World Libraries, Vol. 12, No. 2, Fall 2002

Library Aid to Developing Countries in Times of Globalization: A Literature Review


Globalization is emerging as a major issue in the world today, affecting both "have" and "have-not" countries in many significant ways. In the library world, interactions between libraries in developing countries and organizations assisting libraries are not new: provision of information, resources, and expertise has been ongoing for much of the second half of the last century. Some of the issues raised by renewed concerns about globalization, however, stimulate inquiry into the efforts of developed countries assisting libraries in developing nations. Despite questions being raised in the literature of other disciplines about the impacts of globalization, it appears that very little research has appeared in the library literature that examines the impact of this phenomenon on the practice of library aid.

The concept of "globalization" carries considerable political baggage: whether one views the term positively or negatively depends on one's social and economic view of the world. For Held and McGrew [1], globalization is a "re-articulation of international space, in which the notions of sovereignty and democracy are being prised away from the traditional rootedness in the national community and the territorially bounded nation-state." North American information-related companies view this "re-articulation" as an opportunity to expand their customer base into developing countries with technology-driven products, and most articles on globalization reflect this commercially-oriented, North American focus. Peter Evans, in "Trends, Pressures, and Realities in the Library Systems Marketplace," [2] speaks of the need for LIS companies to develop a different "corporate, cultural, and design philosophy" so they can compete and survive in countries with different languages and cultures. David Dorman, in "Taking Library Services around the World," [3] reports on library service companies such as OCLC, Blackwell, and EBSCO, whose globalization strategies are designed to increase their share of the international customer marketplace and place their products in developing countries. Some librarians note that globalization can be a "very positive force for cultural and social and economic development…provid[ing] the opportunity for a much greater understanding and interaction among the various peoples of the world." [4] But this view, also expressed by Dorman, relates primarily to the opportunities and advantages realized by North American libraries whose access to information becomes more global as national barriers fall.

David Korten, former faculty member at the Harvard Business School, expresses a more pessimistic view of globalization. He gives evidence of increasing social and environmental disintegration in developing countries, and documents the negative human and environmental consequences of the successful efforts of international corporations to reconstruct values and institutions in developing countries to serve the company's own narrow ends. [5] According to Korten, the convergence of ideological, political, and technological forces behind this process of economic globalization shifts power away from the local governments who should be responsible for the public good (including funding for libraries) and shifts that power toward a handful of corporations and financial institutions driven by the quest for short-term financial gain. A negative view of globalization is also voiced by Alan Scott, who notes that increasing cross-national flows of information tend to make "nations, nationality, and national boundaries less important to people's lives," [6] resulting in a loss of local identity, control, and responsibility.

This review of literature pertaining to library aid and globalization was prompted by the authors' vacation visits to libraries in various countries, conversations with librarians in developing countries about the "double-edged sword" of donations, and by the authors' admiration for those librarians who continue to deliver very important services in developing countries despite limited resources. The review will focus on two questions: what are the major needs of libraries in the developing countries? And, what are some of the ways those needs are – or are not – being met? Despite anecdotal evidence gathered by the authors during visits to developing countries that globalization has affected the type of library aid now needed, no research could be found that linked these two phenomena. It is the contention of the authors, however, that lessons learned from the existing research about more traditional "book" aid remain very relevant to library aid relationships affected by globalization, and that these lessons should be used as the basis for further research that incorporates this new phenomenon of internationalization.

The phrases "Third World" and "developing countries" are essentially Western in origin and use; they are used to describe less affluent countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. These descriptions are considered to be ethnocentric by most outside the Western world who do not characterize themselves in this way, nor divide the world into two camps – developed and developing. [7] However, in the context of the literature to be discussed, these terms will be used as they are in the literature.

Because a wide diversity of political, economic, cultural, historical, and geographic factors affect libraries in different countries, it is impossible for a single document, or even a suite of documents describing specific needs, to serve as a detailed blueprint for all. As a result, the literature chosen for Part One of this review was selected for its ability to provide general overviews of library needs in developing countries. Essays and books are included that provide a philosophical overview of issues and attitudes for both "givers" and "receivers," an understanding of which is essential in developing successful programs. Although published in 1966, Lester Asheim's classic, Librarianship in Developing Countries, remains an excellent explanation of the philosophical underpinnings of culture and libraries, knowledge of which is central to developing successful aid programs. [8] Asheim's book will form the starting point for Part One of the review.

In Part Two, the focus is on articles that describe an array of different programs that have assisted Third World countries with library development. There are many different past and present aid programs to libraries all over the world; it is impossible to review all of them. Therefore, we have selected articles that represent both positive and negative examples of different types of projects, while also highlighting a variety of donor and recipient countries.

One further point regarding literature selected: not surprisingly, much of the literature written in recent years about both the needs of libraries in developing countries and the projects in place concerns technology. While not discounting the importance of technology in this field, we have chosen to focus our attention upon more traditional areas of need, such as collection development and preservation, literacy, indigenous book publishing, and staff training initiatives. Despite the attention being diverted to automating and connecting libraries in both developed and developing countries, traditional areas of need still exist and, perhaps, are in danger of being overshadowed. As Lucinda Zoe explains in her thesis on women's information centres in developing countries:

While library scientists and information specialists praise the abilities of the new technologies developed for information management – computerized online catalogs, commercial online database services, CD-ROMs, laser printers, FAX machines, and electronic networking to name a few – the small information centers in the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America struggle with fugitive materials that do into fit neatly into traditional classification schemes. … Furthermore, however impressive the new information technologies and communication systems appear, use is difficult, if not impossible in areas where the infrastructure is not solid: the telephone system is unreliable or erratic; power supplies are often interrupted or non-existent for days, if not weeks; equipment, maintenance costs and access to continued materials (disks, paper, ribbons, etc.) are beyond the financial resources of organizations; and privacy, confidentiality, and protection of information is difficult… [9]

Part One: Library Needs in Developing Countries

Asheim Still Relevant

Lester Asheim wrote his brief but compelling book, quoted from below, after he spent five years (1961-1966) visiting libraries in Africa, Latin America and Asia as Director of the American Library Association International Relations Office. The quotation provides his basic premise for appropriately serving the cause of librarianship around the world. Although written nearly four decades ago, many of Asheim's observations about library operations in North America and developing countries still hold true, but his opinions must, of course, be taken in the context of the times – the early 1960s.

