Global Gleanings #6

My column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, appears in every issue of LIASA-in-Touch, the newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa. Here it is with clickable links.

Covid-19 – Going, going, gone?

The pandemic is still with us, but libraries are re-opening. IFLA has a web page listing “key resources for libraries in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic”.1 A great deal is being written about how this should be done, one of the issues being how to ensure that books and other library materials do not transmit the virus from one user to the next. In the United States, OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Battelle Memorial Institute have been cooperating on a project to determine how long the virus survives on the materials we commonly deal with. This is called the REALM (Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums) project. Four series of tests have been conducted so far. In the fourth, it was found that the Covid-19 virus is still detectable after six days on four common library materials when they are stacked: the covers of hardcover books, paperbacks, DVD cases and Mylar protective book cover jackets.2 A Google search shows how thinking on this is changing as we learn more. For now, it seems, “the best disinfectant for library materials is time.”3

News from national libraries

Due to the suspension of postal services to my little “slow town” (Sedgefield) during the pandemic, the latest issue of Alexandria (the journal of national and international library and information issues) reached me belatedly. This issue, vol. 29, no. 3, published in 2019, included articles on a range of issues. The first article that drew my attention dealt with the Conservation for Digitisation project, a collaboration between the British Library (the national library of the United Kingdom) and the Palestinian Museum in Ramallah, to assist the latter with digitising items from small institutions and private individuals in Palestine as part of their Digital Archives project. These are mainly paper-based materials and photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries. Conservation for digitisation is not the same thing as digitization for conservation, but involves preparing vulnerable materials specifically for digitization, often using less complex and expensive procedures, to protect them while they are being processed.  In London, experts from the British Museum trained conservators from the Palestinian Museum, after which training was given in Ramallah to volunteers.4  This is a heartening example of international collaboration in a troubled region.

In the same issue of Alexandria there is a set of three short articles on “the next ten years in national libraries”. It is the third of three instalments in a series started in March 2019 to celebrate the journal’s thirtieth anniversary. A common theme in the latest three articles, written by the respective national librarians of Latvia,5 Slovakia,6 and Spain,7 is the preservation and transmission of the national cultural heritage, the use of digitisation, and the challenges of preserving digital media in an environment of rapid and accelerating technological development. These articles resonated for me with my own experience as a national librarian: national libraries today have to reconcile conflicting demands of preserving the past and preparing for the future, keeping heritage safe, and making it accessible to all. In a national library there’s no risk of being bored.

While still paging through Alexandria, it is worth noting that every issue has a useful “News round-up” of brief news reports from various countries. Here I noted a report on e-learning projects nominated for prizes awarded by WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society). Two of the twenty nominated projects are library-based: the International Network of Emerging Library Innovators – Middle East and North Africa (INELI-MENA) and the City of Johannesburg’s Mobile Literacy programme – one which certainly deserves more attention from our profession.8

LIS in the Maldives

The last item takes us to paradisiacal, palm-fringed beaches. South African librarians will be aware of Mauritius and the Seychelles as popular holiday destinations for those who can afford to fly to these tropical Indian Ocean islands. The Maldives Islands, also located in the Indian Ocean are less well known here. The Republic of Maldives, located in the Arabian Sea (the northern part of the Indian Ocean), has a population of about 400,000 inhabitants, living on 26 coral atolls, totalling roughly 300 square kilometres (slightly more than the area of the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape). In the latest issue, Volume 33, no.3, of International leads, the bulletin of the American Library Association’s International Relations Round Table, Dr Gina de Alwis, a librarian based in Singapore, reports on a visit to the islands to serve as a resource person for a continuing professional development workshop.9

The country has almost 300 libraries, of which more than 200 are school libraries. There are seven academic libraries, thirteen special libraries, and a national library. The country is making progress in providing LIS education locally, creating a national network, and building digital collections. There is a national library association, which faces many challenges, not least of which is lack of resources. Dr de Alwis identified three key developmental issues facing the profession: (1) the need to reach out to key policy makers to create awareness of LIS, (2) absence of a formalized structured career path for the LIS profession, and (3) under-developed school libraries. The article is an informative contribution about LIS in a country we don’t hear much about, describing a situation that must resonate with LIS workers in Africa.


1. IFLA. (2020) ‘COVID-19 and the Global Library Field”.

2. Marcotte, A. (2020, September 4). REALM Project Announces Test 4 Results. American Libraries Magazine.

3. University of Colorado, Boulder. (2020, September 24). The best disinfectant for library materials is time. University Libraries.

4. Baldwin, Amy. 2019. ‘Conservation for Digitisation: A Collaboration between the Palestinian Museum and the British Library’. Alexandria 29 (3): 209–16. doi:10.1177/0955749019890190.

5. Vilks, Andris. 2019. ‘The National Library of Latvia’. Alexandria 29 (3): 218–21. doi:10.1177/0955749019893172.

6. Krištofová, Katarína. 2019. ‘The next 10 Years of the Slovak National Library’. Alexandria 29 (3): 222–24. doi:10.1177/0955749019885675.

7. Aramburo, Ana Santos. 2019. ‘The Future of National Libraries’. Alexandria 29 (3): 225–27. doi:10.1177/0955749019892373.

8. ‘News Round-Up’. 2019. Alexandria 29 (3): 228–34. doi:10.1177/0955749019900695.

9. Alwis, G. de. 2019. ‘Library & Information Services in the Republic of the Maldives’. International Leads 33 (3): 7–9.


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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