Presentations in 2017

I was invited to present a paper at the Science of Information Conference, “The Science of Information: the Universalization of Knowledge in a Utopian Age”, which took place at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, from 23 to 25 February.

The video proceedings of the Conference can be accessed through Penn Libraries’ institutional repository, Scholarly Commons at My paper was entitled “In the background: the development of international librarianship during the period 1850 – 1945”.

During the Belle Époque a variety of scholars, idealistic internationalists and other luminaries were working on the bibliographic organization of the world’s scholarly literature and developing new understandings which gave rise to what eventually emerged as information science. Many facets of this were addressed in papers presented at the Conference. The question addressed in my paper was, what were librarians doing during the Belle Époque and in the decades after? In this paper, I first set out what I understand by ‘internationalism’, before attempting to determine the issues with which the emerging library profession was grappling during this period. I then attempted to identify the main international connections, awareness, and activities of the profession, and to discover to what extent internationalism was emerging there.

The paper touches on milestones passed in the 1850s, such as the passing of public library legislation in Great Britain and the founding of the Boston Public Library. Development before the outbreak of the First World War, marked i.a. by Edward Edward’s massive compilation Free town libraries (1869), the founding of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876 and the (British) Library Association in the following year, and James Duff Brown’s influential Manual of library economy (1903) illustrated the general preoccupation of librarians before WWI  with building institutions devoted to acquiring, cataloguing, accommodating, and providing access to, collections.

During this period internationalism emerged in librarianship through increasing contacts among librarians on both sides of the Atlantic, and through their participation in international conferences of librarians, archivists and bibliophiles. The first truly International Conference of Librarians took place in 1877; others followed, often in association with the great “world’s fairs” or “universal expositions” which were a feature of internationalism before WWI. Attempts to found an international organization of librarians foundered due to the outbreak of that war. A significant feature of the period was the exporting of American library ideas, for example to the UK (where they met with a mixed reception), the Scandinavian countries, Germany (where they generated some hostility), and France.

In the immediate aftermath of WWI, there was a strong current of idealism in international relations and this was mirrored by an increase in international library activity. The period 1918-1939 saw a significant growth in international librarianship, which continued right up to the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially much of the activity was concerned with disaster relief and reconstruction. Libraries in war-affected areas had suffered physical damage and losses. Probably the most notorious example was the deliberate destruction of the Library of the Catholic University of Louvain. The horrific destruction wrought by the war stimulated other humanitarian and library development activities in Europe, notably by American organizations, which had a long-term impact on libraries in Europe, especially on children’s and public libraries in Belgium and France. A further consequence of WWI was the founding of the American Library in Paris in 1918. It is still in existence. Another American initiative, the Paris Library School, had a significant long-term influence in France in spite of its brief life (1923-1929). The League of Nations, created after the war, set up an International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, which took an active interest in libraries and archives. The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), was founded in 1927, the culmination of initiatives that had started before WWI. IFLA developed a close association with the League of Nations. Among other development in international librarianship during the Inter-War years, we may note the growing influence of American philanthropic foundations and a growing involvement of the ALA in American cultural diplomacy.  The paper concludes by outlining a number of themes relating to the development of internationalism in librarianship.

Presentations in 2016

This year the University of Florence honoured me with an invitation to present the annual Lectio magistralis in biblioteconomia (Magisterial lecture in library science). I delivered it on 2 March. My host, Professor Mauro Guerrini, had persuaded me to deliver it in Italian. He is persuasive. I have a modest reading competence in Italian and I’m able to order a meal or buy a train ticket in Italian, but that’s as far as it goes. So I wrote my paper in English, it was expertly translated, and over several days Mauro and his wife, Anna, a retired teacher, accommodated me in their home and coached me in my Italian presentation. Thanks to their help, I believe that the presentation, under the title Biblioteche, internazionalismo e pace (Libraries, internationalism, and peace) was intelligible to the audience, but when questions were asked afterwards, my lack of mastery of the Italian language became glaringly obvious. For more on the lecture and the resulting publication (in Italian and English, available on open access), see this earlier post.

While in Urbana during August-September as a Research Fellow at the iSchool of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I gave a guest lecture to Alistair Black’s PhD Seminar on History and Foundations of Library and Information Science. My topic was “From local to global: the expanding horizons of libraries and related information organizations”. It is based on the first chapter of my book, and the presentation was a useful opportunity to bounce some of my ideas off these bright students. The PowerPoint can be seen here.

