27. Circular Airgram From the United States Information Agency to All United States Information Service Posts1



  • A Look at USIS Centers—Some Guidelines

SUMMARY: It’s time for a complete review by PAO’s of center operations—purpose, scope, content and service—to see how they can be more purposeful in carrying out specific objectives. Adjustments in program emphasis may be in order to revitalize center operations, including music, lectures and exhibits. The Agency offers some guidelines for this new hard look.

Operations of a USIS Information or Cultural Center, America House, library, reading room, binational center, book-extension collection or other book deposits have been described in detail in the Agency’s MOA and the PAO Handbook, plus various circular messages and other communications to the field in the last decade. This message, therefore, is not intended to repeat basic operating procedures but rather to provide a refresher for all American officers and national employees on the utilization of books, periodicals and other “center” resources so that they will be more purposeful in carrying out Agency and country plan objectives.

From personal observations and study by senior Agency officers who have visited and inspected our posts, and discussions in Washington with PAO’s, CAO’s, librarians and other officers being debriefed, we have concluded that our libraries abroad have not kept up sufficiently with the improved and changing educational and communications situations in their countries or in their areas. This requires a new hard look by the posts, particularly by each PAO, at centers and their program-content potential in terms of country plan objectives. Adjustments in collections, in ordering for targeting purposes, in selection methods by posts and in book promotion may be in order to revitalize library activities. These would go beyond the weeding-out process which is natural for any library; these adjustments would call for weighing the value of each title in relation to the post’s specific needs for [Page 71] carrying out country objectives and for putting emphasis where it needs to be. Books of lesser importance which seem to have assumed a permanency in the collection may have to be discarded and replaced by titles of greater importance.

It’s time for a conscientious review of the library investment. To assist each PAO to make this review, the Agency offers these guidelines:

1. Purpose and Scope

A USIS library is established to provide basic information and to supply source material about the United States. Books are purveyors of ideas, and books and libraries have a definite place to further our objectives.

In appearance and operations, a USIS library is similar to a public library. However, unlike a public library, the purpose of the USIS library is not the general diffusion of knowledge. It is not a substitute for any local public library, however willing the local government may be to have us assume that responsibility. Our libraries are neither a recreational reading oasis nor a scholarly research center. The USIS library exists for a special purpose: to promote U.S. objectives.

Obviously, different areas and different countries represent different problems and thus call for different documentation. Some libraries may need to be more sophisticated culturally than others, depending on the reading habits and capacities of the audience; others may need to concentrate on more basic materials, depending on the degree of open communications and commercial channels between our country and the host country.

What goes into each library and how well the books are promoted is the responsibility of the PAO. We have reason to believe that in the press of other matters, the PAO may have delegated this responsibility to other officers (in many cases, junior officers) or to a local librarian and thus may not have been in a position to direct the library program in such a way that its materials and services reach selected audience groups with the right titles at the right time. The PAO should control the special-purpose character of his books and should not rely on persons with lesser policy judgment on how to utilize the collection. In the latter case, this can and has resulted in off-balance collections in the light of the Agency’s five major points of emphasis and its five major Americana themes, as well as specific country plan needs.

It is the Agency’s feeling that each PAO, CAO, America House and binational center director and other American officers should give more personal attention to the library and its contents as the center of information and cultural operations on which a country program can revolve. The PAO is the key officer in policy application; the librarian is the follow-up action officer.

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2. Content

Each library collection should provide a wide selection of responsible works on American life and culture, emphasizing those aspects which facilitate sympathetic understanding of United States policies.

Books are primarily selected on the basis of content. Every book on the shelves of a USIS library should have a pertinent program reason for being there—this should be our yardstick. Periodically, program-content inventory should be taken and each book considered for retention on its merits for meeting specific program needs. No book should be guaranteed a permanent place on the shelf.

Book selection for each library is decentralized to field posts. The PAO and CAO should take an active part in selecting titles for center collections; a recommended approach is for each post to establish a “Book Committee” chaired by the PAO or CAO, which must approve each book for which orders will be placed through ICS or locally-procured.

