Kenneth Kozel is a librarian who has taken his skills and kept his sense of adventure on a global scale as a school librarian for a few different international schools. I hope you find his story as inspiring as I do, and remember, always be on the lookout for your next adventure. It’s what keeps this wonderful life interesting.
What was your inspiration for moving into this field of librarianship?
I came across international librarianship completely by chance. I was working as a public library director in a small rural town and had always dreamed of a life abroad, but never thought it would become a reality. A post came across a group email list that I subscribed to looking for a secondary school librarian for a school in the Middle East. I wanted more out of life, so I applied, and the rest is history.
Moving overseas is a big step, but you’ve done this three times now. How do you approach each move and adjust to your new life?
I find that a good attitude, kindness, a sense of adventure, flexibility, and most importantly, a sense of humor are vital in moving and working abroad. Being patient and polite will help you in any setting. I do my research ahead of time on the school, city, country, and culture. I try to make friends online via social apps, create networks ahead of time, and even collaborate with local librarians in the new city before heading over to my new job.
What are patrons in international school libraries looking for?
When I was a public librarian, I always said, “One must be everything, to everyone, all the time.” That still rings true for all librarians and especially school media specialists. Your patrons consist of your students, their parents, extended families, teachers, administrators, heads of departments, and colleagues. I find each school community slightly different in their wants and needs. You must first assess the community, be willing to experiment and try new things, and like most jobs, just always try and do your best. It is important to recognize and celebrate the host country and all languages spoken and make sure there is a student presence. Learning hubs should be fun, flexible, engaging, and inspiring.
Give me one good story about your experience working in international school libraries.
I had a wonderful student in China who would only read nonfiction books. This student was extremely intelligent, but did not comprehend the need for fiction or pleasure reading. He was a real challenge, but I won him over with Jeff Kinney, Roald Dahl, graphic novels, and series books. By the end of the term, he was reading fiction and loving reading just for the joy of it. That’s the reason I do this kind of work.
Open Source Goddess
Technology is integrated into everything that we do these days, and the need to keep up with the times is more important than ever, especially for libraries. So what are they doing? They’re turning to people such as Cindy Murdock Ames. Her insane depth of knowledge about technology combined with a commitment to communities through library service are bringing technology to libraries, and in the process, reshaping people’s lives on a daily basis.
You’re a big fan of all things open source, and your system, the Crawford County Federated Library System (CCFLS), runs Koha, an open source ILS. How did you come across open source, and why did you decide to go all in with it?
The first open source project I implemented myself, in 1999, was replacing all of the Windows 95-based public computers at Meadville Public Library (MPL) with Linux-based thin clients using software from the Linux Terminal Server Project. We used thin clients at MPL from then until this year, when I finally decided it was time to decommission the thin clients in favor of using the puppet platform we use everywhere else for public computers.
Our adoption of open source was gradual, but we realized it was so versatile that once we had a few projects in place, we could easily find many more uses for it. Our IT budget is not large, and by using free software, we found that we could afford to buy more hardware. We decided that rather than spending large amounts of money on software, we would invest in staffers who could implement a variety of solutions with open source software. By the time we started seriously considering migrating to Koha, we had already implemented a lot of open source software in our libraries, so it was a logical fit.
What are some words of advice you have for librarians who want to go the open source route?
I’d say, don’t be afraid to experiment. There are many inexpensive ways you can try out open source without much commitment. You can start small—you don’t have to commit to switching everything to open source software; you can provide Firefox and LibreOffice on your public computers, for example. If you want to test the waters with Linux, you can install it on an old computer or even in a virtual machine on your current desktop computer with virtualization software such as VirtualBox. If you want to try out setting up a remote server, you can rent a DigitalOcean one for about $5 a month. You can try adding Raspberry Pi-based digital signage to your library. Also, if you do want to try out an open source ILS, you can do a test install on your own for free. Koha has a large community surrounding it where you can readily find help, plus there are also consultants and companies that do provide support if you want to purchase it. It’s not as if you have to forego commercial support if you want to go the open source route.