Systemic library development aid: INASP and Lubuto annual reports

For those of us interested in LIS development in the countries of the South, two annual reports were published this week that are worth looking at: INASP’s 2017/18 digital annual review, entitled Building equitable knowledge ecosystems, and Lubuto Library Partners’ 2018 annual report, entitled Libraries breaking barriers.  They are quite different organizations, but they share something I appreciate, namely a systemic, approach to library and information development in the developing world.

INASP, originally the International Network for Access to Scientific Publications, is an Oxford-based non-governmental organization which has been involved in the development of libraries, information access, scholarly publishing and scientific research in the developing world for some twenty-five years. Its focus has evolved over the years. Initially it became known to librarians as one of the main players involved in promoting access to knowledge (A2K), mitigating intellectual property restrictions by means of negotiated journal access schemes for developing countries. In such schemes development agencies help libraries in developing countries to provide access to the world’s scholarly journals – largely unaffordable to libraries in less affluent countries – by negotiating with publishers to provide access at significantly reduced rates. INASP’s journal access programme was known as the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI), the later phase two of this programme being named PERii.  Other organizations and initiatives in this field include Electronic Information For Libraries (EIFL) and The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL). For more on the A2K context of these schemes, see Chapter 8, Section 8.3 of my book.

INASP did not stop here. When it was found that scholars in some developing countries were not making as much use of their free or low-cost journal access as had been hoped, INASP developed programmes to train library users and to improve the expertise of university library personnel so as to better serve their users. Programmes were also developed to help university IT departments to manage their limited bandwidth more efficiently. In a number of countries INASP helped the country’s librarians to set up national library purchasing consortia to negotiate directly with publishers for more favourable subscription costs, allowing the earlier journal access schemes (PERI and PERii) to be phased out.

In order to remedy the imbalance between the North-South flow of scholarly information and the very limited South-North and South-South flows, INASP embarked on projects to provide electronic access to journals published in the South. The first of these was African Journals Online (AJOL), which today hosts 524 journals from 32 African countries, including 261 open access journals. AJOL was subsequently spun off to a non-profit organization in South Africa. In partnership with Canadian-based Public Knowledge Project (PKP), similar schemes were set up in Central America and a number of Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. Programmes were launched to develop the skills of the developing countries’ authors and journal editors. A Handbook for journal editors was published, and training workshops were held.

In recent years INASP has shifted its focus increasingly to support scholars and scholarship in the developing countries.  This is reflected in the focus of this most recent annual report, which refers to INASP’s mission “to increase the visibility, capacity and involvement” of these scholars, and which focusses on themes such as “employability for social change”, “evidence-informed public policy”, the assessment of journal quality in developing countries, and the building of “global platforms to support strong and equitable research and knowledge”. Equity is a key theme this year, as “inequities within and between research and knowledge systems prevent the full potential of Southern talent from being brought to bear on local and global challenges”. In line with this, gender inequity in particular is being addressed, and a number of dialogues and partnerships were initiated to improve the gender balance in higher education and research.

These activities fit into a development approach which is referred to in the literature as “transformational aid” (Riddell 2014), and which in our context of LIS  I prefer to call systemic aid (Lor 2019, sec. 12.7). This involves interventions aimed at improving the overall functioning of a larger system, in this case the system of communication in science and scholarship, rather than addressing an isolated problem area. In a following blog I’ll expand on this notion, while also looking at the annual report of the Lubuto Library Partners.


Lor, Peter Johan. 2019. International and Comparative Librarianship: Concepts and Methods for Global Studies. Global Studies in Libraries and Information 4. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter/Saur.

Riddell, Roger C. 2014. ‘Does Foreign Aid Really Work? Background Paper to Keynote Address’. Conference paper presented at the Australasian Aid and International Development Workshop, Canberra, February 13.

