New chapter posted

At last. I’m in the process of rewriting the first five chapters of the book. Chapters 1 and 2 have been expanded to three. The ones that follow are being renumbered. The new Chapter 1 has been posted here. The next two will follow soon.

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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.

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Love grown cold: UNESCO and libraries


Back in 2012 I presented a keynote paper at the UNESCO Open Session during the IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) on “The IFLA-UNESCO partnership 1947-2012”, later published in a revised version in IFLA Journal. In it I traced the evolution of the relationship between IFLA and UNESCO during that period. Initially the relationship was very close. UNESCO played a major role in, as it were, reinventing IFLA after the Second World War, and making it a modern, effective international NGO. Libraries were important enough to UNESCO for there to be a separate, very active, Libraries Division, which played a major role in most areas of library development worldwide. But UNESCO gradually shifted its attention away from libraries to documentation and later information society and “knowledge societies” issues.

One of the main motivators for UNESCO’s initial interest in libraries was the potential role of libraries in promoting peace – through literacy, education, and provision of information, people would be better informed, and this would lead to greater understanding, tolerance, and hence peace. While pursuing some research on the role of libraries in building peace, today I visited a number of UNESCO web pages to see whether the role of libraries in building peace still features there. I discovered that this is not the case, and that, in fact, libraries hardly feature in UNESCO’s programmes and activities at all. Here is an account of what I found.


UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector

Searching the web pages of the UNESCO’s Communication and Information sector, I found that the topic “Libraries” is not immediately visible without some scouting around. One has to look under the theme “Access to knowledge”. Here I found a number of news items, the most recent one dating from July 2013, the others from 2011 and earlier. There are also links to three topics:  the Biblioteca Alexandrina, UNAL, and UNESCO/IFLA manifestos. I looked at each of these.

Biblioteca Alexandrina

The web page for the Biblioteca Alexandrina mentions its objectives. One of these is to be “a vibrant center of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding”, which is encouraging because of the link between understanding and peace. I found links here to a number of pages of “related information”, but none of this was more recent than 2002, the year in which this library was inaugurated.

UNAL: UNESCO Network of Associated Libraries

On the UNAL web page I found both libraries and peace were mentioned:

UNAL was established in 1990 to promote co-operation among public libraries to build international understanding and to establish contacts between libraries of the North and of the South.

Objective: UNAL’s principal objective is to encourage libraries that are open to the public to undertake activities in UNESCO’s fields such as the promotion of human rights and peace, cultural dialogue, protection of the environment, fight against illiteracy, etc. Over 500 libraries around the world are members of the Network.

There is no link to “related information” on UNAL on this page. Using Google one can access an older page for UNAL on the old UNESCO portal. This was last updated on 28 January 2009. The information provided here is meagre and outdated. Some links are no longer active. From a “Documents” link one is taken to a description of a brief document about UNAL, The UNESCO Network of Associated Libraries: An Introduction, but there is no link to the document itself. This page was last updated in 2002. A further Google search yields a PDF copy of a 48 page address list of UNAL members, dated 1998. It does not seem that UNAL is still functioning.

UNESCO/IFLA library manifestos

Going back to the Libraries page in the Communication and Information web page, I found a brief piece on the UNESCO-IFLA library manifestos. Here is another reference to the role of libraries in building peace:

UNESCO and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), have launched two declarations of principles which should guide the creation and operations of public libraries and school libraries worldwide.”

The Public Library Manifesto, adopted in 1994, proclaims UNESCO’s belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.

The two manifestos mentioned are the public library and school library manifestos, the latter having been adopted in 1998. There is no link here to “related information” on the manifestos, and no links to them on this page.


The UNESCO Libraries Portal

Using Google other library-related pages can be found. I searched for the UNESCO Libraries Portal, landing on an information page about the Communication and Information Sector’s portals, where I found some news items dating from 2006 and 2007. A link to the UNESCO Libraries Portal returned a “Not found” message. Clicking on a link to “UNESCO and Libraries” here took me to the Communication and Information Sector’s “In Focus service”, an archive of items sorted by year. I browsed the years 2015, 2014 and 2013, without finding anything specifically on libraries. Clearly, this covers the full scope of the Communication and Information Sector, but the Communication side dominates. Most of the items dealt with media issues such as press councils and safety of journalists. There were a few ICT-related items as well.


