What have the Romans ever done for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us? Amongst many other things, provided the opportunity for me to participate in an Erasmus+ Staff Mobility Week for libraries and learning centres at Sapienza – Università di Roma in June 2018.

The theme of the week was Libraries ⇆ Research, comprising two interconnected strands: what libraries do to support research and how libraries do research, with each attendee contributing to the programme. As well as a series of presentations, the programme for the week afforded plenty of opportunities for sharing experiences with colleagues from institutions across Europe, with participants from Slovenia, Romania, Lithuania, Sweden, Portugal, Germany and France among them.

As well as interacting with European academic library colleagues the Erasmus+ week organisers also provided opportunities for us to experience a variety of different venues across the city, reflecting the expansion of Sapienza as it continues to grow beyond its extensive purpose built campus in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. Founded as the Studium Urbis in 1303, the university moved to larger premises in downtown Rome in 1660 (now the church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza) before finally relocating to its present site in 1935. Designed by Marcello PIacentini, the campus footprint is apparently based upon the Vitruvian Man, with the imposing Rectorate Building at the ‘head’.

The university has a student population of c.112,500, with 3,500 academic staff and over 55 libraries, the majority serving specific faculties and departments, co-ordinated centrally by the ‘Sapienza Library System’, whilst maintaining some degree of autonomy. Over five days we heard about the various initiatives and services offered by the Library System and discussed common challenges around data curation and digitisation workflows, increasing engagement with institutional repositories, open journal systems and promoting widening access to important archival material.

The added benefit of a week like this is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of another university. Highlights included an evening concert specially organised for us by Coro Musa, a choir comprising staff and students from the university; a visit to the beautiful garden of the Japanese Cultural Institute in Rome; a relaxing group dinner in a local family-run trattoria in San Lorenzo; and a visit – in our morning coffee break – to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (just a few metres away from the Faculty of Engineering Building) to see Michelangelo’s majestic, though slightly grumpy looking, Moses.  The Faculty of Engineering is actually only a few minutes’ walk away from the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and a free afternoon scheduled for the same day enabled me to spend a fascinating few hours (in the sweltering heat) trying to make sense of it all, much aided by Matthew Nicholls’ excellent Virtual Rome Open Online Course.

I have really valued the opportunity to participate in this programme through Erasmus+ scheme funding, and the support provided by both the host institution and the Study Abroad Office at Reading made the practicalities of attending this event very easy to arrange. The week long programme provided me with greater insight into the collaborative partnerships and innovations being developed at other HEIs across Europe, as well as the reassurance that, in many areas, we are all offering similar services and support for researchers to meet current and future needs. There was also a collective recognition that we are also facing many common challenges. In general, library professionals have a willingness to openly share good practice and innovation and my week spent at Sapienza demonstrated this without exception. I now intend to follow up on some of the contacts I have made, to continue these fruitful discussions, share best practice and, in partnership with my European colleagues, collaborate further on developing mutually beneficial resources and the sharing of local initiatives in support of research at our respective institutions.

Kerry Webb

Associate Director (Academic Liaison & Support), University of Reading Library

 

Winter is Cold

Melbourne in winter is cold. But if you stand in the intense sunlight, it’s not too bad by my English standards. It hasn’t stopped me, and a group of other exchange students I met, from visiting the beach to enjoy bright vistas, or visiting the zoo to see the kangaroos and koalas first-hand. In fact, our first few weeks here have been very busy, with all of the orientation activities that Monash University planned for us. These included not only information sessions about the university, but also an array of social events.

The nights do feel like winter, with many establishments celebrating ‘Christmas in July’, and in fact the Queen Victoria markets, which we visited in orientation, were putting on an attempt at a Christmas market. It was very festive and cosy and even though it was winter and under a shelter, the Australians were not deterred from barbequing, so it did get a bit smoky! Monash is also in on this BBQ culture, and seems to have one every week on campus, if you are part of one of their many societies.

I have so far tried out the badminton society, which is extremely friendly and enjoyable, and will be joining the ultimate frisbee society next week. I have been told that the frisbee society is especially social, with regular BBQs, hikes and camping trips, so I am looking forward to it. There is also an outdoors society for this kind of thing, which I am hoping will help in my mission to see as much of Australia as I can before my exchange comes to an end. So far, it is going well, but I intend to make plans soon for wider travels. Australia is a big country!

So far I have been very lucky with my travels, as my family has been able to show me around and recommend some places. My cousin has even taken me to see some of Melbourne’s best street art, and Melbourne is a very artistic place. It is also very laid-back and friendly; everyone really is your ‘mate’. I think I will like it here.

MADA, or Monash Art, Design and Architecture, runs quite differently to the art department in Reading. You can choose elective units from anywhere in the department, if you’re an art student like I am, or from anywhere in the university, if you’re from a different Reading department, I believe. This allows us to be exposed to a range of different skills! I am learning about photography, illustration, coding, and film. So I will have no problem filling my time with assignments, as well as with all of the travelling I intend to do. Time is going by so quickly!

Time flies when you’re Down Under

When I received the news that I would be fortunate to have a term abroad in Melbourne, Australia, I was ecstatic! However, I immediately had the concern of funding as I was aware of how expensive Australia is. Luckily, Reading University’s study abroad term informed me of the various bursaries that were available to me. When researching the various bursaries, the AFSA bursary stood out and after my applying I was granted the bursary, which I am so grateful for as it extended the amount of opportunities available.

The six months which I spent in Australia were incredible a once in a lifetime experience. However, even though before leaving England I had my philosophy modules pre-approved- when I was finalising them at La Trobe, only one philosophy module was running! This meant that I had to find two new modules. Although this was a hassle at the time, one of the modules I chose was ‘Feminism’, which ended up being based around philosophy and also helped me decide on my topic for my ‘Independent Learning Essay’, which I will have to complete in my final year at Reading. Moreover, I studied a module which opened my eyes to the history and discrimination of Aboriginals in Australia, which I found extremely interesting. At Reading, I am used to taking three modules per term, whereas at La Trobe, I had to take four which at first was a struggle, however, it taught me how to balance my time better so I could still get good grades, but also make the most of my time exploring Australia.

 

Due to my time management becoming stronger, I had many opportunities to travel around Australia and see the most of this beautiful country. The date of my flight gave me exactly a month of free time before heading home. In this time I travelled up the East Coast, starting in Sydney and ending in Cairns. Due to it being winter, the further north, the warmer it got. Melbourne got extremely cold (it reached -1 degrees at night), proving the popular belief that Australia is always hot, false. Thus, I was following the sun North! This was the perfect trip as I had just completed four large final pieces of coursework for La Trobe, so it was a well deserved relaxing holiday.

My time in Australia was unforgettable. In just six months, I learnt how to surf, held a Koala, tried various new foods and explored the East, West and South of Australia. From this experience, I have become more confident and open to new opportunities. I have made so many new friends all around the world, providing me with connections in New York, Sweden, Norway and of course, Australia.

I would recommend studying abroad to anyone, but I would thoroughly research each individual university on offer to make sure they were the best for my degree. Although six months away may seem daunting, I am a very family orientated person but the time flew by and I was never homesick as I was constantly busy, surrounded my amazing people. Enjoy every minute of it, because once you’re home, it feels as if you never left.