Saturday, January 27, 2007

#101 Oh The Places We Went

The February issue of Urban Times just hit my doorstep.

What? You don’t get Urban Times: The Downtown Lowdown on Indy’s Historic Neighborhoods where you live? For all you folks outside the Urban Times delivery area, here’s what you’d find on page 34...

Yours in review,

Oh The Places We Went By Mary Johnston It all started in 2003 when Lockerbie resident Dick Fredland returned from his voyage on the floating university called Semester at Sea (S@S) and said, “Mary, there’s a library on that ship.” I couldn’t get to the post office fast enough to submit my librarian application. Three years later my phone rang. Spending 100 days visiting ten ports around the world was just too much of an opportunity to pass up. So, I left my job at the Indiana State Library to serve as one of two librarians on the fall 2006 voyage around the globe.

Our ship, the MV Explorer, served as classroom, student union, athletic facilities, and dormitories for 550 students representing universities from all over the US – including 7 students from Indiana University. The 50 faculty and staff were from all over the world – including 1 from Indiana: me!
0188f Explorer
To earn University of Virginia (UVa) credit, students attended classes held while the ship was at sea (roughly 50 days) and field programs while in each port (roughly 50 days.) Lucky for me, the library schedule matched the class schedule – open while at sea and closed while in port – allowing my husband Kelly and me the opportunity to explore Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Egypt, Turkey, Croatia and Spain. Did I mention that I was being paid for this?

I had the best job on the ship – the assistant librarian. Erika Day, a UVa librarian, and I managed the 10,000-volume shipboard library, providing reference service for faculty, students and staff. Since the management of the S@S program recently moved from the University of Pittsburgh to UVa, Erika and I tackled a big project to support that transition in the library. In addition to the constant circulation and reference responsibilities, we inventoried the collection and labeled every item with a UVa barcode. Because of our project, future S@S faculty will know what resources are available in the ship’s library through the online UVa catalog before they set foot on the ship.

Kelly loved his experience and claims he had the best job on the ship – attending class, meeting fascinating people, watching out for pirates, competing on the Sea’Lympics volleyball team, helping out in the library, and adopting 6 daughters. (Be sure to ask him about that last one the next time you run into him in the aisle at O’Malia’s!)

We worked hard every day at sea and we traveled hard every day in port. In each country, I tracked down a local public library, navigated the library catalog, and hunted for a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go. Even though this book has been translated into a dozen languages, I wasn’t very successful. And in some countries, I wasn’t even successful in finding a public library!

Kelly and I have traveled all over the US – visiting all 50 states together – but this was our first time for any significant international travel and we welcomed it all. Whether it was sad, poverty-filled, and disease-ridden or whether it was inspirational, illuminating, and welcoming, it all came together to form an experience we’ll be talking about for a long time to come. I still wonder at my good fortune that allowed for all events to come together for us to have this experience.

Not only do I have Dick to thank, but it was another Indianapolis resident who came up with the idea for an academic voyage in the first place. None other than James O. Woodruff, designer of Woodruff Place, made the first attempt to take a group of college students around the world by ship for the purpose of study and scientific investigation. Even though the Woodruff voyage planned for 1877 never took place, the concept was born and the 92nd sailing of Semester at Sea traveled from San Diego the long way around to Fort Lauderdale with Kelly and me on board.
0748f Js on the bridge
During the voyage, we documented our experiences on our travel web site. With photos and stories, we tried to describe our adventures for the folks back home and for ourselves. You’ll find a complete list of our favorites on the web site, but here are a few samples.
  • Favorite purchased memento: watch from Hong Kong night market
  • Favorite gift memento: (tie) homemade bracelet from a faculty member and a sound recording of one of our library assistants
  • Best weather moment: escaping from typhoon Shanshan on the MV Explorer, the fastest passenger ship in the world
  • Best quote from Kelly: I don’t like being separated from you when there’s a lifeboat situation.

We returned home in mid-December with an appreciation for all that we have and an appreciation for those local folks who made it possible for us to go. Thanks to Dick Fredland, to James Woodruff, and to our Lockerbie neighbors for looking after our place while we were away. We couldn’t have done it without any of you.

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