IFAP: Information for all Programme

I don’t know how easy it is to find IFAP if you don’t happen to know about it. To find it you have to search under the Communication and Information Sector’s Intergovernmental Programmes. These are the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and the Information for all Programme (IFAP). A brief YouTube video I saw here outlined IFAP’s five priority areas: Information for development; Information accessibility; Information literacy; Information Ethics; and Information Preservation. All of these are relevant to libraries, but the L-word was not mentioned. IFAP’s Information Society Observatory is active, with many recent posts, but these are mainly concerned with the application of modern ICTs. Libraries do not feature among the “subjects” listed there as being covered.



I will readily admit that I’m not the brightest Internet surfer and that I may have missed relevant web pages – and maybe some readers will comment and point out stuff I missed – but I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that UNESCO has lost any interest it once had in libraries. Libraries, other than the Biblioteca Alexandrina, which seems to have been the pinnacle of UNESCO’s involvement in our field, have largely disappeared from its web presence. Occasionally libraries feature indirectly in relation to that relic of better days, the Memory of the World programme, or sometimes to information literacy, but generally libraries only appear on web pages that have not been updated for years. They are largely absent from current UNESCO concerns. These are relevant to librarians too, and such pages as the Information Society Observatory are worth bookmarking, but as far as libraries themselves are concerned, the romance is over.

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Library ABC no. 8: VWX

The latest instalment in my Library ABC has been posted here. It covers the letters V, W, and X. I had no photos for the letter X, but a colleague in Germany kindly pointed me to a city named Xanten. That brought back memories. While I was working at IFLA in The Hague I’m sure I must have passed through or close to Xanten on the Intercity train from the Netherlands to Frankfurt am Main, where I went several times for the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Librarian of the Stadbücherei Xanten kindly provided me with a set of lovely images, presenting me with an embarras du choix —they were so good that I could not simply choose one only. Therefore I put together a set of additional images for all three of the selected libraries. Enjoy!

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Problematizing digitization: IFLA LTR Satellite Conference, August 2015

Digitization and digital resources have featured in many articles, books and meetings, but mainly the emphasis has been on technology (how to digitize and collect born-digital media), management (how to run an efficient digital programme) and, more recently, curation (managing preservation and access to collections). Not as much attention has been paid to the political issues. To remedy this the IFLA Section of Library Theory and Research has arranged a pre-congress satellite conference in Cape Town on 12 and 13 August 2015 on “Digital preservation as a site of contestation: national heritage, memory, politics and power – beyond technology and management”.  It will address interesting issues of ownership and control of a country’s heritage, memory and traditional/ indigenous knowledge in a digital environment. Related to these are questions about what we mean, for example, by the metaphors of “national memory” and “nation building” in postcolonial situations, and what the roles of libraries and archives can be in such a context.

The conference will be held in three venues. On the first day we will meet on the campus of the University of the Western Cape (UWC). A day of presentations will be followed by a visit to the Mayibuye Archive, which is part of the Robben Island Museum. On the second day (weather permitting) we will take the ferry from Cape Town to Robben Island itself for a guided tour and lecture. We will return to Cape Town for the afternoon session at the District Six Museum.

Registration will cost R300,. This is slightly up from the originally advertised price of R270, due to additional costs. For foreign participants this does not  affect the originally quoted price of EUR 25. But note that this excludes the visit to Robben Island, which currently costs around R280 (around EUR 21). For more information and the pre-registration form, visit the Satellite Conference website, at: Here you will find the preliminary programme and the registration form.

The deadline for pre-registration was 30 June but will be extended for a week or so as we still have some places available.  Inquiries may be addressed to


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INFOST 891 Course schedule & bibliography

This Fall (2015) I’m planning to present my International and Comparative Librarianship course, now numbered INFOST 891, again. It’s a three-credit graduate level course in the School of Information Studies (SOIS), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). For general information, here is the Course schedule & readings Fall 2015 provisional and list of required and recommended readings. There may be a few minor changes closer to the beginning of the semester, when the syllabus is issued.

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Library STU

Hot off the press: the seventh instalment of my Library ABC covers the letters S, T and U.

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Cape Town 2014: Post-Congress Birding?

