Friday, June 29, 2007

Reference Question from UN Diplomat

I don't know how to title this. On one hand it was a wonderful personal adventure, on the other it was the ultimate answer to a reference question, it also talks to trust and serendipity. I just want to share the story with friends and colleagues who might appreciate it.

Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call at the Reference Desk from a woman who asked if we had a student ride service. She needed a ride for her husband, a UN diplomat, from Kalamazoo to Charlevoix or at least Cadillac ASAP. I spent some time trying to find a service like that for her, we even called one of our students, but found nothing. Before I could call the woman back, her husband called - he has just started the job at the UN, and just ended his job with Newsweek, so his credit cards don't work. I started thinking, maybe I could give this interesting person the ride. I left numbers with a colleague for safety's sake and went to pick him up at the airport. He provided the most delightful two and a half hours of conversation I've had in a long time.

Michael Meyer started as a banker, was bored, wrote a list of what he'd really like to do - travel, meet people, be on the edge of change, and realized that he could be a foreign correspondent. The next day he requested an application to the journalism program at Columbia.

Mike was working for Newsweek when in 1988 he applied to be the East European correspondent. Someone else got the job, but decided that would not be a good career move, as nothing much was happening there, so Mike took the position. He traveled extensively throughout Eastern Europe during the times of change. He even visited Latvia in 1991, the year of the barricades and eventual freedom. So you can imagine we had a lot to discuss. He is now writing a book titled 1989: The Year the World Changed (or something like that). In writing his book he is going through foreign policy memos and is amazed at how wrong Condoleezza Rice was about the Soviet Union back then. As a journalist he could see that there were real changes happening.

At one point he took over a year off to live in Kosovo and worked with the UN peace keeping mission. Then back to Newsweek, the European office, then focused on technology issues in the mid 90's. I'll have to read some of his articles (276 for his name and Newsweek in ProQuest).

Three weeks ago he started working for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as head of communications. (Thank goodness I had just read an article about Ki-moon.) Mike's job is to find the "voice" for Ki-moon, some way to communicate his ideas to the world. While we were driving, Mike got a phone call from someone at the UN, who was upset about an article that had just appeared in the journal Foreign Policy, criticizing Ki-moon's first six months at the UN. Mike knows the editor of Foreign Policy and promised to get out a letter to the editor soon. Later he got a text message that it wasn't in the journal, but on a blog. Mike had warned them that the six month mark was coming up and to be prepared for criticism.

Turns out that Mike has been on the Council of Foreign Relations for the last ten years. I have been in their office in NYC, because one of my Latvian teachers - Janis Kreslins - worked in the library there. They publish the journal Foreign Affairs. I just lucked out that I knew something about most of the things we talked about.

Mike's wife Suzanne is a champion of using games for educational purposes. He described A Force More Powerful, a game of nonviolent strategy. Mike recommended the book Everything Bad is Good for You that talks to this. In our brief phone conversation Suzanne mentioned that she is working with a major foundation, and that funding for libraries has recently come up. Must be why she thought to call us.

Anyway, the time flew by and I've got an invitation to lunch in NYC, a tour of the UN, and an introduction to the General-Secretary, if he's in his office. The chances of collecting on that are slim, but just thinking about the possibility is fun.

I didn't consider this to be going the extra mile (or 300 miles) in answering a reference question, but a wonderful adventure.

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