To assist posts in the selection process, ICS makes available lists of recommended books, subject bibliographies and special book lists. The ICS Current Recommended Book Lists will hereafter carry “built-in guidance” on new books by identifying titles by events or themes of most recent concern and thus worthy of special handling. These lists will single out audiences we especially want to reach with the book. In addition, ICS issues regularly each month—or more frequently, if required—a Special Book List on a leading thematic subject, which lists from 10 to 30 recommended books to receive priority book promotion in and outside our libraries. Frequently, the USIS and Embassy staff can call attention to these titles in their contact work.

Posts, of course, can draw on other bibliographic sources in selecting additional titles they require to support Agency themes.

While there is no desire by the Agency to reduce support for libraries and centers, posts will have to find the means to make adjustments in their collections without additional financing. We strongly recommend that posts eliminate some titles, cut down on multiple copies and not re-order less important items to provide the funds. The post will then be able to increase the number of more important books, without increasing the over-all costs for book purchases.

To reshape our libraries along contemporary lines and to fill the gaps, we suggest:

(a) Substantially reduce popular fiction collections. At some posts, these vary from 10 to 45 per cent of the total collections. We consider this out of proportion. At posts where American popular titles are accessible through commercial bookstores, public libraries or schools and universities, fiction should be pared down to a minimum of titles, representa [Page 73] tive of the best in the contemporary American novel. Even at posts where the book gap is large, we should be highly selective. Each year, posts should limit selection to a maximum of 30 or 40 representative titles of new fiction recommended by ICS.

(b) While cutting down on popular fiction, we should build up a good collection of the American classics of literature. This should be basic in every USIS library. ICS will issue a catalogue of basic American classics which should be checked against your collection.

(c) Support of American Studies courses in secondary schools and universities has become an increasingly important library function. The American Studies collection should give special attention to history, political science and economics, in addition to the traditional emphasis on American classics of literature. Too many posts are overloaded with expensive books on the fine arts, theater, literary criticism, etc., and the humanities; these definitely have a place in the library but when ordering new titles or re-ordering old titles, thought should be given to the development of a good, but token collection of such items, sufficient to meet most needs. Without sacrificing balance, the post may find it could use the money more gainfully for titles more directly in line with policy objectives. (See ICS Special List 5/63 of June 1963.2)

(d) American progress in science and technology remains one of our major themes and this should be adequately reflected in all collections. Books on these subjects are very popular in many countries, especially among university students, and should be given special attention by the PAO and his senior staff. If there is a Science Attache at the post, seek his advice on documentation.

While a well-rounded science collection would seem to be mandatory at each post, PAO’s should weigh carefully the extent to which the library should carry any highly specialized collection such as medical books, which are expensive and which reach a very small audience. Among factors in deciding on such a collection should be (a) the cost in relation to more thematic titles, (b) the availability of the books on the commercial market and/or in the university. Book orders of specialized items could be justified only on the basis of the audience being of such importance to our objectives as to warrant special attention in the country plan.

(e) Books specifically written for children under 14 years of age should not be included in a collection unless they are particularly useful in promoting U.S. objectives and, in such cases, they should be justified in the country plan. We believe that certain titles of American history, biography, literature, and even popular fiction written for the less- [Page 74] advanced reader (juvenile series, for example) could be purposefully used in the library for young people or as easy-reading for adults with limited knowledge of English. We feel that we should try to reach secondary-school students from 14 years old upwards, with selective titles. They should be in the formative years of political awareness. It is difficult to envisage tiny-tots or grade-school children as priority target audiences; the money for children’s books can be used more gainfully to fill book gaps for young adult and adult audiences.

(f) Libraries at posts with English-teaching programs, particularly BNC libraries, should have a wide and representative selection of graded readings for English-language students, as well as source materials, such as books on linguistics and methodology for teachers. This special collection should be labeled as such and it is to be expected that there would be duplication of titles in the regular collection. An English-teaching book item should be a means of introducing American history and social, economic and political thought insofar as possible. Attention is called to titles published under the Agency’s Ladder Book program.3 Appropriate titles also will be found in the “Selected English-Teaching Materials Catalogue No. 5.”4

Agency-produced tapes and recordings, with their accompanying scripts, should be included in the English-teaching collections.