In Urbana I also gave an introductory guest lecture, “Introducing international and comparative librarianship” to MLIS students in Professor Terry Weech’s course in International Librarianship. The PowerPoint can be seen here.

I returned to the topic of libraries and peace when I briefly visited Milwaukee in September and delivered a “brown bag” presentation in the School of Information Studies (SOIS). My topic was “Libraries promoting peace: cherished illusion or opportunity for action”. The first adds very little to the material in the Lectio magistralis, but in the second half I presented real examples of library activities sent to me by colleagues all over the world in response to a request on IFLAnet. The PowerPoint, enhanced with some additional text to make it intelligible by itself, is available here.

Presentations in 2015

At the 2015 IFLA World Library and Information Congress, held in Cape Town from 15 to 19 August, the IFLA Library History Special Interest Group devoted its open session to the theme of the history of libraries and librarianship in Africa. My paper at this session was entitled “Who was to blame? The genealogy of the ‘Anglo-American’ national library service model.” For the paper I developed ideas I had been researching for Chapter 10 of my book. The paper is available in the IFLA Library, at

I returned to this theme in a presentation on “Libraries in Sub-Saharan Africa: colonial origins and development trajectories” delivered at an interdisciplinary workshop on “Re-thinking the library (in Cameroon)” within the International Library Congress “Formation, recherche, appui au développement : les sciences et métiers de l’information documentaire face au défi de l’émergence de l’Afrique”,  in Yaoundé, Cameroon,  3.-4 December, 2015.  The Conference was organised by  ESSTIC, École Supérieure des Sciences et Techniques de l’Information et de la Communication, and my attendance was sponsored by the Goethe Institut in Cameroon. This was a more general reflection on aspects of the colonial and post-colonial influences in Africa south of the Sahara, looking inter alia at the impact of different styles of colonization, and paying more attention to the French influence.  The paper is available here.

In the context of my two-year (2015-17) appointment as a Research Fellow in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on 4 November I presented an on-line lecture to the MLIS class there on “Exporting American values: Raynard Swank revisited”. The title refers to an article by Raynard Swank, “Six items for export: international values in American librarianship”, published in Library journal in 1963. Swank was the Dean of the School of Librarianship, UC Berkeley, but before that he had been the director of the ALA’s International Relations Office at a time when the ALA was deeply involved in international library work, including a range of development aid projects in the Third World. He was a man who knew what he was talking about, and he wrote with the self-confidence of early 1960s America. The USA was then, and to a large degree remains today, the absolute world leader in librarianship. In my lecture, I used his article as a point of departure to revisit, half a century later, the notion of exporting values. See the PowerPoint and my edited notes here. This lecture was aimed very much at an American audience and intended to be somewhat provocative.

Presentations in 2014

On 22 May I had the honour of presenting the Seventh Annual Public Lecture on African Librarianship in the 21st Century at the University of South Africa  (UNISA) in Pretoria. The lecture series is a project of the IFLA’s Regional Office for Africa, which is hosted by UNISA. The paper is entitled “Understanding innovation, policy transfer and policy borrowing: implications for LIS in Africa“. In it I tried to distil some lessons for African libraries and information services (LIS) from the literature on the diffusion of innovations and especially from the literature of comparative education, where a great deal has been written and interesting models have been developed about policy transfer and policy borrowing. I added two diagrams depicting a rudimentary model of my own which I called “A spectrum of innovation”. You can find the text here.

At the 2014 IFLA Congress (Lyon, France, 17-21 August)  the section of Library Theory and Research will have an open session on the theme “Libraries in the political process: benefits and risks of political visibility”. The session is scheduled for 08:30 on Thursday 21st. The impetus for my paper, Risks and benefits of visibility: librarians navigating social and political turbulence, which will introduce this session, came from vivid images of a South African public library taken after it had been burnt to the ground in March 2012 in violent community  protests. Since 1994, when South Africa emerged from apartheid as a non-racial democracy, at least twenty public libraries have been burnt down in what are called “service delivery protests“. But this is not unique to South Africa. In France around 70 libraries were burnt down between 1996 and 2003. These cases are shocking because they are unusual and unexpected. For the most part libraries are not very newsworthy. Indeed, in many countries they are largely invisible. In others they may be valued community agencies that are taken for granted and only attract public attention when they are threatened by cutbacks or closures due to government austerity measures, or when things go badly wrong. The visibility and invisibility of libraries in the political arena confer risks as well as benefits.  This is the subject of my paper, a draft of which can be found here.

