, but I also took some coursework in other areas, particularly with Brian Sturm. I learned as much about teaching and presenting in Storytelling as I did in my core classes.”