vol. 24 no. 4, December, 2019

Book Reviews

Laugesen, Amanda. Globalizing the library: librarians and development work, 1945-1970.London: Routledge, 2019. vii, 181 p. ISBN 978-0-8153-7003-1. £24.00 (Routledge Studies in Library and Information Science).

This is an unusual study for a language researcher as Amanda Laugesen is a director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre. However, she is also a historian and mainly explores the issues of cultural history, including publishing and book distribution (Laugesen, 2017). This particular book presents the investigation into the activities of British and American librarians directed towards the development of libraries in the 'Third World' or in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It also looks into some programmes delivered through such international organizations as UNESCO and IFLA, but also concentrates on the participation in them of librarians from the USA and the United Kingdom. The Cold War is mentioned as the context of the epoch and helps understanding of many actions taken by the governments and associations of librarians during the 1945-1970. However, it mainly remains in the background and is not explored any further from the point of view of the international library cooperation or from the point of view of the international organisations involved in this cooperation. Partly, it may be explained by the fact that the interest of the Soviet Union in library programmes was marginal as its governments saw mass media as a more powerful tool for delivering propaganda, but I also guess that access to the historical sources reflecting the activities of this big political power is more complicated than access to similar documents in the USA and the UK.

The book is divided into six chapters and a proper historiographic introduction presenting earlier research and sources used in the presented text. The first chapter explores and explains the ideas underpinning the library work and, especially, the development of international library support after the Second World War. The role of libraries in ensuring peace on Earth, modernization of societies, and creation of a free, educated and informed individual as the main pillar of the modern society are the main topics of this chapter.

The second chapter explores the organization of international library development work through the structures of international and national organizations and professional associations. It also analyses and presents the data on such tools of dissemination of ideas, as conferences, seminars, periodicals, as well as the data collection through the surveys and emergence and implementation of the idea of experts. The figure of Harold V. Bony emerges as a most prolific expert working all over the world. Definitely, he was probably the most active and productive experts working under the egis of UNESCO.

The third chapter focuses on the concrete projects, such as UNESCO pilot libraries and National Bibliographic Centres, the development of national library systems in Asian and African countries, the development of collections, providing or adapting tools of library work for the local conditions and users. Though these project in most cases required huge effort and seldom worked as expected, they have made a lasting impact on the local library development. The author of the book tries to identify the results of these projects as they can be evaluated already from the historical perspective, and tries to evaluate the reasons of their successes and failures. Chapter 4 continues the analysis of the previous chapter exploring the input into the development of the library profession and professional education. It is interesting to follow this part and realise different forms that this work has taken and investment put into this area despite many difficulties encountered on the way. It was obviously largely a way of spreading western values, but also understanding that professional librarians create successful libraries.

The topic of the Cold War mainly emerges in the chapter 5 on Libraries as foreign policy and chapter 6 Library diplomacy and exchange. The first of the chapters dwells more on the conflict between the ideological, political and professional values than on the conflict of the competing ideologies. The ideological conflict is visible not only in terms of clash between the 'free democracy' and 'communist dictatorship', but also in terms of competing imperialistic interests of the United Kingdom and the United States. The libraries became the tools in these political fights and to some extent benefitted from it while these institutions were regarded as powerful instruments of ideological fight. I would say that it is unfortunate that this time did not last long enough, though it created certain problems for librarians and their professional moral. Chapter 6 looks into the efforts supporting exchange of professionals, such as study tours, overseas work and the activities of Peace Corps. These attempts have brought librarians with different backgrounds into contact with each other and helped to increase understand between them.

Several decades ago, international librarianship was a popular area of study and comparative library studies were a part of library education programmes. This book is a good sign of the revival of this direction. The historical period, a little part of which is presented in this book, was much richer in international cooperation of libraries, library development work and conflicts in these areas that any one study can embrace. This, by Amanda Laugesen, is a welcome start of investigating the post-war period library development work. However, later periods of international relations in the area of library work are even richer in terms of actors, forms and methods of support, mutual aid channels and participants. They also deserve to be investigated and assessed from various perspectives.

Globalizing the library can be useful to many different scholars: researchers working in the areas of post-war history, cultural studies, library and information science, media studies or explorers of ideology at work. The students of different scholarly programmes could use it to increase understanding of libraries in different contexts around the world. I also would recommend it to professional librarians in general and those working in library cooperation organizations or participating in the development work through other channels. It is quite sobering to have a long-term perspective on the efforts and the results of this work. We tend to have too many expectations or too little trust in our professionalism when we cooperate globally.


Laugesen, Amanda. (2017). Taking books to the world: American publishers and the cultural Cold War. Amherst, MA: University of Masachussets Press.

Elena Maceviciute

University of Borås
December, 2019

How to cite this review

Maceviciute, E. (2019). Review of: Laugesen, Amanda. Globalizing the library: librarians and development work, 1945-1970.London: Routledge, 2019. Information Research, 24(4), review no. R679 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs679.html]

Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.