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ILS Innovators: Courtney Greene McDonald, Head of Discovery and Research Services at the Wells Library

2016-06-07
Courtney Greene McDonald

When Courtney Greene McDonald traveled to the United Arab Emirates in November to attend the Sharjah International Book Fair and the accompanying American Library Association conference, she never expected to feel so close to home.

Greene McDonald, the head of discovery and research services at the Wells Library, was invited to the ALA conference to give a talk about mobile services in libraries and presenting them in a context of a complete user experience. Along with a few colleagues, Greene McDonald published a book about the subject in 2010, and when attendees of the ALA conference at the book fair in 2014 were surveyed about future subjects they would like to see covered, there was a lot of interest in mobile services for libraries.

“That’s how they were referred to me,” she says. “I basically explored questions about how people can take their existing library services and ideas they have for new services, and translate them into an effective mobile experience while also fitting them into a larger user experience strategy.”

Her husband, Robert H. McDonald, who is associate dean for library technologies at IU Bloomington, also presented a talk on trends in collection, publication, preservation, and access for academic libraries and Big Data. But they were far from the only people representing IU in Sharjah.

The keynote speaker was Jim Neal, the university librarian emeritus at Columbia University and a former Dean of University Libraries at IU. Another IU alum, Christine Furno (MLS, MIS ’02), served as an impromptu host considering she is the reference and instruction librarian at the American University of Sharjah.

“I received a nice note from Christine, and it was great to connect with some IU alums while I was there,” Greene McDonald said. “There were all these Bloomington people there. I took our alums some IU-themed items on behalf of ILS, and they were really happy to have them. It was an amazing small-world feel. We were 8,000 miles away from home—it’s a 14- to 16-hour flight—and there you are with people who are from IU and have all these Bloomington connections.”

Greene McDonald, who is a former president of the then-School of Library and Information Science alumni board, was struck by the contrasts in the UAE. Seven emirates make up the country, and although they are sovereign entities, traveling from one to another is akin to moving from state to state in the U.S. She and her group traveled between Sharjah and Dubai, and she saw first-hand some of the challenges presented to both the world and researchers going forward.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is what globalization looks like,’ ” Greene McDonald said. “You’re in this place, and you definitely have a feel of being in the UAE. But there’s also all these pieces from other parts of the world, such as Starbucks or Payless Shoes. It was really fascinating to be someplace that is really engaging with the question of bringing your values and traditions forward while integrating and embracing globalization. Sometimes you feel like you have to do one or the other, but they’re not doing that.”

The entire adventure of being in the UAE came with a distinct IU feel.

For instance, while visiting, she caught up with Furno and IU alum Meggan Houlihan (MLS ’09), who is currently working at NYU Abu Dhabi.

“They also had friends who were ex-pats who are IU alums in different industries,” Greene McDonald said. “We were looking at the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world and feels a million miles away from home, but practically everyone we were with was from Bloomington.”

The trip ultimately helped stretch IU’s influence into the UAE thanks to the talks, and Greene McDonald was thrilled to have the experience.

“It was really great to be a part of it,” Greene McDonald. “It was a really great experience to travel to such a far-flung place like that, and it was really cool to encounter some IU alums who were there as well. Travel is so wonderful, and gives you insight into new ways of thinking about things.”

Also see other stories in the ILS Innovators Newsletter.

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