Around 1995, I put a message on IFLA-L inviting IFLA birders to contact me with a view to forming an IFLA Bird Club. There were four responses. One of the names now escapes me, but Pentti Vattulainen, Charles Townley and I subsequently got together during or after a number of IFLA Conferences, and on some other librarianly occasions, for a bit of international birding. In 1996 Pentti did some challenging early-morning birding in a very smoggy and birdless Beijing. After the Copenhagen Conference in 1997 we went on an expedition to a wetland on the outskirts of that city and were surprised to encounter a living hedge of spotting-scopes – coincidentally a very rare American Golden Plover had been discovered there. After the Bangkok Conference in 1999, with logistical support from the National Library,we had an expedition to a nature reserve in Thailand. Here our enthusiasm for penetrating the jungle was somewhat dampened by the information that wild tigers roamed there freely, and by the attention of leeches. But a walk in a wetland on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in 2004 netted a good haul of lifers for all three of us.

So in 2015 the IFLA Bird Club, had it ever been formally constituted, would have been celebrating its 20th birthday. And since I make my home in South Africa, this seems to me a good excuse to line up, following the Cape Town Congress, a super birding expedition in South Africa and Namibia. I have to emphasize that this is not a formal post-Congress tour. It is a purely private initiative for my IFLA and other birding friends. But we are likely to have some places available for IFLA birders who have not so far been part of our birding activities.

For birding purposes Southern Africa can be roughly divided into a moister eastern part and a more arid central and western part. Most international visitors who want to see birds and animals head for the Kruger National Park and the game reserves of KwaZulu-Natal — many IFLA delegates who came to Durban for the 2007 Conference will have seized that opportunity. The trip I’m planning for 2015 will take in the western half of Southern Africa, home of many endemic species, from Cape Town in the South, through the Fynbos and Karoo Biomes into Namibia, and as far north as the Angolan border on the Kunene River. The tour will be led by an experienced bird guide, Japie Claassen, who specializes in this region. For an impression of the birds that may be seen, I have posted here a report on such a trip in August 2013. Japie is knowledgeable about other fauna and flora too. We’ll see a lot of animals. Although we will not look only at birds, participants will need to be birder-tolerant.

We are thinking of tour lasting 19 to 25 days and costing between ZAR 26,700 and ZAR R37,800. (For USD, divide by ten; for Euros, divide by 15, approximately.) It could be scaled down if necessary.

I can provide more information, including draft itineraries to any interested IFLAites. I can be contacted at peterjlor[at]


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L’Arbre aux livres

Before heading for the  80th IFLA Conference World Library and Information Congress, in Lyon, we spent a few days in the lovely city of Nancy, in the Lorraine region of France. Strolling around the Vieille Ville (old town) quarter we came across “L’Arbre aux Livres” (the book tree). This turned out to be a French version of the little free libraries that have been spreading like wildfire across the world since their inception a few years ago.

l'Arbre aux Livres, (Little Free Library) Nancy, France: volunteer restocking and tidying the collection

l’Arbre aux Livres, (Little Free Library) Nancy, France: volunteer restocking and tidying the collection

I spoke briefly to a volunteer who was busy adding some books and putting the collection back into some semblance of order. [Some disorder on library shelves is a sign of vitality; if everything is in perfect order, you have a problem — but that’s another story.] This little free library was the result of a collaboration by several parties:

DSCN2349 lArbre aux livres notic

As in the USA and elsewhere, anyone is free to borrow books and add their own contributions to the collection. L’arbre aux livres is located on a busy square, adjoining a well-frequented brasserie. It was good to see a constant stream of patrons of this establishment, both young and old, interrupting their consumption of beer and wine to sample the books.

DSCN2351 lArbre aux livres3

There are worse things in life than sipping wine and browsing bookshelves on a mild evening as the sun is setting in Nancy.

À votre santé!

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Peter’s Library ABC, 6th instalment: PQR

I’ve been reminded that I haven’t yet posted here the sixth instalment of my Library ABC. Every year, around Christmas/New year, I send out a newsletter to friends and colleagues. It has some professional and personal news, and I add to it a page on which I put pictures of three libraries,with brief information or comments about them. The names of the libraries, or the names of the cities in which they are located, start with three consecutive letters of the alphabet. I started at ABC at Christmas 2008, did DEF in the following year, and so forth. You can find more info and the first five instalments here. Last Christmas (2013) I sent out the sixth instalment, covering the letters P, Q and R. I’ve now posted this as well, here.

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