Montana State University

From Bozeman to Bahrain: MSU librarian travels to Middle East on a Fulbright Award

October 1, 2008 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service

Elaine Peterson, fourth from left, gathers with some of the women with whom she worked in Bahrain. Photo courtesy of Elaine Peterson.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Before Elaine Peterson left Bozeman for a month-long trip to Bahrain, she vowed she wouldn't bring up political or religious matters with the people she met. But once there, she quickly learned that the Bahraini people with whom she worked wanted to discuss the very issues she sought to avoid.

Peterson, an associate professor and information resources specialist at Montana State University's Renne Library, was in the country for just more than a month this summer through the Fulbright Senior Specialists award program to work with staff members at a new national library.

"I was a guest, I was just the trainer," Peterson said. "I was not going to talk about religion and politics. But I wasn't at the library for more than two or three days when one of the staff asked me, 'what did you think of us before you came here?' One of them said, 'did you think we were all terrorists?'"

"Now the people I was working with were all women," Peterson added, smiling. "But it was a sincere question. They really wondered if I thought they were all terrorists."

The group ended up having a wonderful discussion because of the question, Peterson said.

"I said no, and that opened up a conversation about our countries and our perceptions."

What's more, the conversations continued throughout her stay.

"They really did want to know what I thought," Peterson said. "So that was good."

Peterson's Fulbright award was designated to help develop a new national library located in Manama, Bahrain's capital city. The library is just one part of the Isa Royal Cultural Center, a multi-purpose building housing the national library, a conference center and museum. Peterson was the first of four American Fulbright award-winners who will ultimately assist with the set-up of the new library.

Peterson spent the bulk of her time training five of the workers at the National Library. One day a week, she also drove to the University of Bahrain, located just south of Manama in Riffa, to put on workshops that addressed specific library skills to a group of eight university librarians.

Peterson said she also had ample time to get out and explore the country.

"I went all over," she said, noting that among the places she visited were numerous archaeological sites, a mosque and a wildlife preserve.

Peterson learned a few phrases in Arabic during her time in the country, but she said she mostly spoke to people in English.

"People would want to talk to me so they could practice English," she said. She noted that the people she met and worked with were also eager to discuss American politics.

"They were very interested in the McCain-Obama race," she said.

Though she had been to Europe multiple times, Peterson said this was her first visit to the Middle East.

Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands in the Persian Gulf, situated between the east coast of Saudi Arabia and the Qatar peninsula. Bahrain, meaning "two seas" in Arabic, is the largest island of the archipelago.

She had a wonderful time in the country, she said, and was sad to leave.

"I was in tears," she said. "I was very emotional. I really enjoyed the people I worked with."

"I've been back a month now, and I'm still excited about my time there," Peterson said, adding that through e-mail, she has kept in touch with the friends she made while there.

She thinks the time she spent in Bahrain will ultimately benefit MSU, too.

"After being there, I think about different ways we might approach things," she said.
"Not only training, but things for the library. You always learn things when you're training. It gives you a fresh perspective."

Peterson earned a Master of Arts degree in library science from the University of Michigan in 1981. She has been at MSU since 1989, where she works in collection development and cataloging, selecting and organizing materials.

The Fulbright Program, which the U.S. Congress established in 1946, awarded approximately 6,000 grants in 2007, at a cost of more than $262 million. U.S. students, teachers, professionals and scholars have studied, taught and conducted research through the Fulbright Program in more than 155 countries.

For related articles, see:

"MSU librarian receives Fulbright to help set up new national library in Bahrain," June 25, 2008 http:/

"MSU student receives Fulbright to teach in Germany," June 5, 2008

"MSU student receives Fulbright for Indonesian research," May 27, 2008

"MSU professor to teach mechanical engineering in Bangladesh," May 7, 2008

"Statistics professor receives Fulbright to teach in Thailand," April 9, 2008

"MSU filmmaking students win Fulbright scholarships," Oct. 29, 2007

"Fulbright will allow MSU researcher to compare German, Montana forests," May 23, 2007

Elaine Peterson, (406) 994-5311 or