Following the IFLA Congress itself, on 25 and 26 August 2014, there will be a post-Congress Satellite Conference on the History of Librarianship, in Villeurbanne, Lyon. Here I will present a  paper entitled The end of international and comparative librarianship?  If globalization is eroding the nation state, this has significant implications for the social sciences, including international and comparative librarianship as a field of study and research. In this paper I explore the history of the relationship between, on the one hand, the nation state and its predecessors; and on the other, the professional aspirations and activities denoted by international librarianship and the scholarly study of this field. I  sketch the evolution of six spatial and intellectual horizons of librarianship, documentation, and information activities from early times to the present: local, imperial, universal, national, international and global, roughly in chronological order. I focus on the period since the mid-nineteenth century, relating the various forms of internationalism that arose then to the development of international bibliographic and library activities, before considering globalization and how it is impacting on library and information services. Finally I reflect on the implications for our field of the increasing dissatisfaction among social scientists with “methodological nationalism”, the assumption that the nation state is the natural and adequate “container” for the study of social phenomena. Finally I make some suggestions for the renewal of the field. 


Presentation in 2013

Lor, P.J. “Burning issues: questions for the South African library profession in the aftermath of Ratanda”. Presented at the Annual Conference of the Library and Information Association of South Africa, Cape Town, 8 October 2013. An article was published about this:

Lor, P. J. (2013). Burning libraries for the people: questions and challenges for the library profession in South Africa. Libri, 63(4), 359–372. doi:10.1515/libri-2013-0028

Since 2005 at least fifteen community and public libraries have been deliberately set alight in South African townships and informal settlements, reportedly by individuals or groups from the communities which these libraries were intended to serve. This has given rise to dismay, horror and outrage among librarians. This article seeks to situate the deliberate destruction of libraries in a broader international context before focusing on the South African context of what are commonly called “service delivery protests.” An overview is given of some recent scholarly analyses of violent protests in South African communities in an attempt to answer four questions: (1) what were the circumstances in which libraries were set alight? (2) who did this? (3) were libraries deliberately targeted or were they simply collateral damage? and (4) if libraries were deliberately targeted, what motivated this? A fifth question concerns how the South African library profession responded to these incidents. Using the burning of the Ratanda Library on 20 March 2012 as a case study, the article explores the response of the South African library profession to the incident. In an analysis of the content of contributions posted on the discussion list and website of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), four main groups of themes are identified. These concern expressions of revulsion, the impact of the incident, professional action, and underlying societal issues. The article concludes with some observations on the responses of the South African library community. Public libraries; Community libraries; Arson

Presentations in 2012

Lor, P.J. “International Librarianship: an introduction” [series of four presentations], Delivered at the Seminar and Discussion Forum “International dimensions of the library and information profession”, Finnish Research Library Association, Helsinki, Finland, 11 May 2012.

Lor, P.J. “How LIS ideas travel internationally to make libraries inspiring, surprising, empowering”. Poster presentation at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Helsinki, Finland, 12-16 August, 2012. Handout available at:

Lor, P.J. “The IFLA-UNESCO partnership 1947-2012”. Keynote paper for the UNESCO Open Session, “Learning from the past to shape our future – 65 years IFLA/UNESCO partnership”, at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Helsinki, Finland, Monday, 13 August 2012. Available

Lor, P.J. “Towards excellence in international and comparative research in library and information science”. Introductory paper for the IFLA LTR/SET Open Session “International and comparative librarianship: toward valid, relevant and authentic research and education”, at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Helsinki, Finland, Monday 13 August 2012. Available:

Lor, P.J. “All your systems suck: connectivity and connecting in LIS management.” Presentation  delivered at the 2012 SABINET Client Conference, Cape Town, 5-7 September, 2012.

Lor, P.J. “Legal deposit and web archiving”, Guest lecture to the Erasmus Mundi International Master in Digital Library learning (DILL) programme. University of Parma, Parma, Italy, 21 September 2012.

Lor, P.J. “Ethics and political economics of digital preservation”. Public lecture, University of Parma, Parma, Italy, 24 September 2012.

Lor, P.J. “Convergence: LIS and GLAMS”. Guest lecture, to the Erasmus Mundi International Master in Digital Library Learning (DILL) programme, University of Parma, Parma, Italy, 26 September 2012.

Lor, P.J. “Conceptual foundations of International LIS”. Discussion paper presented to a seminar at the University of Parma, Parma, Italy, 1 October 2012.

Lor, P.J. “Burning libraries for the people: questions and challenges for public librarians in post-Apartheid South Africa”. Guest lecture, École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de l’Information et des Bibliothèques, Lyon, France, 11 October 2012.