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Libraries burning again

In 2013 I published an article in Libri about the alarming number of cases in which community libraries had been deliberately set alight in South African townships and informal settlements. Reportedly, this was done by individuals or groups from the communities which those libraries were intended to serve (Lor 2013). What was particularly distressing to South Africa’s library profession was that this was happening after the end of apartheid, under a democratic government which has been making considerable investments in expanding access to library and information services.

After the publication of the article and a related article on “Risks and benefits of political visibility” (Lor 2016), my attention shifted to other areas, and especially the imperative of completing my book. Having not paid much attention to events in community libraries, it was with dismay that I read a statement issued on 13 July 2019 by LIASA President Nikki Crowster, reacting to the burning down of the Letsopa Community Library, in Ottosdal, North West Province.  The Letsopa Community Library was completed in 2014 at a cost of ZAR 12 million (approximately USD 1 million) to serve one of the poorest communities in the province. It was reported to be a state-of-the art community library, which included a toy library for children and special facilities for the blind.

A few minutes’ web searching turned up several more recent cases in which libraries have been damaged or destroyed by arson during the last year: at least three cases during July 2018 and three more during July 2019. The fact that these cases occur in July may be a coincidence, or it could be significant.  In July it is winter here, and the frustrations of residents lacking reliable water, electricity, sanitation, and road infrastructure must be aggravated by the cold, dark days. Underlying this comment is the general assumption that these incidents are part of “service delivery protests”, where residents of townships express their dissatisfaction with local conditions in demonstrations which routinely turn violent. During the protests, major roads are blocked by burning tyres, vehicles are stopped, looted, and torched. Schools, youth centres, municipal offices, clinics, and municipal vehicles as well as the homes of some elected municipal councillors, have been targeted, along with factories and businesses in adjoining industrial areas and private vehicles which inadvertently entered the conflict zone. In the nearby coastal town of Plettenberg Bay, it has been estimated that damage caused during recent protests amounted to around ZAR 50 million (approximately USD 3,5 million), and that the town’s image as a popular seaside destination, built up over years, has been severely damaged.

It should be noted that libraries are not the only facilities subjected to arson attacks. They are by no means the most frequent targets. The assets targeted may bear no relation to the subject of the protest. Schools are frequent targets in protests entirely unrelated to education. In the Zebediela area of the Limpopo Province, a primary school library was set alight as part of protesters’ move to shut down all schools in the area – an action which would have dire consequences for learners preparing for their end-of-school examinations. The reason for the protest? Community members are demanding the construction of a tarred (macadamized) road to serve the community. To outsiders it is puzzling that community members seem bent on destroying the facilities which have been provided for them since the end of apartheid, facilities intended to serve as an instrument of development. There is little evidence that libraries – like schools – are being torched for any reason other than they happen to be there, and that they are seen by the protesters as part or symbol of government.

Various explanations have been offered for the frequency of community protests and the violence which accompanies them. The explanation most often advanced is frustration with the lack of services provided by municipal and provincial government, as mentioned above. In May last year the Minister of Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Zweli Mkhize, reported to Parliament that 87, roughly 31% of the country’s municipalities are “dysfunctional or distressed”. In May this year, the Auditor-General reported that only 18 of South Africa’s 278 municipalities audited had “clean audits”, and that the situation had regressed since the previous year. Community libraries, as municipal agencies, cannot fail to be affected by the crises affecting far too many municipalities. Schools, although not run by municipalities, are frequent targets too.

Secondly, it has been suggested that the protests can sometimes be linked to power struggles within the political party controlling the municipality. A position as a mayor or municipal councillor offers tempting opportunities for self-enrichment and nepotism, hence there is intense competition for these positions.

Thirdly, it is often reported in the media that “criminal elements” exploit the popular discontent, officials stating in the case of Plettenberg Bay, that

the overwhelming public evidence is that this is rampant crime, accompanied by violence, looting, theft and the vandalism, malicious damage of public and private property; with a total disregard of the losses and major inconvenience to business owners, their employees and families…

In earlier cases, it was reported that equipment such as computers was stolen before the buildings were set on fire, while theft of computers and other valuables from school premises remains widespread.

