A. Laugesen: Globalizing the Library

Globalizing the Library. Librarians and Development Work, 1945-1970

Laugesen, Amanda
Routledge Studies in Library and Information Science
London 2019: Routledge
182 S.
€ 120,58
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Carolina Rozo, Universität Leipzig

In this book Amanda Laugesen, historian and lexicographer at Australian National University (ANU) and director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the ANU, tells a quite unknown history of librarianship during the Cold War period. She narrates how Anglo-American librarians dealt with two controversial aspects: First, the promotion of western ideals of peace, freedom, education and equality as a duty, while supporting library infrastructures overseas (developing countries and former colonies); second, the various interests on spreading their own ideas not just about library technical matters but also against communism. The author bases her arguments on a thorough study of original documents from among others the archives of the American Library Association (ALA), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the British Council, UNESCO.

The consulted sources which include conference and meeting reports, proceedings, library bulletins and memoirs, enable the discussion between the librarian’s believes and the projects they conducted. The type of sources also allowed Amanda Laugesen to include the voices of the people involved in such “international” endeavours focusing on the relations between the institutions mentioned above and the Anglo-American librarians and their counterparts, especially in Africa and Asia.

Amanda offers an overview of the challenges and struggles faced by librarians when launching library projects abroad during a time of international uncertainty. For example, she shows how the post-War decolonization discourse was attached to the idea that colonies needed the knowledge that would help them to create a “cosmopolitan citizen”. Hence, she highlights some concepts that seemed to be the most popular among librarians including terms as modernization or internationalization in the frame of development theory. She illustrates how these ideas of internationalization were confronted by the realities of the new nation-states and their own concerns. It is important to understand, as other works have mentioned, that this new impetus took place after a US-American discontent with libraries which had little readers and a strong opposition to IFLA, which was criticized for conducting “high profile” projects that alienate librarians.[1]

In the first chapters, the author presents voices of Anglo-American librarians who advocated for a more educated world. The quotations taken from original sources serve as a good introduction to the following chapters in which their statements are related to the various ways projects were conducted. As those projects could not be achieved only with the librarian’s intentions, mediators began to play an important role. Hence, Amanda describes how the Rockefeller or Ford foundations enabled the presence of librarians abroad. As those foundations acted as “strategic partners” for library institutions, at this point, I would have liked to see a more extended discussion about the interests of those institutions and how they influenced (if they did) managerial decisions upon the library services established abroad.

In the second part of the book the author addresses the problems arising from the fact that “solutions” to the lack of education and literacy from certain countries were driven by how western librarians defined and saw colonies’ problems. Amanda shows how conferences and international events in which most attendees were from western countries acted as places to draw the attention to the needs and solutions faced by forming nations. Contributions were mainly given by British and American librarians. Based on that, the author describes the competitive aptitude between them. It is shown how British and Americans mentioned negative consequences of spreading their counterpart’s ideas to the former colonies. Quotes reveal the critics of the methods applied when developing academic programs and training. Although, this was indeed a problem, it could be seen also as an opportunity to acknowledge different methodologies which might have helped locals to shape their own library projects/programs.

One of the issues faced by “experts” sent abroad, was the fact that not all of them felt they were doing enough in achieving the ideal of overcoming the global problems of education and literacy. The author shows how libraries were promoted in the librarian discourse as institutions that would help to overcome post war problems through knowledge. However, some librarians expressed their disappointment on the lack of resources and even the interest of people in attending libraries.

Based on the previous context, Amanda describes the projects developed mainly by ALA, IFLA, UNESCO and British institutions in establishing public libraries and in promoting librarian training in Africa and India. A couple of experiences are mentioned in Latin America, but they are not addressed fully. However, the author provides important statistical data that help to understand the impact of those initiatives. For example, for the established libraries Amanda provides an interesting selection of information such as user profiles, most popular books among readers, popular disciplines, etc. Few cases that included university libraries show the interests of national governments to support their own librarianship programs.

Finally, the author introduces the idea of the “modern librarian” and how library programs supported the exchange of librarians through training programs as well as short and long-term internships. For example, America and Britain launched their own projects in former-colonies and Japan. Here the author describes the impressions of both the host librarians, the trainees and their cultural and language issues. This context allows the author to outline how the people conducting library projects and some institutions such as the British Council or the Unites States Information Agency (USIS) had a clear interest in promoting their nations and culture overseas. Therefore, the author describes in a concrete way how the diplomatic role library programs played in the frame of “library imperialism” in the Cold War.

The author also frames her narrative by using the concepts of cultural and library diplomacy. To me these concepts seem useful in bounding the librarians and institutions interests, the forthcoming programs and projects and how they developed through time. However, it would have been important to explain the concepts more deeply to support the argument that “library imperialism” is a more appropriate term compared to “library diplomacy” in this context. It is important also to mention that the book does not include the methods and models Anglo-American librarians used when stablishing library collections or services overseas. However, thinking about the great effort in accomplishing those projects, it can be seen as an invitation to researchers in the history of Library and Information Science (LIS) in continuing research during this period.

Globalizing the Library: Librarians and development work, 1945-1970 by Amanda Laugesen provides an interesting perspective of librarian narratives after World War II, which helps to understand an important part of librarianship history. By recalling the voices of the people that were involved in those international programs she re-creates in a concise and accessible language for academics and non-ones, the interests that shape Anglo-American librarianship programs from 1945 until the end of the 1960s. The presented material also invites to broaden the research to other countries for example in Latin America. How, for example, were those projects conducted in this region and what tell us the voices of the librarians involved? How did those programs reached countries in the Eastern bloc (if they did), and to what extent did librarians from the soviet-bloc countries participated in international programs? Indeed, LIS academics have a lot of work still to perform and this book opens the discussion of librarianship in critical moments of modern history.

[1] Patti Clayton Becker, Books and Libraries in American Society During World War II. Weapons in the War of Ideas, New York 2004.

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