Global Gleanings #5

Covid-19 again

When my previous column was written the news was dominated by Covid-19.[1] It was still mostly called an epidemic; the word ‘pandemic’ was only just coming into use. In South Africa a lock-down loomed. I reported on some of the ways in which libraries were being affected and how they were responding, but it seemed to me hardly worthwhile to continue collecting more literature on library responses to Covid-19, since it would be over by the time the next column appeared. How wrong I was! How wrong we all were. That includes health professionals, scientists, advisory panels, and politicians.[2] We simply did not know. In this column I revisit the impact of Covid-19 on libraries overseas and how they are responding.

The literature on Covid-19 and LIS has grown enormously. The topics addressed include what librarians are doing to serve their users during the pandemic, how libraries can plan to reopen safely, how our environment might change in the longer term as a result of the pandemic, and how to deal with the ‘infodemic’ of fake news and conspiracy theories that has erupted along with the pandemic itself. Continue reading

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Global gleanings #4: Coronavirus; library programmes; ancient manuscripts

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


The Coronavirus (COVID-19) and libraries

As I write this the news is dominated by the Coronavirus epidemic/pandemic. It is encouraging to see how quickly libraries have been responding to the emerging and rapidly evolving situation. A quick search in Google for “public libraries and Corona virus” turns up a slew of library web pages devoted to it. A good example is the site of the Oak Park Public Library, in Illinois, USA, which offers a page dated 3 March 2020: Under the heading “Coronavirus and your library” the Library offers detailed information sourced directly from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It includes links to travel guidance related to COVID-19 as well as clinical guidance (including a picture of the test kit used for testing for the virus), and some information specifically about how emergency alerts are disseminated in Oak Bay. As a matter of interest, the Village of Oak Bay is a relatively affluent town adjacent to Chicago, and it is known for its architectural treasures in the “Prairie Style” of architecture. Visitors can see a large number of historic buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects working in the Prairie Style (see

You will not believe what librarians don’t all get up to

The rapid response to the Coronavirus illustrates an admirable characteristic of American public librarians: they are aware of the events, issues, needs and crises preoccupying their communities, and they respond quickly – sometimes with anxious soul-searching, but often with practical measures and imaginative programmes. As the following examples show, this is not limited to public librarians. Continue reading

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Reviews of International and Comparative Librarianship: concepts and methods…

Since my last post on this topic, two new reviews of my book have appeared. More details appear under the heading Reviews and author interviews. I mention there a substantial and scholarly review article in Italian by Dr Anna Bilotta, in which she discusses the book in some detail, and also places it in the context of earlier literature.

This also drew my attention to an earlier article by her:

Bilotta, Anna. 2018. ‘Passato e presente della biblioteconomia comparata: scopi, approcci, ricerche [Past and present of comparative librarianship: aims, approaches, research]’. Biblioteche oggi Trends 4 (1): 48–63. doi:10.3302/2421-3810-201801-048-1.

This is a thorough and insightful overview of the main aims and methodological challenges of comparison in libraries. She discusses the development of the field over the years, the relationship between comparative and international librarianship, definitions and aims of comparative librarianship, aims of comparison, the main methodological problems, various approaches to comparison, and stages of a comparative study. She also gives an overview of some of the more important studies, covering much the same literature as I did in my Chapter 2, but adding useful references to some Italian and English-language items I had missed.

I find it gratifying to see not only that the book has been noticed beyond the English-speaking world, but also that the subject of international and comparative LIS is of sufficient interest in Italy to generate an article of this quality and scope.


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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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International Library History News

In my work in international and comparative librarianship and information work, I make much use of historical material. Some comparative work is purely synchronic, considering  situations across cultures, societies or countries as things stand at a given moment in time, mostly the present or very recently. But if we want to know why things are the way they are and why they differ between the units being compared, we need a diachronic element as well. This lends much more depth to a comparative study.

