Saturday 21 May 2016

Deciphering my work for future reference...

Before I took my first post overseas, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in a health library in rural PNG. In some ways, i.e. with technological limitations, I was on the right path, but I was mostly wrong. Sure, the position description was accurate, but the way I perceived the duties, as written on paper, differed substantially before than afterwards.

Similarly, after one assignment, when I signed up for my next one, I thought I was much better equipped, having already spent time in PNG. Nope. Despite having had some experience, if anything, these skewed my expectations in the wrong direction.

Vietnam was the same - firstly working for a government agency, and then working with an NGO.

And, again, with my current work in Kosovo, my expectations were completely off, despite having read my Terms of Reference and asked clarifying questions about my duties. I would have been best off leaving any preconceived notions and expectations at the door.

But now I look back at my resume. I've laid out my duties, highlighted my achievements, but I wonder - is anybody working in the "developed" Western world who reads it going to really understand the nature of my work? We can tally everything up, and quantify our achievements, but the reality is that the challenges existing in one workplace / sector / society are going to be vastly different to the next.

And, in many ways, it's not the extent to which we achieve quantifiable results that demonstrates our professional value, but the extent to which we can overcome barriers that impede achievement.

If only there were a succinct way to demonstrate this on a 2-3 page resume...

Friday 6 May 2016

Visiting the Vijećnica

In my recent Balkan travels, I was able to spend a couple of days in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a beautiful city, and when I arrived, it was surrounded by snow-covered hills, and characterised by a blend of Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Yugoslav architecture. Walking around the city, it is still very conscious of its tragic history - to some small extent, with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914, but more prominently with the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995.

One of the most significant buildings in Sarajevo is the Vijećnica (City Hall), built between 1892 and 1894 during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and opened in 1896.

In 1949, it became the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, eventually holding over 1.5 million volumes, with over 700 rare books and manuscripts spanning over five centuries of Bosnian culture.

On 25 August 1992, firebombing of the besieged city resulted in substantial destruction of the library and its collections, as it burned for three days in a seemingly targeted attack, as adjacent buildings remained undamaged.

To me, this is reminiscent of when I first heard of the burning and looting of the Iraq National Library and Archives, and the willful destruction of such priceless cultural heritage collections is deplorable. Report tell of of librarians and volunteers braving sniper fire to form a human chain, rescuing books, whilst under constant sniper fire. Aida Buturovi, one of the National Library's librarians, was killed by a sniper in the process.

Almost 15 years later, with the support from the international community, the building has been rebuilt and refurbished, and is now a national monument. For a small entrance fee, I was able to go inside and have a look around. At present, the space is mostly empty, as the refurbishment has only recently been completed. There was an photographic exhibition showing the state of the building after the bombing, and the work in restoring the building is remarkable.

Some of the interior detail
I look forward to one day revisiting the Vijećnica again, when it returns to its former glory as a functioning city hall and library.

Vijećnica in its restored state