Dr. Paul Sturges discusses "Murder, Sex and Magic"

May 05, 2015

Paul Sturges

SLIS visiting Allen Smith Scholar shares "Unexpected Encounters in Library Science"

This year the School of Library and Information Science was fortunate to have Dr. Paul Sturges as the visiting Allen Smith Scholar, which honors the memory of distinguished teacher and scholar Allen Smith. Scholars are exemplary practitioners, educators, or researchers renowned for their work in reference, oral history, or the study of librarianship and information service in the humanities. Dr. Sturges, Professor Emeritus, Loughborough University, and Professor Extraordinary, University of Pretoria, spent much of his career teaching library and information studies in Africa, and is a leader in global LIS research and practice. He currently travels throughout the world lecturing on Intellectual Freedom, consulting, and researching. He has been awarded numerous positions of note and received the IFLA Medal in 2011.

While at Simmons, Dr. Sturges presented his lecture “Murder, Sex and Magic: Unexpected Encounters in Library Science” and led an interdisciplinary panel discussion with professors from Simmons titled “Inseparable: Library Science and Connections across Disciplines.” Sturges was joined by Professors Cathie Mercier (SLIS), John Lowe (SOM), Michael Berger (CAS, Chemistry), Rebecca Koeniger-Donohue (Nursing), Gary Bailey (SSW), and Catherine Paden (CAS, Political Science). Dr. Sturges held a casual discussion with students and faculty on intellectual freedom in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. He made himself available during his stay to the SLIS community, all while delving further into his current research studies in the area of blasphemy.  

Infolink spoke with Dr. Sturges at length during his visit and will publish these conversations in an ongoing series.

You began work in Africa in the mid 1980s in Botswana, and you describe encountering a culture that did not look to libraries or formal sources (by Western standards) for information. Was this something that you came to realize over time, or something that was quickly apparent? Was there a particular moment of realization or image that sticks in your mind as a memorable emblem of this culture shock?

I was fortunate to arrive in a tiny, yet established, department headed by Richard Neal, who was aware of these differences. When I arrived, he said, “You are going to have to relearn everything you know, and accustom yourself to a different place, to people who are different in how they live and think.” He was certainly right, but I was also ready for a challenge, and internalized this approach quickly.

Botswana in the early 1980s decided they needed librarians, and set up a department to teach a two-year LIS diploma program. In a strange turn of circumstance, once it was established, the head of the department suddenly died. They asked for a temporary one-year appointment from my school in the UK to teach these diploma students. I was 39 at the time. I had been stuck, casting around for purpose in my academic career, so I took my wife and three small kids and hopped on a plane. Botswana was easy compared to other countries in Africa where I would later work. Botswana was calm, well organized. There was certainly rampant poverty, but the government was getting services to those in need.

I was in a place where I could look at what was happening, read what there was to read, and get my students doing projects. I would ask them to investigate, to talk to the community to learn about their information needs and practices. Britain had never done much with Botswana, and around the time of independence in 1966, there were only 25 kilometers of tarred road in a country of considerable size— symbolic of lack of development. But the government under the fabulous leadership of Seretse Khama took this on and said, “we’re going to make this place something.” 

Read the full interview with Paul Sturges at SLIS InfoLink

View Paul Sturges' presentation at Simmons and a panel discussion on the SLIS Media Lab site.