You may remember that I began with a reference to Culture Shock, which I said occurred whenever the system of logic in which we believe is challenged by a logical system to which we do not yet possess the key. It is not the other system that must be corrected, but the absence of the key. There are usually reasons for what people do, even if they are not our reasons. Before we condemn out of hand a pattern of behavior which happens not to fit our preconceptions, we should try to find out what the reasons were that led to it. We may still not accept the reasons as valid for us, but we may discover a different context of validity for evaluating the behavior pattern and its use by others.

Lester Asheim, Librarianship in Developing Countries [8]

Closed shelves, lack of extensive reference or circulating services, differing or absence of classification schemes, limited children's service and, above all, an emphasis on the primacy of the book over the reader are characteristics of Third World libraries as observed by Asheim. These characteristics are still prevalent today. In his book, Asheim looks for the "key" he mentions above. He describes how economics, education, societal structure, attitudes towards authority, the impact of colonization and its (supposed) overthrow, the predominance of the English language worldwide, religious beliefs, attitude towards work, low prestige assigned to librarianship, and even climate have affected the development of libraries in these countries, and have resulted in libraries which, to Western standards, may appear to be below the mark. Asheim urges us, however, to avoid making that evaluation because:

... the difference between two concepts of a service, an objective, or a procedure can be measured by the gap that exists between what each faction sees as the essentials. The essentials are determined by the goals each side wishes to attain, whether overtly stated or not. And the goals reflect the system of values each party holds, determined by its history, its tradition, its culture. We are as much victims of our heredity and environment as they are of theirs. . . [8]

Despite the "chasm" between cultures Asheim describes, he believes librarians can establish bridges. According to Asheim, the first question to answer is the hardest: "Does anyone really want the help we offer?" To provide background for one's decision, Asheim then discusses many of the negative ways that Americans and Europeans have used libraries as propaganda agencies for political reasons (for example, donating books reflecting an anti-communism ideology) that in some cases led to the retardation of local development, an opinion shared by others: "[In the past,] … the establishment, growth and decline of donation programs were more closely related to changing American foreign policy objectives than to the success or failure of… [the programs themselves]." [10] Despite possible negative elements, Asheim concludes that six characteristics of American librarianship are worthy of export:

  1. the conception of the library as an organization of books,
  2. the evolution of a library profession,
  3. the attitude of service,
  4. the function of the library as an education institution,
  5. the role of the library in the advancement of intellectual freedom, and
  6. the conception of organized information as a public resource and responsibility. [8]

Simply put, aid programs that support one or more of these functions and have the support and cooperation of local authorities are desirable. Attitude is everything, according to Asheim: "…we must begin to see ourselves as an equal partner in an exchange rather than as a condescending Lady Bountiful. We must . . . develop an Ear of America as well as a Voice. We must listen as well as tell, learn as well as teach, receive as well as give." [8] To further this interactive rather than autocratic viewpoint, Asheim favors programs that acknowledge the need "…to adapt rather than to adopt the methods and procedures that we happen to favor for our own purposes." Finally, quoting "an old India hand" [Ranganathan], Asheim encourages those wishing to advance librarianship in developing countries – "a daunting task" – to substitute the word "problem" with "opportunity."

Donor Objectives

A thorough search for reports or theses reporting research results focused specifically on library aid revealed little scholarship in this area. The research of Jesus Lau, however, provides excellent information necessary for understanding the economic and political complexity of well-intentioned but sometimes ill-advised donor objectives. His assessment of the relationship between information growth and social development in 31 countries from 1960 to 1977 revealed that the information gap between developing and highly developed countries is widening faster than the social gap (life expectancy, food consumption). His results also suggested that increased information development as shown through library indicators is associated with positive change in social development. [11]

D.E.K. Wijasuriya, International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Representative for Asia and Oceania in the 1990s, echoes Asheim's and Lau's recommendations in a framework for development adopted by IFLA and described in "The Advancement of Librarianship (ALP): IFLA's Core Programme Orientation to the Third World." [12] Much of this document concentrates on facts about developing countries, terms of reference, and time tables, but the author also outlines general objectives and programme areas:

The main objectives of the ALP Core Programme are to contribute, within the framework of IFLA's programme structure, to the progressive improvement of library and information services within the developing countries so as to enable them to contribute significantly to national development. At the same time, programme objectives shall place special emphasis on the creation of conditions likely to contribute towards national initiatives and a systematic progression towards self-sufficiency.
Wijasuriya acknowledges that the advancement of librarianship (ALP) "can be conceived in the most infinite terms," but maintains that for practical purposes, the primary goals in 1990 were:
  1. the establishment and development of public library systems with particular attention to the needs of rural and urban marginal areas,
  2. greater identification of libraries with literacy programs, and
  3. greater attention to education and training.