Fourth, the violent contestation can also be interpreted as a legacy of apartheid. Frustrated by the lack of response from the post-apartheid authorities, communities are reverting to a repertoire of actions which they had employed during their struggles against the apartheid regime.

Journalists, political scientists, sociologists and criminologists have written extensively about popular protests (summarized in Lor 2013). It has been pointed out that the term “service delivery protests” is an over-simplification, because not all protests are concerned with poor service delivery. Instead, the term “popular protests” is preferred. The various disciplines take different approaches to this phenomenon. One of the more graphic and insightful studies was that carried out by an interdisciplinary team at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg. The title of the report, The smoke that calls, reflects the rationale often cited by protesters: setting fire is the only effective means of drawing the attention of the authorities to their grievances. The researchers pointed to the rapid processes of post-apartheid class formation, in which “a new elite is emerging” along with “a large underclass of unemployed and precariously employed persons”. They placed this in the context of the transition from apartheid to democracy, which they saw giving rise to “fierce struggles over inclusion and exclusion within the elite, between elites and subalterns, and within the subaltern classes themselves” (Von Holdt et al. 2011, 6). These struggles involve contestation over what it means to be a citizen, and play themselves out in community protests.

Where does this leave libraries?

There are no easy answers. Libraries need to be embedded in their communities. They need to be physically located there, even if it places them in harm’s way. If communities are distressed, libraries will be affected.  Ultimately, if we as librarian believe that in the long term libraries contribute to the development of healthier, socially cohesive and inclusive communities, that is where libraries need to be.


Holdt, Karl von, Malose Langa, Sepetla Molapo, Nomfundo Mogapi, Kindiza Ngubeni, Jacob Dlamini, and Adele Kirsten. 2011. ‘The Smoke That Calls: Insurgent Citizenship, Collective Violence and the Struggle for a Place in the New South Africa. Eight Case Studies of Community Protest and Xenophobic Violence’. Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation; and Society, Work and Development Institute, University of the Witwatersrand.

Lor, Peter Johan. 2013. ‘Burning Libraries for the People: Questions and Challenges for the Library Profession in South Africa’. Libri 63 (4): 359–72. doi:10.1515/libri-2013-0028.

———. 2016. ‘Risks and Benefits of Visibility: Librarians Navigating Social and Political Turbulence’. Library Trends 65 (2): 108–27. doi:10.1353/lib.2016.0025.


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Resources for open access, open educational resources, open science, and more

In this post I highlight the work of Denise Nicholson, Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of Witwatersrand (‘Wits”), who holds a master’s degree in intellectual property law. Denise publishes a free online international information service, [Copyrightanda2kinfo] Copyright & A2K Issues, covering a wide range of topics, including copyright, plagiarism, predatory publishing, and other intellectual property matters, open access, open publishing, open learning resources, institutional repositories, scholarly communication, digitization and library matters, mobile technologies, issues affecting access to knowledge (A2K), particularly in developing countries; World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties, reports and negotiations and matters; free trade agreements and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and attempts to expand it (TRIPS Plus); useful websites, conference alerts, etc.  The content is archived at: One can subscribe to the list at: or email It is kept well up-to-date.

She also maintains a range of useful LibGuides, among others, on Open Access, A2K & Scholarly Communication, Open educational resources, Open Educational Resources for Humanities & Social Sciences: Introduction to OERs, and Scholarly Communication/Publication: Intro. They are well-organized, up-to-date, and crammed with useful links.

