|James Henri 1952-2018|
Yesterday we lost a giant in the Teacher Librarian field, a man who mentored and championed so many Teacher Librarians across the world. James Henri was a huge influence in my professional life and who opened so many doors and opportunities to and for me. This post will be about how James affected me.
I first met James as one of my teachers in the Distance Education Masters of Applied Science (TL) course I started in 1998 through Charles Sturt University. If my memory serves me correctly, he was the director of the course and was steering it in the direction to be a leader in the field. I was guided under his tutelage along with Lyn Hay, Linda Langford and others I cannot remember the names of. I was based in Hong Kong at the time and it was early days of distance learning - the internet had not been widely rolled out yet, assignments had to be posted by snail mail and communication was tough. By the time I finished in 2002, the internet was running hot, email was the new norm, online platforms were being developed and MOOs were the new big thing and, the course reflected this.
He and I had numerous online discussions about course expectations and he dealt with my complaints and rants about too much work with grace and compassion, and was always open to feedback on how the course could be improved. I met him in person when he visited Hong Kong as a visiting consultant for Hong Kong University. I met him at South Island School where a librarian called Sheila worked. I was in awe, but as always, he was humble, graceful and always open to learning something new. We had lunch in a very local cafe and great conversation about his life and how he came to do what he was doing. He often visited Hong Kong after that and we caught up many times.
|Dinner with James on one of the many times he passed through HK|
About the same time of my graduation in 2002, James accepted a job at Hong Kong University to build a similar programme for teacher Librarians in Hong Kong, and he moved to the same country I was based in. He quickly reached out to connect to people he knew and we had a few lunches and dinners planning and plotting. James had had some influence with the HK Department of Education, and persuaded them that every school should have a teacher librarian, as a byproduct of this, he encouraged and offered me opportunities to work with the HK Education Department in facilitating short (3 hour) courses for training these new Teacher Librarians.
Over dinner in Lan Kwai Fong one evening in 2002 James brought up the topic of the IASL conference being held in Malaysia and asked if I had thought about presenting. I mentioned that I didn’t really think I had too much to offer as I had only just finished the Masters programme and really was just a beginner. He was very patient with me and suggested that I had much to offer, and we came up with “Short Cut cataloguing for Busy School Liibrarians” It was an interesting experience as I had planned for the workshop to be interactive and online, however, I had made the assumption that the internet would be available for the participants at the conference in Malaysia. It was not. It was my first foray into presenting at conferences, and it was baptism by fire with having to think on my feet. It was also the first conference I had ever attended as a Teacher Librarian. I attended with my colleague Andrea Walker, we had both been funded by our school to attend and came back with so many ideas and after attending a session by Dr. Blanche Woolls on how to write proposals, we wrote one and it was accepted. This conference was where I had first met Ross Todd, Lyn Hay, Suzette Boyd and Linda Langford in person and we went on a shopping trip to a mall in Kuala Lumpur. I remember James saying to me that even when you are at the top of your game, there is a responsibility to not rest on your laurels and to help to build others and that conferences are not just about what you can get out of them, but what you can contribute. It was a life changing comment for me and a phrase he lived by.
The HK EDB short courses quickly developed into a post graduate full course with credentials through the Hong Kong University School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPACE), he needed staff and I was one he asked along with Betty Chu, Fanny Chan, Angel Leung, all HK Teacher Librarian superstars. Others were invited into the fray over the years - Sandra Lee, Dana Dukic and Clare Palmer, all with specific skill sets he needed to build this course.
In 2003 the IASL conference was coming up, again James encouraged me to present, this time in Durban, South Africa: "School Libraries: Breaking Down Barriers” My presentation was "Don't Buck it - bend it. Using your school system to increase your influence, to create the working environment you desire”. This conference was where I had met my now friend and colleague in IB crime, Gary Green.
In 2004 James was the drive behind ensuring Hong Kong was the host for the 2005 IASL Conference "Information Leadership in a Culture of Change”. He gathered a team together of those who were living and working in HK including Sue Garner, Carolyn Sinclair, Clare Palmer Livesy Luk, Betty Chu, Peter Warning and others I cannot remember now. It was a tough and long term role, but very rewarding working with these people. The conference was a much different style to the regular IASL super extravaganzas as it was focused on the learning and minimising costs to the participants. It showed us that conferences could be modest affairs and still have learning and networking happen.
|The IASL HK organising committee - not sure why James is not in this photo, maybe he got his own photo.|
In 2007 James became president of IASL - this was a long time coming, and I am unsure of why it didn’t happen sooner. He was a bit of an outsider with making things happen and pushing people, so perhaps people were a little bit scared of what may happen if he held the Presidency.
In 2009 James focused on developing online conferences with Sandra Lee with Your School Library and again he invited me to be a part of this new way of learning. I did so using voice thread on how I developed a new library in 23 days. He was always pushing the edge of what was possible. Online learning was still in its infancy outside of education institutions. Sandra and James developed 6 of these online conferences over a few short years.
James left HK University and moved back to Hobart to be with his family, but would travel back and forth often on his way through to China, where he was working as a consultant through being the chairman of The Chen Yet-Sen Family Foundation for building and developing school libraries in China. He loved working with the Chinese people, and they enjoyed his company, expertise, and wry sense of humour very much.
It was good to see him fairly regularly after his departure from Hong Kong and hear about his family whom he cared deeply about.
He was also involved in organising the Int'l Education and Technology Conference of Web Symposium Consortium in HK in 2014 in connection with the HK Government and Charles Sturt University, and again he asked me to present.
The last time I saw James in person was in 2014 when we were in negotiations about building a conference in partnership to be held in HK for Teacher Librarians, it didn’t happen due to a number of reasons, but it did lead to me to organise and facilitate a initial mini conference in Hong Kong (which has since been repeated in Beijing and Prague) and to start my own business to move into consulting, workshop development and conference organisation. Going way beyond what I thought was possible as a fresh graduate from CSU in 2002.
James Henri was a gifted man in the field of not only school librarianship, but in negotiation, persuasion, future vision and for not only taking bold and calculated risks, but also encouraging others to do so. He was an outlier according to Malcolm Gladwell's definition “of being a truly exceptional individual who, in his or her field of expertise, is so superior that he defines his own category of success”. James was never after the limelight, and seemed to take pride only in what he could get others to achieve. He thrived on working with others who needed him the most.
To continue with the Gladwell connections, James Henri was also a connector - he knew people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and made a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles so they could benefit from each others expertise and connections. (The tipping point, Gladwell)
He was a maven by being an information broker, sharing and trading what he knew about School librarianship, politics, people and anything he could connect with, and if he didn't know it he would find out through research. He was also a salesman, he was charismatic with powerful negotiation skills. It was hard to say no to James when he asked. He had an indefinable trait that goes beyond what he said, which made others want to agree with him and travel the path with him. I know James would protest about me using Gladwell's terms to describe him, but I think they are the best descriptors for what he did.
He was an integral part of my professional life for so many years, a friend, a mentor and confidant. I will miss him and miss seeing what he is up to next.
Vale James Henri, you are a remarkable man who has left a huge legacy behind.
Post Script: Along with James enthusiasm for helping others, he was not always the best at asking or expecting payment for his services. His daughter has set up a page to help with funeral and left over medical expenses, if you would like to contribute to help his family at this time as a way of thanking them for his mentorship, I am sure they would appreciate it. Donate here