According to Irene Norlund, Scandinavian aid agencies (SIDA, NORAD and DANIDA) have specified support of culture through library/archival aid as a primary objective since the early 1980s. In "Culture and Institution-building," Norlund outlines both the problems and benefits of aid programs designed to support cultural heritage. [13] Major obstacles include the reticence of aid organizations to support such programs, combined with the ambiguous attitude to cultural aid funds held by governments in some recipient countries, who may favor programs that show a direct economic benefit. She promotes providing assistance to 1) set up new archives and libraries, 2) collect and organize documents, and 3) train librarians to maintain access to historical materials as the key components in preserving of indigenous cultures. "Support to culture will also lead to the building up of enriched and renewed institutions and by that means increased capacity," observes Norlund. The fragile nature of important cultural and religious documents in developing countries makes more compelling the need for collection and preservation. Many are held in private collections and religious temples or monasteries, where maintenance is not secure. "There is limited time to save these irreplaceable heritages, which are a key both to enlarging knowledge and self-confidence and to building institutions which can link up to the world at large," concludes Norlund. [13]

Carolina L. Afan, Library Director - Cultural Center of the Philippines, agrees with Norlund's point of view about the importance of preservation, but from the perspective of an aid recipient, not a donor. She sees a need for support beyond written forms of communication: "The librarian and other cultural workers should have the skills and knowledge in documenting prints, tapes, photographs, films, videos and others." [14] Expertise in preservation regarding these different media is necessary as audiotape, video, film, etc. are more "natural" media for oral cultures to record their stories, history, etc., rather than in the Western tradition of print. Afan speaks strongly and persuasively in favor of repatriating rare historical and cultural materials that are in European and American archives since "colonizers had their share in looting and taking away the resources of their former colonies." In the same vein, she cautions her colleagues:

[Developing] countries should guard against the intellectual and cultural exploitation being done by some foreigners who in the guise of doing research are actually taking advantage of our natural and human resources for their own use and interest. Cultural agreements, donor contracts and exchanges should be carefully studied and analyzed before going into them. Any agreement should benefit both countries and must not be a one-sided affair. [14]
Other librarians and educators have voiced the same concern – that aid to libraries not be a form of "neocolonialism…to perpetuate cultural and economic dependency" on donor countries. [10] Mary Niles-Maack believes that donors' goals must be examined closely: initiatives based on the aim of spreading Western culture have caused "intellectual consequences" for developing countries, as a dependence on foreign books prevents the promotion of local publishing initiatives. [10] As well, donor objectives may be tied to larger global alliances – for political and strategic reasons the donor country may want to strengthen ties with the recipient country. Afan concludes her report by noting that the central government of the Philippines has embarked on a decentralization process for both cultural centers and libraries, which she describes as "the democratization of access to libraries and other learning centers, insuring the provinces and regions that their cultural treasures will be left to them to be utilized, conserved and appreciated." [14]

Rosario Gassol de Horowitz also writes about donor objectives from "a Third World perspective" (the sub-title of her book Librarianship). Like Asheim, she observes that library development has taken place from "the Anglo-Saxon tradition" and has been "propagated, consciously or unconsciously, by Western librarians traveling abroad on consultant missions and through library literature, much of which has been produced in the United States." [15] Paraphrasing Ivan Illich, she states that "the nations of the West are packaging their services to contain their views of the world." Rather than rejecting the contributions of the West, Horowitz (in terms she herself identifies as more closely related to liberation than development), calls instead for innovative leadership from librarians in developed countries and an enhanced communication process to assist those countries in breaking free from their inherited mantle of dependency and oppression. "The new orientations confirm the calls for a new type of professional and for a bold and non-traditional library service which cuts across the compartmentalization imposed by tradition and organizations, to meet the circumstances and conditions in which people find themselves." [15] She urges that isolated library workers in developing countries seek support through strengthened ties with other workers throughout the country—as well as the continent—by creating active and cohesive professional associations.

Language Challenges

Language issues are problematic for many developing countries—as well as for donor agencies. In The Bookseller (11 April 1997), Caroline Horn notes that South Africa and Ethiopia each have eleven language groups, and she identifies language as a prominent concern for library/literacy projects in these countries and others. [16] Her article also supports the fact, often mentioned in the literature, that libraries are foreign to the way of life for many traditional, oral societies in Africa. As a consequence, governments may be unaware of the purpose and benefits of libraries and reluctant to support them financially.

The issue of language and library development also surfaces in Asian countries where oral traditions have predominated. From a Malaysian perspective, Diljit Singh notes that the "…reading habit is still not fully ingrained in the Malaysian public." [17] He attributes this partially to the fact that Malaysians (East and West) speak many different dialects, creating difficulties for library clients seeking service and materials in their local language. This problem highlights the need for support of local publishing initiatives so people can have access to literacy programs and to relevant materials in local libraries and bookstores - in their own language.