While writing chapters 7 and 8 of my book I made good use of Denise’s information service and several of her LibGuides, and I’m indebted to her for constructive comments on the drafts of those chapters. Chapter 7 deals generally with the political economy of information, whilst Chapter 8 is concerned with access to knowledge and global flows of information. To systematize and summarize the huge volume of writing on the latter, I used access to knowledge (A2K) as my umbrella term. Confining myself largely to scholarly communication, I placed attitudes to the intellectual property regime and the positions and initiatives taken in response to it on a continuum ranging from explicit or implicit acceptance of the IP system, through increasing forms of resistance, to rejection of it, as depicted in the following diagram (p.461):

I tend to conceptualize open access as being roughly in the middle of this continuum, since it reflects some ambivalence about intellectual property. Some theorists see the term “intellectual property” as a contradiction in terms, but depending on which model is proposed (grey, green, gold, etc.) there is implicit acceptance of intellectual property along with the desire to combat its excesses. There is much continuing discussion about this,  which is summarized very briefly in my book. Denise’s information service will help you to keep up to date.

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At last! That book

Published at last. Here is the table of contents. For publication details, see here.

International and comparative librarianship book

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Plastic polution: our contribution?

In the last few years the problem of plastic pollution has become a prominent issue in popular media. It is a huge problem. The website of Surfers Against Sewage reports that:

In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. This is set to double by 2034.

Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans.

There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.

The figures are so horrifying that they seem unreal. But the reality hit home when I received a recent issue of a library journal a few days ago. I noticed that it was wrapped in a double layer of quite heavy transparent plastic. In fact, I realize now, every LIS journal I receive, along with every other printed magazine and newsletter, comes wrapped in plastic. No doubt journals in which articles about plastic pollution appear are also shipped in plastic wrappers…

Where does the discarded plastic end up? We put it in the “recyclables” bin, but that by no means guarantees that it is recycled. Is this plastic recyclable? Does our local authority have the capacity to recycle it? Here in South Africa – and no doubt in other parts of the developing world – municipal waste disposal services are not necessarily coping with the volume of waste. Neighbours say that we need not bother to separate our waste, since it all ends up in the same local landfill. That shouldn’t be, but it’s a fact of life in many parts.

This shows that, whilst recycling is important, it is not the complete solution. The  proliferation of plastic should be reduced at source. Journals and magazines should again be wrapped in paper. And it would be even better, faster and more economical, to disseminate them online to all but the declining number of subscribers who have no connectivity. Could the LIS community not set an example?

Afterthought: IFLA’s beautifully produced annual report still comes in a good quality paper envelope.

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Disabled adults in libraries

I’ve just received my copy of the Winter 2019 issue of Library trends (volume 67, no. 3), in a plastic wrapper (about which more later). This issue is devoted to disabled adults in libraries. The introduction, by issue editors Jessica Schomberg and Shanna Honnich, who both identify themselves as disabled, offers a brief but useful overview of “disability models”, the various models by means of which society has conceptualized disability over the past century or two: moral, medical, rehabilitation, social, and critical models. They then introduce the articles that follow. These cover a wide spectrum of disability and deal with disabled persons both as library workers and library users. The articles mostly adopt a critical disability perspective and range from first-person and auto-ethnographic accounts through quantitative and qualitative survey studies. Informative, insightful and sometimes moving, this issue offers the profession new perspectives for what the editors hope will be “a more widespread and much-needed conversation” on issues of disability and libraries. They certainly challenged some of my assumptions and opened my eyes to dimensions I had never considered before. Recommended reading.

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The Library ABC

In answer to questions: earlier blog posts, below, about the ABC are out of date. For all the instalments to date, and for the background story, go to the Library ABC page.

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Journals in international and comparative librarianship

Several years ago I posted here a list of “Important journals in international and comparative librarianship”. It listed eight journals that at the time seemed to be the most important sources of useful articles for my research.  Now that my book has been completed I have revisited the list.

I cited articles from roughly 260 journals, newspapers and newsletters. The majority of these were cited less than five times, most of course only once or twice. Thirty-six journals were cited five times or more. A list of these titles appears here, in rank order. There are no journals specifically dedicated to international and comparative librarianship, but some of the general library and information science journals stood out as sources of useful material. In the book I made extensive use of comparative literature from other disciplines. This is reflected in the ranking of two comparative education journals.  Two newspapers, The Guardian, and The Economist, also appear in the list.

