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Finding Inspiration
by Richard Sapon-White, Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services
eveled during World War II by the Nazis as well
as psychologically and politically controlled by the
Soviets during the communist era, the beautiful city
of Warsaw has risen from its ashes to once again become the
cultural jewel in the heart of Poland. During the 2012–2013
academic year, I was privileged to call that great city home
while on sabbatical from my regu-
lar position as head of Cataloging
and Metadata Services at the OSU
Arriving in September 2012, my
wife, Sarah, and I looked forward
to our ten-month adventure in
Warsaw. Supported by a Fulbright
Award, I planned to teach library
science courses at the Institute of
Information Science and Book
Studies at the University of Warsaw.
The transition to living in
Poland was eased considerably by
Michał Zajac, vice director of the
institute, who acted as our “shep-
herd.” Michał arranged temporary
accommodations when we arrived,
translated and negotiated with the
landlord when we found our apart-
ment, and generally kept a watchful
eye on us. Shortly after settling in,
we were whisked away to the his-
toric town of Torun, birthplace of
Copernicus, for orientation by the
Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission.
We heard presentations by university professors on Polish
history and literature and were treated to a week of Polish
language classes.
Over the course of the year, I taught two lecture classes
and two seminars at the institute on electronic books, sub-
ject analysis, metadata, and
Resource Description and Access
the new cataloging code which OSU will be implementing.
The students were bright and spoke English quite well. At
the end of each term, I received not only good evaluations
from my students, but also gifts. While the Polish custom
is to give flowers to your teachers at the end of classes, my
students gave me books on Poland, Polish chocolate (which
is excellent!) and a personalized mug. One of the books was
particularly thoughtful: a compilation of historic postcards
from Kalisz, the city from which my family emigrated to the
U.S. in the 1850s.
In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I also had the
opportunity to present papers at conferences in Łódz and
Warsaw as well as delivering talks to librarians in Warsaw
and Kielce, Poland, and in Prague, Czech Republic (where
I had had my previous sabbatical in 2005). Most of these
presentations focused on recent achievements of the OSU
Libraries, including digitization projects, promotion of open
access on campus, and incorporating e-books into our routine
Warsaw is a cosmopolitan city
with many cultural opportunities.
In our spare time, we enjoyed visit-
ing art museums, the Warsaw Zoo,
movies (American ones, subtitled
in Polish), and taking classes. Sarah
and I wanted to immerse ourselves
in the Polish experience and so we
took Polish lessons with a tutor.
While nowhere near fluent, I did
master requesting items in stores
and asking for directions. I admit
I did not always understand the
replies! We were also active in
one of the synagogues in Warsaw,
taking classes in modern Hebrew,
Talmud, and Israeli dancing. My
wife taught a class as well, train-
ing congregants to chant from the
Torah scroll used during services.
Before arriving in Warsaw, Sarah
and I had been concerned about
our vegan diet since the traditional
Polish fare is so meat-centered, but
we really had very little to worry
about. The neighborhood grocery store sold tofu, soy milk,
and other soy products; a nearby vegetarian restaurant had
a menu with many vegan dishes. I especially fell in love with
pierogis, dinner pastries prepared with a variety of stuffing
types, my favorite being cabbage and mushrooms.
Traveling abroad provides a break from old routines and
the chance to see the world from a different perspective. My
time in Warsaw was just such a break, one where I could grow
and learn professionally. I am now back at OSU renewed
and refreshed, ready for the challenges awaiting the OSU
Libraries and able to infuse my work with fresh ideas and a
new viewpoint.
Richard Sapon-White visits the street where his great great
grandfather was born in 1809.
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