In my role as chair of the (North American) Academic Business Library Directors (ABLD) group, I was invited to attend the annual meeting of the European Business School Librarians Group (EBSLG), held at the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University in Russia. Thanks to ABLD funding of the rather expensive airfare, I was able to attend the meeting from June 15-19.
Both ABLD and EBSLG are rather small, informal organizations composed of business school librarians representing the top 50 business schools on each continent. The two organizations have held joint meetings on four occasions, twice in Europe and twice in the United States. The most recent joint meeting, which also included representatives from the Asia-Pacific Business School Librarians Group (APBSLG), was at Stanford Business School in May, 2012.
Several years ago, the two groups established the tradition of having the leader of each group attend the annual meeting of the other group. This practice helps maintain and strengthen the bond between the two groups and helps to facilitate the planning of future joint meetings.
Planning my trip to St. Petersburg was a little more complicated than usual, mainly because I had to obtain a visa to enter Russia. However, I used a private visa agency to expedite the process and that helped a lot. I received my visa in about three weeks. The trip to Russia was a long one, requiring a change of planes in Washington, DC and Frankfurt, Germany. About 20 hours after I left home, I landed in St. Petersburg, eight time zones and 5,000+ miles away.
Mid-June is an ideal time to visit St. Petersburg, because it is the time of the White Nights. During the four days I was there, the sun rose at about 4:30 AM and set at about 11:30 PM, though it never seemed to get completely dark at any time of night. For example, I took this photo at 10:25 PM during our group cruise on the Neva River
The conference began Monday evening, June 16 with a reception and buffet dinner at the Finnish-owned Sokos Hotel next door to the School of Business building. After dinner we went on a late-evening bus tour of the city. We stopped at some of the major sights around the city and got out of the bus for a better view. Our guide, Victoria, gave us a good introduction to the city, its history and some of its famous rulers including the city founder, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, one of Peter’s successors.
Two days of formal meetings began Tuesday morning, June 17. The theme of the conference was “Library Redesign for the Next User Generation.” As the theme suggests, business school librarians in Europe are facing the same kind of challenges we have, i.e., how to reconfigure, redesign and/or repurpose library space in a time when the most important business information resources are online and many business schools are reluctant to devote much space to a traditional library with a substantial print collection. I gave an updated version of my presentation about the story of establishing the Business Information Commons.
We also had presentations from European representatives of business information vendors such as ProQuest, EBSCO and the Financial Times, and from a couple representatives of the library community of Russia. For me the most interesting presentation was by Ms. Irina Lynden, Deputy Director General for International Relations (retired), National Library of Russia. She gave a fascinating and frank overview of the history of libraries in the Soviet Union and Russia from the time of the beginning of the Russian Revolution (1917) to the present day.
The highlight of the conference was the final night when we enjoyed an excellent dinner (thanks to the generosity of the vendors) at the historic Astoria Hotel and a sightseeing cruise on the Neva River. A river cruise is the best way to see the city, because when Peter the Great chose the location for his new capital of Russia in 1703, it was the river and access to the Baltic Sea that determined the location of the city.
In sum, my trip to St. Petersburg was rewarding both professionally and personally. I was impressed with the School of Management and the school’s library and its staff. I loved the city, its sights and its people, all of whom that I encountered were friendly and welcoming to foreign guests. If you have ever wanted to visit this part of the world but not yet done so, then I recommend it highly.
Here are a couple additional photos: