Alum Takes on Challenging International Projects
Imagine being given the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives through your work. Now imagine you have to travel thousands of miles to the other side of the world to do it.
Kent State University School of Library and Information Science alumna Andrea Muto, M.L.S. ’98, realized that with her Master of Library Science degree, in addition to her law degree, she would have many opportunities to work around the globe.
First Stop: Afghanistan
After 10 years in Cleveland and Washington, D.C., at LexisNexis, a legal online database company, the Akron native said she was professionally ready for a career change when she found a job posting in Afghanistan.
Muto’s first project in Afghanistan involved working as a contractor, implementing a rule of law project for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). During this project, she developed a law library in Kabul over a year and a half. She and her staff also assisted the Afghan Ministry of Justice with publishing the laws of Afghanistan in Dari and Pashto languages.
“Rule of law” refers to citizens, government and institutions that act within a system, which is generally regulated by laws and not arbitrary acts. Muto said such projects are designed to build and strengthen justice sector institutions.
Although her staff often worked in the English language, they still faced some linguistic challenges, as well as cultural differences.
“One thing that surprised me was coming from the United States and having to work with religious and secular laws of Afghanistan, where religion is woven into every piece of the fabric of life and work,” Muto said.
Because of these cultural differences, Muto said much of the project’s work was “easier said than done.” The team often had to find resources outside of Afghanistan for the law library.
The United States and Afghanistan legal systems differ in that the U.S. practices common law and Afghanistan practices civil law. Common law is codified, that is, organized in a systematic form, whereas civil law is not. Muto said her team worked with materials that were not codified and not published yet.
There were often issues with tracking down laws, amendments and cases from the justice sector ministries, an issue that affected many of her projects such that staff spent time physically searching from ministry to ministry trying to procure legal information, Muto said.
Muto said her coworkers would sometimes depart for weeks searching for resources, leaving her to joke that, in Kabul, “Amazon isn’t going to pull up in a truck and unload the most recent collection of Islamic laws.”
Muto was in Afghanistan from 2007 until 2010.
Next: Kosovo & Liberia
After Kabul, Muto worked through USAID on two rule of law projects in Pristina, Kosovo, for three years and then on another project in Monrovia, Liberia, for three weeks.
Muto said her work on these projects varied, from assisting with development of searchable legal databases in Pristina, to consulting with a quasi-government organization to redesign a website for free access to online legal information for the Liberian courts and government ministries.
“One of my assignments, which I’m particularly proud of, was assisting the Kosovo Constitutional Court with design of a searchable online database on case decisions,” said Muto. With this, Muto was able to assist the Constitutional Court library and information technology staff in developing a quick search to legal decisions made within Kosovo.
Muto said her library science skills proved valuable in all of her international assignments, even if they were not “traditional” skills in an electronic world. Examples include her role in devising an organizational scheme to publish the laws of Afghanistan, creating an index for such laws and building the library. In Liberia, she used those skills to evaluate how best to organize, search and update laws and codes.
Although not all of Muto’s work and recommendations have been implemented thus far, she said the real success lies with professional staff members in country, who worked alongside her on the projects. She saw local staff later come to the U.S. to work and study, or stay in the countries they had worked in for USAID.
Muto always had her eye on international work of some sort, but she wasn’t sure on how to get there from Northeast Ohio. Opportunities weren’t as apparent in the early 1990s, with no social media or Internet.
“With what you have today and today’s students, the doors are open to any corner of the world,” said Muto.
To learn more about Andrea Muto and her international work, read “Making a Difference in Kabul ” on the Kent State University Alumni Association website.