Lor, P.J. “Ethical issues in the preservation of digital content.” Presentation to a UNESCO Panel Session on Information Ethics and Internet Governance, at the Internet Governance Forum, Baku, Azerbaijan, 6 November 2012.

Presentations in 2011

Lor, P.J. “Jet lag comes with the job: experiences as IFLA’s Secretary General”. Public lecture in the Academic Adventurers series, American geographic society Library, UWM Libraries, Milwaukee, 25 Februray 2011.

Lor, P.J. “Sustainability in international library projects: some thoughts based on South African experience.” Introductory presentation at a program presented by the International Sustainable Library Development Interest Group of the ALA International Relations Round Table, American Library Association Conference, New Orleans, 24-28 June 2011.

Lor, P.J. “Preserving and developing indigenous languages: challenges and opportunities for libraries”. Keynote paper for the Satellite Conference of the IFLA Section of University and Research Libraries and the IFLA Section for Latin America and the Caribbean on the theme “Cooperation among multiple types of libraries and affiliated information services of archives and museums toward meeting common goals of sharing”, Guatemala City, Guatemala, 10-11 August 2011.

Lor, P.J. & Huang, Chunsheng “2011 survey of international activities and relations of national library associations”. Report presented to the National Organizations and International Relations Special Interest Group, IFLA Congress, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 14-18 August 2011.

Lor, P.J. “National information policies: a skeptical response”  Contribution to a panel discussion at the Exploratory meeting of the National Library and Information Policy Special Interest Group, IFLA Congress, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 14-18 August 2011.

Lor, P.J. “Ethical and political-economic issues in the long-term preservation of digital heritage”. Invited Paper presented at the UNESCO/Information for All Programme International Conference on the Preservation of Digital Information in the Information Society, Moscow, 3-5 October 2011.

Lor, P.J. “Rethinking the local: reimagining libraries in a flattening world.” Contribution (virtually delivered) to a panel discussion at a Conference on “Rethinking the local: reimagining libraries in a flattening world”, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 14 November 2011.

Presentations in 2010

“A2K: a critical reflection on access to knowledge for the growth of knowledge societies”; invited paper presented at the Stellenbosch Symposium / IFLA Presidential Meeting 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 18 & 19 February 2010. Written with Johannes J. Britz.

The following article was based on this paper:

Lor, P. J., & Britz, J. J. (2010). To access is not to know: A critical reflection on A2K and the role of libraries with special reference to sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of information science, 36(5), 655–667. doi:10.1177/0165551510382071

Abstract: This paper critically examines the notions of the “knowledge society” and “access to knowledge” to uncover some underlying assumptions, with special reference to sub-Saharan Africa. We borrow from constructivist learning theory and argue that it is helpful to see knowledge as a process rather than as an outcome or state. In discussions of access to knowledge, much emphasis has been placed on the physical dimension of access (connectivity, bandwidth and the digital divide) and on the legal, economic and political dimensions that form the embattled terrain of the “Access to Knowledge” movement. However, if knowledge is conceptualized as a process, the concept of “access” has to be extended to the epistemological dimension, which takes into account the construction of knowledge in the mind of the individual while interacting with the community. This has important implications for libraries. We suggest the deployment of re-skilled and re-motivated information intermediaries working in and around libraries to motivate, teach, interpret and facilitate “access” to knowledge.

“Methodological decisions in comparative studies”; lecture presented at a SOIS Research Committee Brown Bag Lunch, Bolton Hall, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 12 March 2010.

Still inching forward, in this presentation, given at a SOIS ‘brown bag lunch’ on March 12, 2010, I tried to develop further the theme of my guest lecture in Urbana-Champaign last October. It was intended to ‘surface’ some submerged or cryptic methodological issues in comparative studies, and here I homed in more explicitly on comparative librarianship. See the PDF of the PowerPoint here.

“Three small projects in international and comparative librarianship”; presentation to the School of Library and Information Studies / School of Information Studies Research Forum, University of Wisconsin, Madison, April 30th 2010. “New trends in content creation: changing responsibilities for librarians”; presentation to a panel discussion on “Emerging Privacy and ethical Challenges for Libraries in the 2.0 Era”, Golda Meir Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, May 4, 2010. Written with Johannes J Britz.

