This Blog

In the course of a long career in librarianship – as a librarian, manager, professional leader, researcher and teacher – and through many years of participation in international programmes and activities, I have held the belief that libraries and information services contribute to peace and justice through the global exchange and sharing of information and knowledge. This site is intended as a resource for all who are interested in international and comparative aspects of librarianship and information work. I focus on matters with a conceptual and historic slant, including LIS development and the international political economy of information, roughly those matters covered in my recent book. But I also indulge myself sometimes and blog to air my opinions on other topics as well.

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Global gleanings no 12:  LIASA in the Literature. Part 1: the beginnings

Twenty-five years! It calls for a celebration, and so this edition of my column and the next are devoted to what has been written about LIASA, both here and internationally. It comes in two parts. In Part 1 I deal with LIASA’s “prehistory”, the processes that led to its founding in 1997, and its first annual conference in 1998. Part 2 deals with LIASA’s development after 1998, and will follow in the next issue of LIASA-in-Touch.

This is more than a literature review, for I also share some personal recollections and reflections on a hectic period of my life, when I was deeply involved in what became LIASA. To compile it, I searched my own database, followed up references, and (not having access currently to any of the specialist bibliographic databases) searched in Google Scholar. If any important sources have eluded me, I will be happy to receive the references. I have not limited myself to foreign literature. In fact, most of the references are to South African writings. However, I have not included items from LIASA’s own publications, annual reports and the like, which are important sources for historians.

From NEPI to ULIS

The founding of LIASA in 1997 was the result of a long process of reflection, consultation, and concerted action by the leadership of our profession.

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South African copyright legislation in the spotlight

Denise Nicholson, whose website Scholarly Horizons (https://scholarlyhorizons.co.za/), is a mine of up-to-date information on scholarly information, intellectual property and much else, last month drew attention to a post on the website of IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, on 2 February 2022,  announcing that IFLA had submitted comments on South Africa’s Copyright Amendment Bill to a consultative process in that country (IFLA 2022).

A contested process

Since 2009 South Africa’s authors and content creators, publishers, readers and information users, and librarians have witnessed – and participated in – a struggle to pass a Copyright Amendment Bill aimed at revising the country’s outdated Copyright Act, No. 98 of 1978 (Nicholson 2020; 2021). The Bill modernizes the legislation and provides for fair use exceptions, including provisions necessary to allow permit preservation digitization in libraries and to give effect to the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (WIPO 2013; 2016), to which South Africa is a signatory. The Bill was passed by the South African Parliament in 2018, but it has not yet been signed into law by the President. In 2020 President Ramaphosa referred it back to Parliament citing concerns about its constitutionality. This has been attributed to pressure from the USA and Europe, whose “cultural industries” seek to prevent the adoption in South Africa and other developing countries of limitations and exceptions that are largely accepted in their own countries. South Africa may be a particular concern to them if it is thought that its legislation may set the standard for copyright reform elsewhere in Africa. Western pressure takes the form of raising tariffs on South African exports or excluding South Africa from favourable trade agreements. (Kayali 2020).

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Global gleanings no 11

A column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, compiled by Peter Lor

In loco parentis?

Not many readers of this column will be old enough to remember the impassioned debates about children’s books, which raged in the Cape Town newspapers in the early 1970s. They were set off by a decision taken by Cape Town City Libraries to ban from their collections popular children’s series such as those by Enid Blyton (who authored over 600 books separately and in various series), the Just William books, by Richman Compton, the detective stories featuring the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew (both series written by a syndicates of authors and published under pseudonyms) and, in Afrikaans, the Trompie and Saartjie series both written by Topsy Smith. Kids lapped them up, one after another, but the librarian in charge of selecting books for Cape Town children, Lydia Pienaar, who had recently been awarded masters and doctoral degrees for her work on children’s literature, decreed that the addicted children wasted valuable time they should have spent reading books of better quality. She had worked out that the average child could only read about 700 books during childhood. After that the golden opportunity to enjoy good children’s books from a child’s perspective, was lost for good. Her opponents, including many parents, argued that these books got kids reading books, which was better than not reading at all or, horrors! reading comics.

Front cover of the first book in the William series. Image (c) Richmal Compton

Comics

The debate about comics is not over. In a 2020 article in the Washington Posts’ Perspectives section, children’s librarian Karen MacPherson makes the case that comics, which she prefers not to call graphic novels, are real books and can be a valuable literacy tool to encourage reluctant readers (MacPherson 2020). 

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Reflections on librarians and time, I: Bach, anyone?

This is intended to be the first of a series of blog posts under the rubric, Reflections on librarians and time. It is a pervasive, multidimensional theme, which impacts the library and information professions in many ways. I shall indulge myself by meandering through it as thoughts strike me, in no particular order and to no particular plan.

As I grow older, I have become more aware of the passing of time. Time seems to pass more rapidly. The days and seasons are shorter. I seem to get less done, probably because I’m slower. I waste time because I dither and fuss. I also seem to read more obituaries.

While working on the first chapter of my book on international and comparative librarianship (Lor 2019), I spent some time looking at the history of international librarianship, and I tried to identify a suitable periodization for the topic. I became increasingly aware of librarians’ world-wide and timeless striving for universality, for building collections that are comprehensive in respect of genre, geography, and time – a self-imposed burden which causes librarians and information workers always to be looking both backwards, to retrieve, record and preserve the documentary heritage of the past, and forwards, to keep up with and anticipate the flood of new information-bearing media and to ensure that they can provide future users with prompt access to it.

