Libraries, internationalism, and peace, Lectio Magistralis, Florence, 2016

On 2 March 2016 I was privileged to present a “Lectio Magistralis” in Library Science at the University of Florence, in Italy. The lecture was presented in abridged form in Italian, but the full text has been elegantly published in Italian and English by the publishers Casalini Libri. It is also available on open access on their online platform, Torrossastore, at, where it can be found easily by inputting “Peter Lor” in the search box. The Torrostore platform, incidentally, was an eye-opener to me. It offers access to a wealth of journal articles, e-books and e-journals in Italina, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Since 2015 I have been asking myself the question: given that libraries are dependent on peace for their existence, development and survival, can libraries contribute to preserving and making peace? In this lecture I reflected on the relationship of libraries to peace. I did this in three steps. In the first step I placed this relationship in a historical context, starting with the rise of internationalism and peace movements in the 19th century. I related this to the coming of modern library science and documentation, and to how the role of libraries in building peace has been seen by UNESCO. In the second step I looked at the contemporary scene, asking what we mean by peace. In the third and final step I briefly explored what the implications of our understanding of peace are for the role of libraries in building peace.

The last step is still work in progress. In the Lectio I outlined some possible roles for librarians, using seven broad categories: informing, creating resources promoting, educating, empowering, healing and advocating. I placed them roughly in an order of increasing engagement of the librarian in the community, depicting them on a continuum. At the one end the librarian is detached from the conflict, adopts a (supposedly) neutral position, and is concerned with general information provision. At the other end of the spectrum the librarian is committed, and takes on an activist role with particular attention to the context of the community that is served:


Librarian roles in relation to peace building

This model is an oversimplification. It needs to be fleshed out and tested using real-life examples of what librarians are actually doing. Currently I’m collecting examples with a view to a poster I hope to present at the 2016 IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Columbus, Ohio, in August. Any examples that readers can contribute will be greatly appreciated.


About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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