Need for a Cooperative Approach

With its long history of apartheid, South Africa serves as an interesting example of "have" and "have-not" communities within one country. The Use of Libraries for the Development of South Africa; Final Report on an Investigation for the South African Institute of Librarianship and Information Science proposes a plan for development consistent with the views expressed by Asheim. [18] The report states: "Librarians should familiarize themselves with the psychology and the sociology of the underdeveloped. In particular they should not expect persons bred in the culture of the subordinate to act according to the cultural and psychological patterns of the dominant." The report is also reminiscent of Asheim's observations regarding assumptions about the "apathy of the underdeveloped," a phenomenon that Zaaiman describes as a psychological state induced by subordination and a dependence on "the dominant group" as well as the overwhelming battery of problems that disadvantaged individuals face. Skepticism on the part of recipients and frustration and discouragement on the part of librarians from donor countries can result. This report says that a cooperative approach to development is absolutely necessary to counteract creation of a cycle of apathy and donor disappointment:

Developing communities should always be fully involved in the planning, development and execution of development projects that concern them... Community involvement means exploring the people's basic needs with them, and designing and developing methods with them to fulfill those needs. It should be remembered that the underdeveloped cannot relate to a concept such as "libraries" of which they have had no experience... Key groups of opinion makers within the developing community should be identified and their views and approval sought at all stages of the investigation, design and implementation of library services... Librarians, should, however, guard against the danger of accepting the views of elites in developing communities as representative of all the needs of that community. [18]

One of the strongest supporters of this co-operative approach is Carol Mills, librarian from the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. In "Aid for Libraries: Should One Look the Proverbial Gift Horse in the Mouth?" she criticizes blanket donations given without prior collection management assessment work done by recipients, saying that this lack of joint responsibility institutionalizes aid and causes an "aid dependent mentality." [19]

Special Needs of University/Research Libraries

In her article "Filling Bare Shelves," Carolyn Sharples laments the fact that as aid organizations and governments of developing nations have focused on literacy and books for children, academic institutions have suffered. [20] Cancellation of journal subscriptions has been common as prices have increased, mostly in the area of medicine. Specifically, she notes that books on "tropical medicine, primary health care, women in development, and intermediate technology are…priorities" for her agency, Book Aid International. [21]

Sharples also discusses the difficulties that academic librarians in developing countries encounter when they try to obtain information about newly published material. It is a "Catch 22" situation if library staff are expected to indicate what they need when they do not know what is available. This situation makes bibliographic and selection tools high on the list of desirable materials.

These concerns are reinforced by Yogendra P. Dubey, Professor in Library and Information Science at Banaras Hindu University in India, who describes in his 1986 conference presentation the problems that Indian librarians encounter when they try to meet professors' and scientists' demands for scientific and technological information. [22] Although widespread use of the Internet now makes some of Dubey's observations about information needs outdated, many of the problems he mentions still exist in academic libraries. These include heavy reliance by developing countries on scientific books and journals from the West, in the absence of "home-grown" publishing; supply and currency problems; high prices for subscriptions; copyright restrictions that limit the free-flow of information; constraints of multiple indigenous languages; educational systems that foster rote learning and do not promote individual research; low demand for library services due in part to lack of awareness of their role; and passive attitudes of librarians. Dubey confirms Asheim's observation that when resources are very scarce, service may not be a priority, and "the book" is more important than the person: "they [librarians] are more product than service oriented, i.e., more toward production of bibliographies, catalogues, etc. than toward services directly oriented to users (such as question-answering)." [22] He concludes with a recommended strategy to alleviate these problems that will result in the development of information distribution industries (publishing, libraries, scientific and technical services), knowledge production industries (research and development, education) and information technology industries.

Importance of Local Publishing

Mills [19] and Priestley [23] both emphasize the key role played by aid or assistance to support indigenous publishing: they maintain that such help is essential if developing nations are to gain true autonomy and supply relevant materials to their citizens. Priestley breaks down the book needs of Third World African countries into six categories: capital funding; the need for textbooks to support education; distribution and marketing knowledge; paper; the need for local language translation, co-publishing, and licensing; and training. Her support for local publishing is strong, but she cautions that poverty and inexperience may be the catalysts for corruption within projects: misappropriation of paper stock and "mismanagement by cumbersome, bureaucratic procedures and unqualified officials" are often significant issues to consider. She concludes that for local publishing to succeed, business management training in areas specific to publishing is crucial, to ensure that grant monies are better managed, overhead costs are considered, and marketing plans are developed. Donor countries need to shift from facilitating the dumping of unwanted materials, such as surplus print runs, to supporting indigenous publishing. [23]

Part Two: Specific Aid Projects

Research Reports

Investigations on the efficacy of library aid projects in specific countries or to particular institutions appear to be very scarce: no research case studies or analyses were located. However, studies that focus generally on library services in one developing country or to one client group in such countries provide informative contextual background. The most relevant research projects that discuss some aspect of library aid are those of Al-Hanari, Bouri, Stander, Floren-Romero, and Zoe.

Abdulaziz Mohamed Al-Hanari's Ph.D. survey research revealed the important roles that national libraries play in developing countries, and resulted in a list of recommended functions for a proposed Saudi Arabian national library. [24] Elizabeth Bouri examined Egyptian public library development in her doctoral research, revealing the positive influence of international agencies such as UNESCO in the 1960s and subsequent public policy choices of the Egyptian government that led to the decline of public libraries. [25] How to formulate standards and guidelines for school libraries in developing countries was the central question in Cecilia Stander's research, based in South Africa. Stander concluded that basic school library principles can be applied, but that the diverse perspectives of users make adherence to universal standards problematic. [26] Two theses focused on information needs/services of special groups within developing countries: Maria Floren-Romero examined the difficulties that pharmaceutical researchers in the Dominican Republic encounter when trying to obtain information, and their reliance on colleagues' resources outside the Republic [27], while Lucinda Zoe explored the growth of women's information centers in developing countries – their relationship with and reliance on the international library community. [9]

Book Donations, Publishing and Distributing

In many cases in the past hundred years, libraries and publishing companies shipped off surplus materials to well-intentioned organizations that "dumped" those items in developing countries, notably those in Africa. As described by Mills:

First came the missionaries who propagated their faith by direct action, religious and social; their return being souls and the pacification of the area. In more recent times, governments have largely replaced the churches, aiming to spread the word of their friendly intentions. At times, aid to libraries has had little to distinguish it from the 19th century ‘books for heathens' syndrome. [19]

Donors paid little attention to the language, currency, or context of the material, and the recipient countries were rarely, if ever, able to choose their own books. And even if the recipients could choose, they had little knowledge of what to request. In her article for The Bookseller, Seaton gives a list of "unhelpful books donated" to Book Aid International's Africa book drive, which includes the AA Road Map of Bristol, and The Garth Brooks Scrapbook. [28] This problem of inappropriate giving is frequently noted in both research articles and opinion pieces on library aid, with poor communication between donor and recipient cited as the primary cause.

According to Margaret Bywater, libraries in Cambodia receive some material from overseas that is useful, but they have also received material "which is totally irrelevant to [their] needs now or in the future." [29] Filling library shelves with this irrelevant material discourages rather than encourages use, thereby thwarting the donors' intentions. As an alternative, Bywater recommends the donors consider giving monetary grants that allow staff in libraries to select their own books: this will ensure relevancy and support local publishing. Carolyn Sharples agrees with Bywater regarding "problem" donations and the need to support local publishers. She notes that since 1990, Book Aid International (BAI) has been "refining [their] work to become far more targeted and responsive to the needs of partners overseas." [20] This resulted in project development that specifically targets subject areas where materials are scarce. One project – BAI's Africa Book Collective – purchases African books published locally and then distributes those materials throughout the region, thereby helping to establish a local book market. Sharples acknowledges, however, that despite the increasing output of small local publishers, sufficient "suitable" material is difficult to find, especially children's books, which are in high demand.

E.A. Mwinyimvua of the Tanzania Library Services Board also discusses the measures that Book Aid International has taken in his country to provide suitable books, promote local book production, and ease the administrative burden on recipients. [30] Three members representing recipient libraries now sit on the BAI Council, facilitating information flow and influencing policy regarding donations to Tanzania and other African nations. As well, all recipients fill out detailed evaluation forms each year, which enables BAI to select books according to library requirements. BAI also invites librarians from recipient countries to spend three months at BAI Headquarters in England selecting books. To stimulate local book production, BAI provides funds for Tanzanian librarians to purchase books published in other African countries. Mwinyimvua believes that Tanzania will continue to need book aid for many years as currency devaluations make purchase of expensive foreign books even more difficult and as rising literacy rates cause demand for books to outstrip the supply, even with increased local publishing efforts.

The IFLA/UNESCO "Books for All" initiative is another international library project. As project coordinator Lioba Betten explains in "Foreign Aid for Children's Libraries: 25 Years," its aim is to fight illiteracy through providing children in developing countries with books. [31] Betten notes that Books for All seeks to provide long-term aid to libraries and to local booksellers, authors, and publishers by purchasing books in local languages.

Caroline Horn also is critical of those overseas publishers who donate irrelevant materials and encourage "librarians in developing nations to send their orders outside the country." [16] Speaking specifically of African aid projects, she reports that in Senegal "some 80% of books are imported, but are too expensive for the indigenous population. Once students leave school, they are unlikely to pick up a book again." Local efforts are the best means to ensure literacy and relevancy. In her opinion, "book aid programmes can, where properly targeted, help to overcome some of the shortages [of materials], but while libraries remain dependent on aid they are not supporting local publishing initiatives." [16]

S.M. Made, speaking of African aid projects in the early 1980s and Zimbabwe in particular, notes that "low literacy and purchasing power and high unit costs necessitate small editions [of locally produced material], which in turn necessitate small markets and limited distribution." [32] Local printers in developing countries may lack the capital required to purchase paper stock, which often needs to be paid for in advance. Made adds that various local languages and dialects can pose challenges as they may not translate well into the Latin alphabet required for printing. Aid organizations may assist local publishers to solve these problems by encouraging and funding regional associations or consortia of publishers: combined purchasing power to buy bulk paper stock and combined expertise may help to overcome difficulties.

Carol Mills from Fiji is one of the few voices in the literature with a "recipient" perspective. She examines the reasons why developing countries in the South Pacific are not getting what they need from donors:

Donor agencies tend not to set explicit targets, fail to evaluate their donations, and do not properly manage their aid. Books sent at cost may simply sit there if they are not appropriate, making the uninformed donor feel good while creating a burden for the recipient. Sometimes the recipient accepts simply to avoid giving offence and to keep communications open, or else accepts donations with a peripheral value because they are better than nothing. [19]
Mills' comment is crucial to understanding the complexity of library aid in specific countries because her words concern the power relationship that exists with donor/recipient relationships. Many recipient libraries and information centers are reluctant to express their needs firmly for fear of being cut off entirely. This fear, in turn, is reflected in the collections, as it causes library staff in developing countries to be hesitant about weeding irrelevant material. They do not wish to offend donors by throwing out "gifts" and they are anxious that little would remain in their library if they culled all irrelevant material – collection "starvation rather than poverty." [19] As Margaret Bywater notes in her article on Cambodia: "[there is] a reluctance to dispose of anything. . . because people still feel strongly the loss of personal possessions during the Pol Pot period." [29] Peter Brush, a consultant at the National Polytechnic Institute in Laos, also writes about the reluctance to weed. He observed that many titles in the Laotian collection were in foreign languages—Russian, English, French and Vietnamese—which presented a cataloging dilemma because no translation services were available. The library could offer little material in Lao, as Laos has a small population and a very small publishing industry. The Institute had no collection development (or weeding) policy, and the Institute Director was reluctant to dispose of any books, even those outdated, irrelevant, and uncataloged because all had been donated. [33]

Scandinavian countries have a laudable history of providing aid to libraries and other cultural institutions in developing countries. This support is documented in a 1995 issue of Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly that focused entirely on Nordic aid initiatives. The articles report on the purpose and progress of projects in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba. A typical project is one focused on Africa and funded by SIDA, the Swedish International Development Authority:

The SIDA project "Words-Books-Democracy" is one example of an attempt to get a holistic perspective within the literature area. The objective is to create and maintain a literate and reading environment and to protect freedom of expression. This requires access to books, newspapers, magazines and so on. The development co-operation shall strengthen the documentation of oral storytelling traditions, author organisations, independent indigenous publishing, the printing industry, distribution channels, libraries, and so on—all links in the complete chain. [34]

An annotated list of current and recently completed library aid projects where Nordic funders are involved concludes the issue. [35]

Children's books are in great demand in most developing countries, particularly in Africa, but the cost of a book, even one locally published, is beyond the price range for most people. Rebecca Knuth in an IFLA Journal article revealed how five international organizations are seeking to redress this situation. [36] An innovative joint project by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) and UNESCO involved the production of 2000 kangas (Kenyan cloth pieces used as clothing or baby carriers) that were "imprinted with words and pictures as a child's first text book." In another project, the International Youth Library (IYL) supported "cross national publication and translation" of books from Africa and Europe, while the IASL (International Association of School Librarianship) and UNESCO cooperated to provide books for school libraries that focus on "local needs" in their collections. Citing a UNESCO project in Croatia as an example, Knuth stresses the special need for children's libraries in war-torn or famine-stricken countries as these libraries help refugee children who are "coping with stress and trauma." [36]

Carol Mills provides the best overall assessment of different aid programs, based on her experience at the University of the South Pacific (Fiji) where donations form the basis of the collection. Her evaluation includes the book aid models of 1) clearinghouses, 2) twinning (mentor/sister-city programs) relationships, 3) interest groups, and 4) unsolicited donations. [19] She concludes that clearinghouses have varying degrees of success, providing "unbalanced donations of discarded surplus materials," and indeed may impose a burden beyond useless books, as recipients may have to pay some or all of the freight costs in shipping materials. She is more supportive of twinning relationships because of the personal element involved, but cautions that these arrangements often cannot be sustained.

Academic Libraries and Archives

Academic libraries and archives in developing countries have garnered less attention in the past decades as aid organizations focused on literacy and books for children; however, several important initiatives are mentioned in the literature. The International Campus Book Link Project (ICBL) was created in 1992 by Book Aid International to support African university libraries through donations of current and back issues of academic journals, particularly in the area of medicine where the shortage is acute. In describing this project, Sharples notes that journals are particularly difficult materials to supply because of sustainability problems: many aid programs are short term—three years at the most—and are dependent on fluctuating donations from institutions, not an ideal way to build a journal collection. [20]

The Overseas Library Committee at the University of Calgary, Alberta was very active in the 1980s and early 1990s coordinating shipments of donated materials. As detailed in the Canadian Library Journal by King and Matheson, volunteer librarians gathered, sorted, boxed, and shipped scholarly and professional books and journals to universities, colleges and research corporations in China, Central America, Yemen, Bhutan, the West Indies and Africa. [37] These volunteers clearly recognized the importance of communication between donor and recipient institutions. In this case, as in others identified in the literature, the motivating force for the volunteer librarians was a "feeling of professional solidarity, such as from one library to another." [19] Books were not sent "on spec" to libraries in developing countries. Instead, "inventory lists of donated materials [were] maintained and circulated to interested libraries, where selections were made by librarians. Only those items selected from the inventory list were sent." [37] The project relied on the generosity of the Calgary corporate community, which provided free storage and sorting space, and arranged for free shipping of boxes. However, an economic downturn in the 1990s jeopardized corporate sponsorship, resulting in cancellation of the project.

Jan Lyall focuses on the preservation crisis in research archives and libraries in her IFLA Journal article. She cites the need for funding projects to preserve the audiotape and film that historians used to record the oral traditions of many South Pacific nations. Given the general lack of written cultures in this area, these media were very appropriate for information gathering, but their short life span in a tropical climate makes them an archival/library nightmare. Palm leaf manuscripts are another medium of concern in Southeast Asian countries: the leaves themselves are disintegrating, along with the disappearance of the skill to write and read the traditional script of most of the manuscripts. [38] Lyall notes further that the political climate, as well as the physical, is an important factor in this crisis. Governments in many developing countries are coping with cash shortages, health emergencies, and political strife and instability. As a consequence, they allocate a very low or non-existent priority to libraries, making the largesse of donors to fill this gap crucial. An example of such assistance is the "Preservation of Lao Manuscripts" project, funded entirely by the German government through the "Memory of the World Programme" launched by UNESCO. Its purpose is "to focus world attention on the need to safeguard endangered and unique library and archives collections, and to improve their accessibility to people of the world." [39]

Expertise, Education, and Training

The practice of importing of experts from afar is also discussed in the literature, with most authors stressing that this approach neglects to address the problem of self-sufficiency, and does not promote long-term commitment and sustainability. Kari Gulbraar in the Scandinavian Library Quarterly emphasizes the importance of high caliber and accessible library education programs within developing countries as the alternative to the visiting expert. [40]. She relates the story of the Grace Lema Foundation, started in Tanzania by the Norwegian Library Association, and named after an untrained but experienced library assistant who was unable to enroll at the University of Botswana because she lacked financial resources. A member of the Norwegian Library Association International Committee supported her cause and through donations financed Lema's two-year program. Building on this initial success, the Association established a continuing fund to support library training within a developing country. This initiative was recognized as a model for library education aid at a 1994 IFLA Conference. Gulbraar also explains the other methods by which Scandinavian library agencies support education: supporting in-service training courses in Asia and the Pacific, funding scholarships to African, Asian and Latin American librarians for short-term visits to Swedish libraries and cultural institutions, and subsidizing librarians from developing countries to attend international workshops and conferences.

