Guidelines for Short-term Visits to the U.S. by Foreign Librarians

The following guidelines have been drafted for foreign librarians participating in short-term visits to the United States. Short-term is defined here as any program lasting less than two weeks. For this reason, issues of concern for longer programs (e.g. visas) have been omitted.

The guidelines are intended to assist both the librarian participating in the exchange and the librarian(s) hosting the visitor.


Foreign visitors from certain designated countries can enter the USA for stays of 90 days or less without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program provided they meet certain requirements. The requirements are set out on the website of the US State Department

The countries to which the Program applies are listed on the same page. Visitors from other countries, regardless of the length of stay, will need a visa to enter the USA and will need to apply for their visas well before the time, as they will usually be required to travel to a US embassy or consulate for an interview. These visitors will need to visit the website of the US Embassy in their country for information about the application procedure and the documents that will be required. The location and contact details of all US embassies and consulates throughout the world can be found at http://


The visitor should prepare a set of goals and objectives before planning the visit. All subsequent planning and decision- making -- host institution, length of stay, contents of program, etc. -- should be based on these objectives. All parties involved in the exchange process should be made aware of these objectives.

These objectives should be defined as clearly and precisely as possible. Rather than something vague like "to learn about library automation" or "library management", objectives should identify specific subjects and contexts (e.g. automation of serials control in large academic libraries; funding and budgeting in small rural public libraries).


The visitor should provide prospective hosts with as much information as possible about his/her background, including:

  • professional education and training
  • previous positions
  • home institution
  • current position, with description of responsibilities
  • anticipated future positions and responsibilities
  • program objectives
  • language proficiency


Program objectives should guide in the choice of host institution. Some factors to be considered in conjunction with these objectives:

  • Size of host institution compared to the size of home institution. An institution of comparable size will probably face more similar challenges than an institution of greater size (like the Library of Congress!) regardless of its prestige.
  • Library type. An institution of comparable type among public, academic, government, or other special type will probably afford the most easily transferrable experience.
  • Geography. Consider the climate, transportation, costs, distances involved, and even the frequency of international visitors. The frequency of international visitors to Washington, New York, or Chicago may cause some hosts to feel inundated and to respond less than enthusiastically to yet another visitor; for this reason visitors may wish to seek less-frequently visited parts of the country, where a warm reception awaits the visitor. By no means should these major cities and their great libraries be ignored, but visitors to these cities will need to seek out those hosts whose hospitality and enthusiasm never wane.
  • National versus state. Consider the state level as an alternative or supplement to the national level. Parliamentary librarians may profit from visiting state legislative libraries as well as the Library of Congress.
  • Mission. Seek a host library with a comparable mission e.g. serving a rural population, providing support for a government agency, etc.
  • Duration of stay.
  • Number of institutions to be visited, if more than one. The visitor may seek a variety of experiences which will complement one another.


The responsible parties at the host institution should remember that hosting visitors require advance planning and will make time demands. The host institution should send a pre- arrival packet, which may include the following logistical information:

  • cost of living in the area and recommended budget.
  • information on temporary lodging: area hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts.
  • transportation: availability of public or private transport.
  • information on banks and money, e.g. bank drafts will not provide immediate cash, as banks hold them for weeks until verification of funds occur.
  • name, address, and telephone number of a contact person for the visitor to call upon arrival.
  • information on health insurance, availability of plans and cost. If insurance from home country is preferred, documents need to be translated and adequacy of coverage needs to be assessed. Remember that a visitor arriving without insurance may cause considerable difficulties to host institution.

In preparing for the actual content of the visitor's program, the host institution should consider the following:

  • publicize the visit in the campus/library media.
  • prepare outline for presentations.
  • assign a "mentor" from the library staff to shepherd the visitor, particularly if the visit lasts more than one day. The mentor can help with the logistics, like where to have lunch, how to go to the next appointment, how to get any necessary ID card or pass, and even where to park.
  • balance "show and tell" with "Q and A". A program cannot simply begin with questions ("OK, tell me what you want to know."), since the visitor may not even know what to ask or where to begin. The speaker, however, should not lecture for the entire time allotted but rather should allow some time for the visitor to respond with questions and discussions. Presentations should strike a balance between substantive lecturing (or even informal sharing) and time for hands-on experience and questions.
  • provide handouts, including brochures, bibliographies, reprints, etc.

Adopted by the ALA IRC/IRRT Committee on International Exchanges, June 1991 with special assistance from Steven Kerchoff. Revised June 1995 by John Ober. Revised 5/2015

The committee welcomes your input. Please send comments to the International Relations Office at

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