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Cataloguing, with love from Italy

In a conversation in a faculty meeting in a leading South African LIS school in the early 1970s, I ventured the opinion that cataloguing is a central competency of any librarian. This was greeted with of derision. Since then, as a manager and researcher, I have observed the practical consequences of the drift away from all library-related things towards the “harder” and more academically respectable discipline of information science. As an ineducable dinosaur, I remain convinced of the centrality of cataloguing in the information professions. You may not have to, or want to, catalogue, but some understanding of the principles of cataloguing is essential to almost any facet of information service. Cataloguing is not a refuge for shrinking violets, for pernickety, nit-picking, obsessive-compulsive types who become librarians because they don’t like dealing with people. Cataloguing is for connecting people with resources. It is basic to the selection, acquisition/ingestion, storage, retrieval/discovery, and availability of bibliographic resources of all kinds, ancient and modern, physical and virtual.

This came to mind when my friend Mauro Guerrini, a professor in the University of Florence, Italy, sent me an advance copy of his book, Dalla catalogazione alla metadatazione: Tracce di un percorso [From cataloging to metadating: traces of a journey] (Guerrini 2020). 

I have to say at the outset that I’m not qualified to expertly review a book on cataloguing. I was taught cataloguing in the mid-1960s, when the rules were set out in the ALA Cataloging rules for author and title entries of 1949, a revision of the 1908 Cataloguing rules, which had been the result of a collaboration between the American Library Association and the (British) Library Association. This was a slim volume with a brick-red softcover. Roughly when I first started teaching in a library school, the “blue code” was introduced: the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR) of 1967, a much thicker volume with a blue softcover. (For correct names and dates of the various editions see Guerrini or Haider (2021).)

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Global Gleanings #10

This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, compiled for LIASA-in-Touch, the quarterly newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA).

I devoted my previous column to libraries and social justice. In this column I follow up by giving prominence to an important article dealing with libraries and social development, before moving on to other topics.

Making libraries developmentally relevant

It is an article of faith of LIS workers worldwide that libraries and information services matter.  We believe that libraries make a difference in people’s lives, and that they can contribute significantly to national development. But there is often an undertone of frustration. We realize that we are not making the impact we should. In 2011 there were more than 350,000 public libraries worldwide, of which more than 250,000 were in developing and transitioning countries, but their potential was not recognized, and opportunities to put them to work in developing communities were being missed. Instead, development resources were wasted and the wheel was being re-invented through the largely unsuccessful introduction of new agencies such as telecentres, while public libraries barely featured on the horizon of development agencies.

In a recent article in Public library quarterly, Ari Katz (A. Katz 2021) describes an international donor-funded programme which attempted to change this. Concurrently with the programmes launched by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations 2015), which offered opportunities for enterprising LIS leaders to insert their countries’ libraries into multi-disciplinary programmes, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was engaged in its ambitious Global Libraries initiative. As part of this initiative, the Foundation contracted IREX, a US foundation, to undertake a series of projects promoting public library development in a dozen low- and middle-income countries. The projects, part of the Beyond Access programme, which ran from 2011 to 2018, aimed at forming a link between public libraries and the development community. Continue reading

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Global Gleanings #9

This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, compiled for LIASA-in-Touch, the quarterly newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA).

An unexpected eruption?

I had started writing this column when, suddenly, violence and looting erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. As I write now, churches and other faith communities are calling upon their members to pray for peace. At the same time social media are sharing heart-warming reports of people coming together to clear away the debris and clean the looted shops and malls. It is good to see and hear this, and even better to participate. Understandably, we are responding to the immediate problem of restoring normality – something that has preoccupied us since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Returning to normality?

But, while we all want peace and order to return, what sort of normality do we want to return to? The same society, with its unemployment, poverty, hunger and deprivation, the same inequality?

There can be no lasting peace without justice. Massive inequality is not compatible with social justice, and it is not a good basis for a stable democracy. The Gini coefficient measures economic inequality, or more strictly, income inequality (Investopedia). According to the World Population Review, South Africa this year (2021) has the highest Gini coefficient of all the 165 countries reported. Here the highest number means being the bottom of the class. We live in one of the most unequal societies on the planet. If this does not change, the tinder will still be there, waiting for the next spark to set it ablaze. Once again, it raised in my mind a question that has been nagging me for many years: what can libraries do to promote social justice? So, I set aside most of the literature I had collected, to focus on some literature on social justice and libraries – with a bit of political philosophy thrown in.

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Webinar on International LIS Research: video & documents

A video recording of the Webinar on International Research in LIS, held by the Library Theory and Research (LTR) Section of IFLA on 27 May, is now available at https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/93943?og=5794. My presentation (at 4:41) was followed by a quite interesting questions and answers slot (at 21:17).

The event programme, presenter biographies, and my select annotated Bibliography on International and Comparative Research in LIS are at https://iflaltr.wordpress.com/international-research-in-lis/.

A somewhat longer version of the Bibliography can be found here.

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Global gleanings #8

This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, compiled for LIASA-in-Touch, the quarterly newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA)

Virtual or real?

As contemporary librarians we devote a lot of our attention and reflection to virtual things: digital delivery of web-based resources, digital courses, meetings, services… whole libraries are today virtual, so much so that virtual has become the default in much of our professional discourse. But non-virtual, concrete, touchable things like physical books and flesh-and-blood library users who come to a real reference desk are also still around, and today I’ll concentrate on these. As an aside, when I started wondering how to refer to non-virtual things, I turned to the website Wordhippo.com to find over a hundred antonyms listed for the various meanings of the adjective ‘virtual’.  ‘Real’ seems to the simplest choice, although, of course, you can have really virtual stuff and virtual reality…

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Webinar on International Research — update and link to Bibliography

For the full programme and CVs of presenters and panelists, see  https://iflaltr.wordpress.com/international-research-in-lis/.

I have added a link to my brief annotated bibliography of international and comparative LIS research.

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