Brush reiterates the importance of indigenous training programs geared to specific situations and the use of locally relevant methodologies when he relates his experiences as a library consultant in Laos. [33] He attributes most errors in the bibliographic records to cultural and language misinterpretations caused by the librarians' attempts to apply cataloging systems that are rooted in American culture – Dewey Decimal Classification and Library of Congress Subject Headings – to radically different situations. Brush believes that "visiting experts" would be well advised to promote British librarian Ronald Benge's philosophy expressed in his Cultural Crisis and Libraries in the Third World: "Librarians in developing countries would be better advised to follow the spirit of our librarianship, rather than our cataloguing rules…" [41]

Recommendations for Further Study

This review has highlighted research reports and descriptive articles that address two questions: what are the major needs of libraries in developing countries and, how effectively are those needs being met?

It is apparent from these reports and articles that there are varying degrees of success regarding library aid projects: some address the problems and issues inherent within library aid initiatives and the general donor-recipient relationship, while the effectiveness of others is questionable. The literature indicates that when donors place a high priority on good communication; seek to understand and respect the indigenous culture, language and customs; and learn about the climatic, economic and political challenges that local librarians and publishers face, projects are more likely to succeed. Reports by those in the field show that when donor agencies follow Book Aid International's new slogan: "Give us what we need, not what you don't want" when providing demand-led services to developing countries, the match between donor largesse and library need is much closer. [42]

Another recurring theme in the literature is the problem of short-term aid. Too often, financial and materials aid is "single-event," with no prior communication, no follow-up, and no opportunity for the recipient librarian to do long-term (or even 2-year!) collection management. To ensure that developing countries really benefit from assistance, commitment for long-term support is necessary.

This literature review reveals that globalization of information has created a double-hook for developing countries: library clients are aware of cultural sources from around the world, but these resources are often less relevant than indigenous ones. Continuing reliance on donated international resources hampers creation of a local publishing industry and precipitates loss of the local culture. There appears to be a gap in the literature regarding the impact of burgeoning globalization on library aid – how has this phenomenon affected the relevance of donations? How has it affected communication between donors and recipients, a crucial factor in the success of library aid projects? How can the negative aspects of globalization be minimized and the positive aspects increased within the donor/recipient relationship?

What is most lacking in the literature, however, is a corpus of in-depth research on this topic. As evident from this review, a wealth of articles exists describing Third World library needs from the point of view of the recipient and the objectives. Many articles also detail individual projects and the fund-raising efforts behind them. Missing are the research surveys and case studies that evaluate library aid in terms of a set of identified needs, and research that examines the changing needs of libraries as cultural and economic globalization advances. The forces of globalization that move us ever closer to a single world society – mass communications, increased ease of travel, commerce, the Internet, popular culture, and the increasingly widespread use of English as an international language – must be included as variables in future research projects. Without these projects, we will not move knowledge in this area beyond opinion pieces to the reliable research results that will better inform the relations of donors and recipients. According to Lester Asheim (whose words introduced this review), "foreign relations are, after all, only human relations complicated by some geographical and some psychological distances. I think, with patience and understanding, we are equal to the challenge – and the opportunity – they present." [2] Clearly, in order to develop effective programs that make a difference within the new global economy and information world, further research on the challenges and opportunities of library aid is needed.


1. David Held and Anthony McGrew, "Globalization and the Liberal Democratic State," Government and Opposition 28-2: 261-89.

2. Peter Evans, "Trends, Pressures, and Realities in the Library Systems Marketplace," American Libraries 31-9 (October 2000): 51-53.

3.David Dorman, "Taking Library Services around the World," American Libraries 32-10 (November 2001): 70-71.

4. Stan Skrzeszewski, "The Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization," Feliciter 47-1 (2001): 8-9.

5.David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World. 2nd ed. (Bloomfield, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 2001).

6.Alan Scott (ed.), The Limits of Globalization: Cases and Arguments (New York: Routledge, 1997): 190.

7.Ingolf Vogeler and Anthony R. de Souza, (eds.) Dialectics of Third World Development (Montclair, N.J.: Allanheld, Osmun, 1980).

8.Lester Asheim, Librarianship in the Developing Countries (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1966).

9. Lucinda Rhea Zoe, "The Development of International Women's Information and Documentation Centres: A Study of Selected Cases." Ph.D. Thesis. Columbia University, 1999.

10. Mary Niles-Maack, "The Role of External Aid in West African Library Development," Library Quarterly 56-1 (Jan. 1986): 1-16.

11.Jesus G. Lau, "A Study of Selected Social Factors Influencing Information Development in Low, Middle, and Highly Developed Countries: An Assessment for the Period 1960-1977." Ph.D. Thesis. University of Sheffield, 1988.

12.D.E.K. Wijasuriya, "The Advancement of Librarianship (ALP): IFLA's Core Programme Orientation to the Third World." Proceedings of the Eighth Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians, Jakarta, Indonesia, June 11-14, 1990. New Challenges in Library Services in the Developing World, eds. Sulistyo-Basuki et al. (Jakarta, Indonesia: National Library of Indonesia and Indonesian Library Association, 1991): 7-15.

13. Irene Norlund, "Culture and Institution-building," Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 20-3 (1995): 21-24.

