- International or Global—The Expanding Universe of Librarianship
This year, the United States Department of Education Title VI programs will celebrate their 50th anniversary. During the Cold War, the United States government passed the National Defense Education Act to marshal all possible resources to improve education in multiple subject areas, initiating the development of National Research Centers (NRCs) in universities across the country, in addition to supporting the race to the moon. Focusing on various geographic regions, including Africa, Asia, and Latin America, these centers were funded to provide support for scholars working in the language, literature, and cultures of countries around the world, with special emphasis on the vernacular languages. The overarching purpose was the enhancement of American understanding of areas outside of our borders. One of the key factors for any university receiving these grants has always been the existence of library resources that will support scholarship in the respective areas.1 The NRC is in many ways the foundation for area studies librarianship.
There are a limited number of these Title VI grants, and there is a great deal of competition for them. However, it is not necessary to be a large research institution to be actively involved in area, international, or global studies and to call upon the library collections and librarians to support these efforts. Institutions with as few as 500 students are fully engaged in providing study abroad opportunities, sister institution or memoranda of agreement arrangements, and others even enjoy recognition as educational non-governmental organizations with consultative status to the United Nations. All of this engagement is a reflection of the revolution in technology and the revolution in communications and information that are discussed in Thomas Friedman's work, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.2 This engagement is also reflected in the growing interest in international librarianship. [End Page 511]
International and Global Education
An increasing number of library schools are offering courses related to "international" or "global studies" librarianship. The content of the courses vary. In some cases, individual speakers are brought in to describe their experiences and approaches to this type of work. In other cases, courses center on a more traditional, resource-based approach. It is most interesting, probably because of the nature of librarianship in the United States, that much of the philosophy of teaching in this area has, at its root, a concern for the information rights of individuals. Civil rights, human rights, and the effects of globalization are all part of the concept of international/global librarianship. The interested individual has probably read David Held, Thomas Friedman, Joseph Steiglitz, Manual Castells, and many others to provide grounding in the concepts and arguments related to globalization.3 Less often, library school students are exposed to more practical advice regarding the challenges of working in this area.
This type of librarianship is not just about a desire to travel to interesting and even exotic places. It implies a real concern about how information is shared, developed, collected, and controlled. The preeminent organization related to this practice is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Their annual conferences provide librarians with the opportunity to present papers, serve on committees, and network with others in far flung corners of the world (at least in terms of the United States). IFLA is more than just an organization that provides an opportunity for travel. It works in many areas to promote freedom of information and the ability of citizens to access this information. Although this is usually the first organization that individuals think of when discussing international or global librarianship, there are many others. Regional organizations also play a very important role in the dispersion of information and understanding of the rights of citizens. These organizations provide technological resources and expertise to developing countries, as well as providing digital resources to institutions in more developed nations.
The field of international librarianship can be thought of as "wide-open" at this point in time. Those involved can find a large number of projects that require attention and thought. The World Summit on the Information Society included input from the library world. The narrowing of the digital...