Who was to blame? The genealogy of the “Anglo-American” national library service model

LOR, Peter (2015) Who was to blame? The genealogy of the “Anglo-American” national library service model. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2015 - Cape Town, South Africa in Session 78 - Library History SIG. In: IFLA WLIC 2015 - Cape Town, South Africa.

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Language: English (Original)
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Abstract

Who was to blame? The genealogy of the “Anglo-American” national library service model

them attempted to create national library services that would, from a central headquarters located in the capital city, develop public libraries, first in the provinces or regions and then at district or branch level. This ‘national library service’ model, which has been generally considered to be an “Anglo-American” import, has been widely condemned as one of the factors inhibiting public library development in Africa. From a historical perspective it offers an interesting example of colonial and post-colonial influence. Although the idea of the free public library is undoubtedly of Anglo-American origin, nation-wide public library structures have neither British nor US antecedents. Who, therefore, should be credited with, or blamed for, this idea? In this paper I consider a number of “suspects”, with emphasis on the influences converging at, and radiating from, the 1953 Ibadan Seminar on the Development of Public Libraries in Africa, before concluding that the wide dissemination of the model in Anglophone Africa cannot be attributed to the influence of a few prominent library personalities, to the Seminar, or to the authority of UNESCO or IFLA alone. Rather, it must be seen in terms of pragmatic, albeit ideologically coloured, responses to the colonial situation, developed in the context of the decolonization process, the Cold War, and contemporary understandings of development.

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