The following article gave further substance to this presentation:

Lor, P. J., & Britz, J. J. (2011). New trends in content creation: changing responsibilities for librarians. Libri, 61(1), 12–22. doi:10.1515/libr.2011.002

Abstract: This paper addresses the changes in the role of librarians as information intermediaries due to the introduction of new forms of digital content brought about by modern information and communication technologies. The main focus is on the way in which these changes have affected the moral responsibilities of librarians. Six content trends are identified in support of this claim. These are: the growth in volume; amount of noise; sharing of content and information participation; personal space; collaboration and naive use. The ethical challenges of these six trends are discussed. Because of the unpredictability and uncontrollability of contemporary digital content, a case is made that the traditional model of retrospective responsibility, according to which responsibility is assigned based on causality, should be supplemented with a positive prospective model of responsibility according to which librarians also need to look “forward” anticipating possible harmful impacts of modern ICTs. It is also argued, based on the open and interactive nature of new forms of content, that there should be a form of shared and distributed responsibility, which should include not only librarians, but also Internet service providers, library users, and software designers.

“Digital demonology: is it wrong to digitize the heritage of less developed countries?” keynote presented at the Center for Research Libraries/Global Resources Network Forum on Fair Dealing and Sustainable Management of Archives and Cultural Evidence, George Washington University, Washington, June 25, 2010.

See PowerPoint here.

“Internationalization of LIS education: practical partnerships and conceptual challenges”; paper presented at the IFLA-ALISE-EUCLID Pre-conference on Cooperation and Collaboration in Teaching and Research: Trends in Library and Information Studies Education, Swedish School of Library and Information Science, Borås, Sweden, 8-9 August 2010. Available

Lor, P.J. & Huang, Chunsheng: “Survey of international activities and relations of national libraries”, report presented at the session of the Special Interest Group for National Organizations and International Relations (NOIR), IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Gothenburg, Sweden, 13 August 2010.

See Chunsheng Huang’s PowerPoint here. Subsequently published as an article:

Huang, C., & Lor, P. J. (2011). International activities and relations of national libraries: report on an exploratory survey. Alexandria, 22(2/3), 1–12. doi:10.7227/ALX.22.2.2

Abstract: The paper describes the result of a project undertaken for the IFLA National Organizations and International Relations Special Interest Group (NOIR SIG). The purpose of the project is to understand the nature and scope of international activities in which national libraries worldwide participate. Fifty-five libraries from five UNESCO regions responded to the survey. The survey covers three main themes of international activities among national libraries, including international relations and cooperative activities, participation in international organizations, and responsibility for international relations. Results from this survey show that in addition to traditional activities there are new cooperative activities taking place, such as digital preservation projects, Web preservation, and digital reference. It is also shown that national libraries are actively involved in international professional organizations. Not surprisingly, larger national libraries participate in international activities and organizations more actively than their smaller counterparts. Results will be used by the NOIR SIG to develop its programme of activities aimed at supporting and promoting the international work of national libraries.

Lor, P.J. “Global information justice: ethical dimensions of North-South and South-North information flows. “ Invited keynote address given to the Africa Day for Librarians Seminar, Nordic Africa institute, Uppsala, Sweden, 9 November 2010.

See PDF of Powerpoint here.

Some Pre-2010 Presentations

  • International comparative studies? This was a guest lecture delivered in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Urbana-Chanpaign, on October 19, 2009. There is a lot of overlap with the previous presentation, but I was inching forward in exploring the field.

Watch the video

  • Paper presented at the Conference: The Library in the World / The World in the Library. Towards the Internationalization of Librarianship in Palazzo delle Stelline, corso Magenta, Milano (March 12 and 13, 2009): Librarianship, an International Profession
  • Lecture to SOIS (July 1, 2005), entitled “What’s so international about international librarianship”.  It has attracted a lot of hits, but my thinking has moved on and I’m not happy with it any more. If you’re interested, rather have a look at my book.

List of conference and seminar papers, etc.

View as PDF

List of publications

View as PDF


5 Responses to Presentations

  1. emastromatteo says:

    Hi Professor Lor. I have recommended your site to my students at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, thank you very much. Best regards …

  2. K.N. Igwe, Lecturer, Dept. of LIS, Federal Polytechnic Offa, Kwara State, Nigeria. says:

    Dear Prof Lor, greetings.
    You have really given a new and preferable dimension in International and Comparative Librarianship. Continue in that direction believing that God Almighty will strengthen you in championing the course of our profession at international level. Moreover, your open access policy will enable as well as assists LIS students with interest in International and Comparative Librarianship in their academic programmes.
    Thank you.

    K. N. Igwe
    Lecturer, Dept. of LIS,
    Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Kwara State,

  3. Pingback: Some new resources | Peter Johan Lor

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