World Libraries

The Pioneers

Each issue of TWL will recognize the achievements of one person who was active in the early promotion of librarianship in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. For this first issue we have selected Harold Lancour (1908-1981), a man who represented the finest tradition of the library internationalist. Many readers will think of Dr. Lancour primarily as Dean of the library school at the University of Pittsburgh-where he introduced the concept of an international teaching faculty and an internationally sensitive curriculum. Librarians in the developing countries may remember his teaching at the International Graduate Summer School of the College of Librarianship Wales, an institution he helped to establish and support. But his advocacy of the world view began long before, as he studied in 1930 at the Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva. A year later he took his B.A. degree in International Law and International Relations at the University of Washington. His library science Bachelor's degree from Columbia University came in 1936; later study resulted in a Master's degree in 1940, and a doctorate in 1947. Dr. Lancour's library career included the New York Public Library and the Cooper Union (a New York engineering school).

In 1947 he joined the library school at the University of Illinois as Professor and Associate Dean. He spent a year in Britain as a Fulbright Scholar, 1950-51, visiting all the library schools. He promoted the idea of exchanges, and brought British library educators to teach at Illinois. Recognition of his international concerns prompted the U.S. State Department to offer Dr. Lancour a one-year appointment as Director of the United States Information Service (USIS) libraries in France. Invited in 1957 by the Carnegie Corporation to make a survey of libraries in British West Africa, he produced a seminal report; his findings are discussed by Basil Amaeshi in the following section.

When he became founding Dean of the University of Pittsburgh library school in 1961, Dr. Lancour quickly created an international character for the program. He engaged distinguished educators from several countries for his faculty, including Andrew Osborn (Australia), Nasser Sharify (Iran), Norman Horrocks and J. Clement Harrison (Great Britain). Pittsburgh established an important International Library Information Center, and facilitated study in America by students from around the world. He became Director of the annual International Graduate Summer School at the College of Librarianship Wales.

During the 1960's Dean Lancour consulted for the Ford Foundation in Belgian Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda; and for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Chile, Guatemala, Iran, and Mali. He retired in 1974. Further details on his life and career are found in William Nasri's biographical article in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, vol. 37.

My personal friendship with our "pioneer" began in 1961, when I was in the audience for a talk he gave in Ohio. I had recently moved to Ohio to direct a small program in library education at Kent State University. Although we had not yet been introduced to each other, the famous Dean Lancour observed that I was present and referred to me several times during his presentation. He included me among those who were dealing with the grand issues of library education, although in fact I had hardly begun to think about any issues other than the survival of my Kent State program, not yet accredited by the American Library Association, and staffed by only three full-time teachers. Later, in a number of joint ventures, I was to learn that this gracious behavior was typical of the man. He was a great internationalist and educator; but above all I remember him as a true gentleman: one who sought to make everyone in the room comfortable, a part of the event in progress. Well, that must be what a great internationalist is: a gentleman (or gentlewoman) trying to make everyone comfortable in the global room.

© 1990 Guy A. Marco


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