Archive for November, 2008

Critical Mass
November 23, 2008

“The quality of democracy depends heavily on the quality of the democrats,” [Sergei] Kovalyov told me after the [1996] elections.  “We have to wait for a critical mass to accumulate of people with democratic principles.  It’s like a nuclear explosion: the critical mass has to accrue.  Without this, everything will be like it is now, always in fits and starts.  Our era of romantic democracy is long over.  We have finally fallen to earth.”

When and how will that critical mass accumulate?

—David Remnick, Resurrection, p. 358

Critical mass: if not in these exact terms, isn’t this what libraries attempt to enable?  NYPL’s mission states that their libraries are “everyone’s university,” which, to me, gestures at a collective mission of empowerment, much in the vein of critical mass.

Yet, echoing Kovalyov’s lament above, this idea of critical mass/universality seems less championed by libraries in Russia, at least in being a central element to stated library missions.  Here are the Russian Library Association’s (RBA: Rossiiskaya Bibliotechnaya Assotsiatsiya) goals:

  • Consolidation, support and coordinating of libraries, library associations and schools activities
  • Representation and defense of librarians
  • Increment of the social status and prestige of the library profession
  • Defense of library user’s rights

It appears that, presently, the priority for the RBA is to protect librarians, library users, and the library as an institution.  While all of these goals are extremely important, they are merely basic tenets of libraries.  Further confounding, when I searched the site of the National Library of Russia’s website, I couldn’t even locate a mission statement, which I find baffling.  Perhaps, I am putting too much emphasis on mission statements and codes of ethics, but these are the succinct anthems of library organizations that are widely disseminated—even if they are truly nothing more than a sound-bite, this sound-bite represents the ethos of a library to mass populations.

The ruling power’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the masses and their needs is, sadly, a recurring issue in Russia’s history, as Remnick often points out in Resurrection.  But I can’t help but find it disheartening to see that this emblem has not been clearly combated by the predominant library organizations in Russia.  I am sure that the RBA and the NLR do wonders for aiding every demographic in Russia, but acknowledging and fostering critical mass, everyone’s universality, or whatever you wish to call it is an important issue for which I know Russian libraries can carry the torch.

November 20, 2008

A long-distance view is definitely needed as the globalization of culture increases.  There are those in Russia who fiercely attack globalization, some who criticize only its excesses, and still others who warily welcome it; but in fact, Russia has been part of this process since the country opened up to Western Europe in the late seventeenth century.  It is just that events have accelerated immeasurably…Nowadays, every significant local cultural gesture sooner or later takes on a global resonance, usually a political one; when it does not, the reason is also political.  There is probably no way back to truly autonomous cultural reservations.  Russian culture, even domestically, is more and more judged as part of a global marketplace, a situation the Russian intelligentsia finds unusual and painful after seventy years of isolation.

–Solomon Volkov, The Magical Chorus, pp. viii-ix

“What kind of country is it now, a republic?” “I don’t know”

–from Russian Ark

Volkov’s extremely apt observations above highlight the complexities of Russia’s present state, resulting in ambivalences and confusions, as the narrator in Russian Ark displays.  Yes, Russia has been a part—in varying degrees—of Europe and, thus Western Culture, for a few centuries now.  Yet, it has also found itself in the throes of monarchy and dictatorship for much of the time since “opening-up” to the West.  I realize the arguably colonial sentiments present in using terminology such as “the West,” but what I most wish to imply is that notions of open culture and information (i.e. freedom of speech, expression, and the press) are complicated in Russia.

When the Soviet government collapsed, many people hailed the new opportunities for informational openness within Russia.  Even the multiple codes of ethics for librarians that I mentioned in my last post trumpeted these new possibilities.  Yet, these aspirations for open access and freedom of information have only been partially realized, and, presently, it appears that—from a governmental standpoint—there is a bit of retrograde taking place.

Thus, how can information professionals aid this situation?  In many ways, the basic infrastructure for a healthy, open information environment appears to be in place in Russia—unlike other, more impoverished regions of the world.  When C.K. Prahalad speaks to the willingness of much of the world’s poor to accept technology, one is tempted to feel that Russia is beyond this initial step.  Yet, there seems to lack a consistency, both in terms of who has access to technology and information and how strongly codes of ethics relating to libraries and freedom of information are upheld.  The former of these points is evidenced in the fact that some of the first countries that the Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Initiative aided, in terms of donating and disseminating technology, were the Baltics.  The latter is seen—in one of sundry examples—in the plight of the Echo of Moscow radio station, which I mentioned in one of my first posts.

Striving toward consistency in informational access and informational codes of ethics; this seems to be a good place to start.

Russia: the Land of Motley Codes of Ethics
November 15, 2008

In one of my earliest posts, I discussed library codes of ethics from around the world, as compiled by IFLA.  Interestingly, one country submitted two codes of ethics.  The country is Russia, and, while the surface intentions of creating two codes of ethics were to address different elements of LIS, this double submission is emblematic of the complexities that libraries and information professionals face in a country that continues to grapple with crucial issues such as freedom of speech and information, informational transparency, ethics, democracy, and intellectual freedom.

For the remainder of my independent study—and, thus, in the discussion here, for the next month or so—I’ll be focusing on Russia and the current information science “climate” thereabouts, in an effort to, via a regional study, delve more deeply into issues that affect global libraries.

(And as a bit of related, local color, please see.)

Global Libraries and Globalization
November 11, 2008

The paper, linked below, aims to shed what I feel is much needed light on Global Libraries within the larger framework of Globalization.


Ten Principles for Sustainable Societies
November 6, 2008

As a sort of counterpoint to my last post, I feel that it is worth bringing up some alternatives to Globalization in which I feel global libraries can and should become involved:

New Democracy (focusing less on elections and politics and more on the dynamism present in civil society organizations around the world)

Common Heritage (the recognition that there are many essential resources that are to be shared by everyone; I would extend this principle to incorporate the idea of shared experience as an empowering and important tool in combating Globalization)


Human Rights

Equity (economically, sociologically, etc.)

These ideas are culled from the “Ten Principles for Sustainable Societies” in the book Alternatives to Economic Globalization.  Authored by a drafting committee of more than twenty individuals, this text aims to elucidate the title exactly.  The five principles, above, represent areas that I feel global libraries can make—and in some cases are already making—a direct impact.  I would argue, as well, that global libraries can also make at least a tangential impact in the other five principles laid out in the text: Subsidiarity (i.e. whatever can be done locally should); Ecological Sustainability; Jobs, Livelihood, and Employment; Food Security and Safety; and what they call the Precautionary Principle, which highlights the need for precaution in any significantly threatening situation to humans and the environment.

I’ll leave this post a bit open ended, here, as I’m presently wrapping-up writing a paper on global libraries within the context of Globalization, which examines some of the areas in which global libraries can benefit from Globalization and other areas in which global libraries must provide alternatives to Globalization (such as the principles above).  I’ll post it on this blog for feedback in the next week.