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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Renewing this blog

My son, Alfred, who is not only a fine photographer but also a savvy web designer, is helping me to reorganize this site to make it more accessible and up-to-date. Until now, most of the recent material has been scattered on the main thematic pages, so that these additions do not feature in the “Recent Posts” sidebar. From now on I will post on this blog page, with links to the other pages on which content is grouped thematically.

Now that my book has been completed, there will – I hope – be more frequent posts her about a variety of topics.  Most of these will continue to revolve around my central theme: international and comparative librarianship.

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Riccardo Ridi on intellectual neutrality: a perspective from Italy


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 Rici (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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Peter Lor’s Library ABC, no. 9: XYZ

After a gap in 2016. I have now posted installment no. 9, for the letters XYZ.  The interruption was due in part due to pressure of work and in part to computer problems which resulted in the disappearance of my address database. This has now been reconstructed as far as possible. Here is the library page (p.2) of the newsletter. Page 1 is of a more personal/professional nature. If you did not receive it as an e-mail attachment and want to see it, send me an old-fashioned e-mail (peterjlor[at] and you will be added to the mailing list.

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