So I’m grateful to Brett Spencer, editor of the American Library Association Library History Round Table’s blog, for drawing my attention to “International Library History News“. This is the International history page of LHRT News and Notes, the newsletter of the History Round Table.  Continue reading

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Global Gleanings #3: IFLA and the Developing World


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

In the previous issue of L-i-T I promised to touch on some highlights of the August 2019 IFLA World Library and Information Congress, held in Athens, Greece. Here I focus on an IFLA meeting, held at the Library of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt, immediately before the Athens Congress. This was a Satellite Meeting of Division V, IFLA’s Division of Regional Activities, on “Leadership roles in international librarianship: how can information professionals from Africa, Asia & Oceania, Latin America & Caribbean be part of  it?” I did not attend it myself, but since the Division issued an important Declaration, I think it is appropriate to refer to it here. But first some background is in order about IFLA’s role in the developing world. Continue reading

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From participation to mobilization:  new roles in French public libraries

In 2016 Raphaëlle Bats contributed an article to an issue of Library trends (vol. 65, no. 2) discussing the responses of French librarians to the terrorist attacks on Charlie hebdo and a Kosher supermarket on 15 January 2015. The LT issue dealt with the theme, “Libraries in the political process and in conflict situations”, and it carried quite diverse contributions from librarians in five countries.  In her article (Bats 2016), Raphaëlle, who is an instructor responsible for international relations at the École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques (enssib), the French national library school, examined the tension between the traditional neutral stance of librarians and their desire to take part (which they did, on a large scale) in the highly political response to the terrorist act, and asked whether the library profession needs to rekindle its activist vocation.

She followed up the theme of librarians’ participation in political activity in her doctoral dissertation, “De la participation à la mobilisation collective, la bibliothèque à la recherche de sa vocation démocratique” (From participation to collective mobilization, the library looking for its own political vocation), which she successfully defended in October 2019, and which was recently published online (Bats 2019). In it she reflected on the trend toward participatory democracy and on the role French public libraries (bibliothèques municipales) might play, pointing to the risks inherent in institutionalizing participation and examining the possible renewal of libraries and the library profession. Continue reading

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IFLA oral history project

In 2027 IFLA will have a big anniversary. It was founded in Edinburgh in 1927, as the International Library and Bibliographical Committee, and only adopted the name, International Federation of Library Associations, two years later, at an international congress in Rome. But officially, IFLA recognizes 1927 as the year in which it was founded. For resources on IFLA’s history, see here.

Library historians don’t only look back. The IFLA Library History Special Interest Group has started preparing for the centenary celebration by embarking on a series of projects on oral histories of the world’s librarians. The series of projects is ambitious and will encompass many approaches. It is hoped that oral histories of librarians will include not only the history of their libraries at the time, but also the librarians’ immersion in social and political issues of their day, and how they faced the new issues presented to the profession at that time.

As part of the project, an open session with theme “Librarians learning from the past to inspire, connect, enable and engage”, is planned for the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, in August 2020. The call for papers has been published at

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Announcement: IFLA satellite conference on “International Research in LIS: Challenges and Opportunities”

I’m happy to announce that an IFLA satellite conference on international research in LIS  will be held in Dublin, Ireland, on 13 and 14 August 2020. The event will be a workshop-style meeting with a practical focus, aiming to improve the quality of international and comparative librarianship. It is being organized by the IFLA Library Theory and Research Section (LTR) with the IFLA Social Sciences Section and IFLA Journal  More details of the topics to be covered and the submission deadlines can be  found in the call of papers at

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Riccardo Ridi on intellectual neutrality: a perspective from Italy

(Version corrected on 2019-01-05, in light of comments from Riccardo Ridi, which I gratefully acknowledge.) 

Italian perspectives

In the English-speaking world, we are not sufficiently aware of the huge amount of professional literature published in other languages. My eyes were opened to the wealth of professional literature in Italian some years ago, when I was awarded honorary membership of the Associazione italiana biblioteche (AIB), the Italian Library Association (AIB). This gave me access to the AIB’s e-mailed newsletter and its various publications. As a means of practising my rather rudimentary Italian, I make a point of reading the regular e-mailed news circular. This points me to the latest articles appearing in its online newsletter, AIB notizie, and its peer-reviewed quarterly journal AIB studi (formerly Bollettino AIB), among others, where I have found interesting and useful articles. (I should mention here another open-access Italian journal well worth following,, Italian journal of library, archives and information science. It has articles in English as well as in Italian.)

While working on a paper on ethical aspects of combating fake news, I discovered that a debate on the post-truth concept and fake news has been taking place in the pages of AIB studi.

Half-a-dozen of these articles are cited in an article by Riccardo Ridi (2019), “Livelli di verità: post-verità, fake news e neutralità intellettuale in biblioteca [Levels of truth: post-truth, fake news and intellectual neutrality in the library].” Ridi’s article seems to me to make useful and thought-provoking points, and since my co-author has even less Italian than I, I made an extended summary of the article, which I share here for those English speakers who may find Ridi’s viewpoint interesting. Continue reading

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