Manassas Journal Messenger | Librarian gets chance to exchange cultures

A Manassas resident recently had a real Dutch treat.

Sherrill Wharff returned from an overseas trip that combined business with pleasure.

A long-time librarian at the Manassas Campus of Northern Virginia Community, Wharff spent two weeks this summer in the Netherlands through a professional development exchange program that pairs educators in Virginia with their counterparts in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Wharff’s exchange partner, Corinne Dobken, spent some time last October at the Manassas campus.

As might be expected, Wharff’s first priority was to tour several branches of the “bibliotheek” to learn about the Dutch library system.

“I visited a small, local library at Spijkenisse, the large, busy main library in Rotterdam, and the national library in The Hague,” Wharff said. ‘There are about 1,150 public libraries and 90 mobile libraries that served a multicultural population of more than 15 million people in the Netherlands.”

One difference between Dutch and U.S. libraries is user fees. Children under the age of 16 are largely exempt from fees but adults pay 9 to 40 euros, the equivalent of $10-45, in annual user fees, and there are additional fees to check out individual items.

“On a more positive note, libraries in the Netherlands cooperate in many ways, including inter-library lending, training, advice, transport and research,” Wharff said. “The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries provides central services and support for all aspects of library work, including weekly reviews of new books and media, and supplies the media with bibliographic data and promotional materials.”

Wharff also toured a number of Regional Training Centers, institutions that provide technical and vocational education to students 16 years and older, as well as general adult education and work force development services.

“Since my exchange partner, Corinne, works in health care services at ROC-Zadkine, I visited that facility several times,” Wharff said. “It surprised me that all the students in the health services program were required to take a studio art class. While I was there, the student projects were on display in the hallways. Apparently, artistic self-expression is valued in the health professions.”

Another place Wharff was happy to spend time was the Zadkine culinair (culinary schools), where she enjoyed two meals.

“Students provide all the help from cooking to serving. By the time they are assigned the task of serving meals, the students are near the end of their multi-year studies,” Wharff explained. “The restaurants, which are open to the public, are very popular and reservations are a must. The meals were equivalent to good restaurant meals in the Washington area.”

Since Wharff loves art, she naturally explored several museums to see the Dutch masters.

“In Rotterdam, at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, I studied ‘The Tower of Babel’ by Pieter Brughel and ‘Titus at His Desk’ by Rembrandt. Although I had seen her at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., I had to view the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer once again at the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague.

“In Amsterdam, my museum card got me into the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of modern art,” said Wharff.

“My passion for art also took me to Rembrandt’s house where he worked and taught from 1639 until 1660. One afternoon I made a pilgrimage from Amsterdam to Haarlem to visit the Frans Hals Museum.”

Other highlights for Wharff included a journey to the De Porceleyne Fles factory that has been making the famous blue and white Delft pottery since 1652 and a visit to an ancient windmill at Kinderdijk.

Was the trip everything Wharff expected?

“Although it was only two weeks long, the exchange reminded me of the two years I spent in the Peace Corps,” Wharff said.

“I was able to meet international colleagues, be entertained by a host family, and explore a foreign country. Both Corinne and I highly recommend the program to other faculty members and are grateful to our educational institutions for their support.”

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