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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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 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

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 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

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

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Webinar on International Research in LIS


I’m pleased to post here the announcement of a forthcoming webinar on International Research in LIS organized by IFLA’s section for Library Theory and Research.

IFLA Webinar: International Research in LIS

Wednesday, May 26 at 17:00 – 18:30 Central European Time CET/UTC+1

Registration Link:

Cost: Free

This webinar will explore international and comparative research in Library and Information Science (LIS). Peter Lor, former IFLA Secretary General and the author of International and Comparative Librarianship will give an introductory talk to examine what is meant by international and comparative research in LIS, what can be learned from such research, and outline what special pitfalls and challenges are to be considered. The introduction will be followed by a panel of LIS journal editors discussing and evaluating the international and comparative LIS research submitted to their journals. The webinar will also include two presentations of international research by Anna Maria Tammaro and Amy van Scoy.


●      Peter Lor (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

●      Anna Maria Tammaro (University of Parma, Italy)

●      Amy van Scoy (University at Buffalo, USA)


●      Kendra Albright and Theo Bothma (Libri)

●      Juan Daniel Machin Mastromatteo (Information Development)

●      Steve Witt (IFLA Journal)

Moderators: Krystyna Matusiak (University of Denver, USA), Egbert Sanchez (National Autonomous University of Mexico), and Stefan Schmunk (University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt, Germany)

Organized by the IFLA Library Theory and Research

​Come and join us, and please share this invitation with colleagues in your region and professional network.

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Global gleanings #7

An infodemic: bad news

In an earlier column I referred to the “infodemic”: a veritable avalanche of news, information, and misinformation that has accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic. Misinformation in a health crisis can have serious, even fatal, consequences.[1] Comments by opinion leaders such as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsanaro (“it’s just a little flu”)[2] or President Trump (“It will just go away, you’ll see”)[3] can seriously undermine the efforts of their epidemiologists and public health workers to bring the pandemic under control. This is illustrated by the high rates of infection in Brazil and the USA respectively. The misinformation put out by “viral” social media messages and by slick anti-establishment, pseudo-science websites spreads like wildfire, stoking distrust, suspicion, frustration and anger. My mother used to quote a Dutch proverb to the effect that, “no matter how fast a lie runs, the truth will always catch up with it”. Unfortunately, today that is no longer true. By the time the facts have been checked and the correct information is disseminated, the offending message, having done its mischief,  has already been forgotten, buried in a layer of new misinformation.

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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

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2020 John Ames Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award

I’m pleased to share the news that the American Library Association (ALA) has honoured me with the John Ames Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award for 2020. The award was presented virtually during the ALA’s Annual Conference in June – which unfortunately I missed.

Since 1987 the award, sponsored by OCLC/Forest Press, has been made annually to a “librarian or person who has made significant contributions to international librarianship.” The citation reads in part, “for over forty years, Dr. Lor has demonstrated his passion for international leadership through his teaching contributions and efforts to guide a new generation of globally-minded librarians. He has worked, often simultaneously, at multiple institutions across the globe teaching library science courses including international and comparative library and information studies”. The ALA’s press release and award citation can be read here.

According to the award’s web page, it was created on the occasion of the retirement of John Humphry as Executive Director of Forest Press, publisher of the Dewey Decimal Classification, to recognize Humphry’s far-ranging work to internationalize the English language editions of Dewey and to ensure that translations were adapted to meet the needs of other cultures and countries. I’m honoured to join the ranks of past recipients, such as Henriette Avram (1990), Robert D. Stueart (1994), Robert Wedgeworth (2000), Marianna Tax Choldin (2005), Winston Tabb (2007), Ismael Abdullahi (2018), and Debora Jacobs (2019), all of whom made major contributions to international librarianship.


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