All but one of the journals listed originally are still on the new list: Focus…, IFLA journal, Information development, International information & library review, Libri, New library world, and World libraries. Library times international, which in the end did not yield useful material, ceased with volume 26, no. 4, 2010.

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Everything preserved and discoverable for ever: dream or nightmare?

Whereas the US Library of Congress drastically scaled back its archive of Twitter posts at the end of 2017, the National Library of China has announced that it will archive posts on China’s Weibo microblogging site. On 22 April 2019 the South China Morning Post reported that

“More than 210 million news stories published on, the news portal operated by the parent company of Weibo Sina Corp, together with 200 billion public posts on Weibo, will be archived under a non-profit project by the national library” with the aim of chronicling “ the evolution of civilisation in the internet era for the ‘long term development of information security and digitisation of the country’”.

As a former national library director and one-time chair of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries (CDNL), I was involved in discussions in the mid-1990s on the archiving of internet content by national libraries.  Our discussions focussed on the potential use of legal deposit legislation, technology (how to trawl the web efficiently), and copyright. In principle, I applaud all national library initiatives to preserve their countries’ digital heritage. Indeed the decision by the Library of Congress to limit its archiving to selected tweets has been criticized as a tragic failure to preserve the public record. It is in the public interest that the more or less carefully considered tweets posted by Mr Trump and other public figures be collected for analysis by journalists, political scientists, and historians. A comprehensive database of tweets will be invaluable for media sociologists, political scientists – and security agencies – in analysing the use of Twitter to disseminate fake news and destabilize democratic institutions. And Twitterstorms, in which large numbers of ordinary citizens give vent to their feelings, must be of interest to students of crowd behavious and future social historians.

However, projects of this nature do raise some interesting issues. One is the issue of copyright. Another is that of privacy, explored in a 2012 paper by Smith, Henne and Von Voigt on big data privacy issues in public social media.  I wonder, how many people who tweet spontaneously do so expecting that their messages will be preserved indefinitely and made available to parties not yet identified? In the past, people also sent private messages using postcards, which could be read by anyone through whose hands they passed. But today massive computing power and clever machine-learning algorithms technology make it possible for both good and bad actors to sift through the treasure trove of social media posts rapidly and accurately and learn a great deal more about us than we may think. There is no such thing as a neutral technology.

Before I forget: This is a good opportunity to recognize the [NAT-LIB] National Libraries News site, run by Genevieve Clavel and Stuart Hamilton, where I found the piece on the project which sparked this reflection.

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In press at last

After years of work, my book International and comparative librarianship: concepts and methods (ISBB 978-3-11-026799-0), has been submitted to the printers. It is being published under the auspices of IFLA by the respected German academic and scholarly publisher, De Gruyter Saur, as volume 4 in the series Global studies in libraries and information. It will be released in Berlin and Boston in July 2019, in time for a launch at the August 2019 IFLA World Library and Information Congress.

The book was announced some years ago – embarrassingly long ago – in the De Gruyter Saur catalogue at approximately 400 pages, with the subtitle A thematic approach. But it evolved. As I worked, I was emphatically reminded that professors don’t write books about what they know; rather, they write about what they think they know, but need to check.  This resulted in a long research effort, which sorely tried the patience of my editors, family, and friends. (Thank you all!). Obviously I tried to unearth as much as possible of what has been written about international and comparative librarianship over the years. But I was also led to explore other topics in many disciplines. These included ontology, epistemology, and other branches of philosophy, communication science, systems science, social science research methodology, diffusion of innovations and policy transfer, comparative education and other comparative sciences, political economy, colonialism, and development studies, not to mention just about every area in library and information science.

International and comparative librarianship is a field for generalists. We are interested in everything, as long as it has an international dimension.

After several million keystrokes (with my own two index fingers – I started typing as a child and never mastered touch typing) and after oft-repeated editing and retyping, I have produced a doorstop of more than 330,000 words: thirteen chapters, 734 pages of text, a 130-page bibliography listing over 2,000 entries, and a detailed forty-page index. Here is the table of contents.

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