14. Carolina Afan, "The Role of the Library in Preserving and Enriching National Culture, Values and Traditions." In Proceedings of the 7th Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians, Manila, 15-21 February 1987, (Manila: The Asia Foundation, 1987): 15-19.

15. Rosario Gassol de Horowitz, Librarianship: A Third World Perspective. Contributions in Librarianship and Information Science, no.59. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).

16. Caroline Horn, "Libraries – An African Agenda," The Bookseller (11 April 1997): 11.

17. Diljit Singh, "Libraries and Information Services in Malaysia." In Libraries: Global Reach--Local Touch. Edited by Kathleen de la Pena, Barbara J. Ford, and Kate Lippincott. (Chicago: American Library Association, 1998).

18. R.B Zaaiman, P.J.A. Roux, and J.H. Rhykheer. The Use of Libraries for the Development of South Africa: Final Report on an Investigation for the South African Institute for Librarianship and Information Science (Pretoria: Center for Library and Information Service, Dept. of Library and Information Science & The University of South Africa, 1988).

19. Carol Mills, "Aid for Libraries: Should One Look the Proverbial Gift Horse in the Mouth?" Australian Academic and Research Libraries 25-4 (1994): 240-246.

20. Carolyn Sharples, "Filling bare shelves," Library Association Record 97-2 (1995): 96-97.

21. Book Aid International Home Page. Accessed February 8, 2003.

22. Yogendra P. Dubey, "Information poverty: A Third World perspective." In Unequal Access to Information Resources: Problems and Needs of the World's Information Poor. Proceedings of the Congress for Librarians, February, 17, 1986. Edited by Jovian P. Lang (Ann Arbor, MI: Pieran Press, 1988): 47-54.

23. Carol Priestley, "The Difficult Art of Book Aid: an African Survey," Logos 4-4 (1993): 215-221.

24.Abdulaziz Mohamed Al-Nahari, "The National Library: An Analysis of the Critical Factors in Promoting Library and Information Services in Developing Countries: The Case of Saudi Arabia." Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. University of California Los Angeles, 1982.

25. Elizabeth Bouri, "The Development and Decline of Public Libraries in Egypt: A Shift in National Development Priorities (UNESCO)." Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. University of Texas at Austin, 1993.

26. Cecilia Stander, "Problems Concerning Standards for School Information Services in Developing Countries." Unpublished MBIBL Thesis. University of Pretoria, 1992.

27. Maria Floren-Romero," The Impact of Information Loss on Research: A Case Study in the Dominican Republic." Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1994.

28. Magda Seaton, "Spreading the word," The Bookseller (17 April 1998): 24-26.

29. Margaret A. Bywater, "Libraries in Cambodia: rebuilding a past and a future." In IFLANET 63rd IFLA General Conference--Conference Programme and Proceedings--August 31-September 5, 1997. Accessed February 10, 2003.

30. E.A. Mwinyimvua, "Tanzania's Experience with Book Aid, and Comments on National Repository Libraries in Developing Countries – Essential, Nice to Have or Superfluous?" In Solving Collection Problems Through Repository Strategies. Proceedings of an International Conference held in Kuopio, Finland, May 1999. Edited by Pauline Connolly. (Boston Spa: IFLA, 1999): 165-68.

31. Lioba Betten, "Foreign Aid for Children's Libraries – 25 Years," IFLANET Section of Libraries for Children and Young Adults. Accessed February 8, 2003.

32. S.M. Made, "African Economies and Book Requirements," Zimbabwe Librarian 14-3/4 (July/December 1982): 43-50.

33. Peter Brush, "Laos: Adventures in Arrearage Reduction," American Libraries (October 1997): 48-50.

34. Bo Kaare, "Support to Library and Information Services in Third World Countries," Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 28-3 (1995): 4-8.

35. Birgitte Sandell, "A Select Catalogue of LIS Projects," Scandanavian Public Library Quarterly 28-3 (1995): 34-5.

36. Rebecca Knuth, "Five international organizations linking children and books," IFLA Journal 20-4 (1994): 428-39.

37. Midge King and Arden Matheson, "Seven years of overseas library support at the University of Calgary," Canadian Library Journal 48-2 (April 1991): 117-121.

38. Jan Lyall, "Developing and managing preservation programmes in South- East Asian and Pacific regions," IFLA Journal 20-3 (1994): 262-75.

39. National Library of Laos, "Memory of the World Project: Laos Manuscripts Heritage." Accessed February 10, 2003.

40. Kari Gulbraar, "The Grace Lema Foundation," Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 20-3 (1995): 16-17.

41. Ronald Benge, Cultural Crisis and Libraries in the Third World (London: Clive Bingley, 1979).

42. Louise Cooke and Catherine Phillimore, "Meeting Partner Needs in the Developing World Through Provision of Appropriate Materials," Focus on International and Comparative Librarianship 30-1 (1999): 29-33.

About the Authors

Ann Curry is associate professor, School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies at The University of B.C. Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
Email: ann [dot] curry [at] ubc [dot] ca

Tanya Thiessen is manager of special needs services at Surrey Public Library, Surrey, BC, Canada
Email: tdthiessen [at] city [dot] surrey [dot] bc [dot] ca

Lorraine Kelley is a librarian at the North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver, BC, Canada
Email: lorraine [dot] kelley [at] yahoo [dot] com


Curry, Ann (Dr.), Tanya Thiessen, and Lorraine Kelley. "Library Aid to Developing Countries in Times of Globalization: A Literature Review." World Libraries, Vol. 12, No. 2, Fall 2002

© 2002 Ann Curry, Tanya Thiessen, & Lorraine Kelley