(g) The extension collections, book lockers and other depositories should be given the same attention as our own libraries in the book-selection process. A study has disclosed that some posts are using these techniques as a means for making American books available without sufficient regard for basic purposes and objectives. Most current collections are top-heavy with fiction; there should be more attention to basic books on American history, biography and some political matters. We should promote titles in which we have a particular interest. PAO’s should direct the composition of these loan collections and posts should make frequent suggestions of specific titles to indigenous librarians operating the extensions. This selection responsibility should not be delegated to local employees.

Evaluations of the usefulness of the extensions and book lockers must be made on a regular basis to determine that the current program potential and the impact of these collections on the community where a depository is located justify continuation. The post may decide not to withdraw an inactive collection for various reasons, but further support should be cut off if the investment is not productive from a [Page 75] program-content viewpoint. We should not permit the use of deposits as decorative American shelf acquisitions.

(h) We believe that our libraries have a relatively low proportion of books in the local language. This should be remedied. With the marked increase in output of the Agency’s book-translation programs in recent years, PAO’s should build up the local language portion of the collections. Posts should not only use Agency-sponsored translations but also other available local-language titles which support our objectives. The post’s book committee should apply the same criteria to local procurement of books as to titles in English.

(i) A book’s success as a policy-application item depends on how it has been handled—this we call book promotion. Some posts seem to devote less attention to this important activity than they should. The book’s content and author must be introduced to potential readers, in particular the special audiences we are trying to reach. Individuals on the post’s leader lists who would be particularly interested in a new book or with whom a USIS or Embassy staff member has had a discussion, could be sent a new title under cover of a letter explaining that it was not a presentation item but a new library book which they might like to read and return.

Every library has or should have display space. New significant titles, plus those on each of the ICS Special Book Lists on themes, should be prominently—but not blatantly—displayed. Photographs from the books, of the authors and of current events associated with the theme should be combined with book covers. The introductory page of each of these special book lists summarizes the purpose of the books and the theme and should provide several pegs on which to develop the post’s ingenuity.

Too often, monthly bulletins or pamphlets distributed by posts to announce new book acquisitions are deadly. In the attempt to maintain a certain “cultural dignity” the bulletins are dull and unimaginative and hardly conducive to evoking interest in books with special program value. We need attractive pamphlets, with eye-catching make-up and either illustrated with book jackets or other inexpensive graphic work. The Agency suggests posts take a look at Publishers’ Weekly5 or the Wilson Library Bulletin6 to get an idea of how it’s done.

We also should offer colorful book shelves, identified with clear markings.

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(j) Periodicals should represent the richness and diversity of American periodical literature, with priority to those titles selected for relevance to the objectives of the country program and the Agency’s points of emphasis. The ICS list of Periodicals Recommended for Program Use should be used as a selection guide. In the annual review required for ordering periodicals, the post’s book committee should check the list of periodicals to make certain that the fields of political, international and economic affairs, as well as other serious publications, are given their proper weight. The availability of the popular-type American magazine on the commercial market should also serve as a guiding factor. Multiple copies of most magazines should be discouraged.

3. Services

The USIS library, or center, should combine the best American library practices with active information services to provide special audiences with materials and documentation designed to expose them to those points of emphasis made in the country plan, as well as the priorities on American life and culture. While all center services and programs are freely available to the public, we give special consideration to individuals, organizations and institutions listed in your country plan as primary target audiences. To this end, services should be supplied as follows:

(a) Reference service: It may be desirable for some posts in countries well supplied with public and university libraries and well-stocked bookstores to give more attention to this part of operations, rather than to the conventional lending-library service. The reference service should aim to provide factual and interpretive information to government officials, educators, students, news media, professionals, leaders and others. To be able to supply this documentation, the library resources should be organized to provide a “reference-and-research” section, specially tailored to meet such needs. This may require diverting resources from the popular fiction-lending section, from the social sciences and from the fine arts section, etc., although a representative collection of all these should be maintained for lending purposes.

Some posts where university students are a key audience group and where there are American Studies courses in the schools, should have a special “American Studies Section” in the library which would be a complete study center for history, political science and economics, as well as literature, and which would offer special long-term lending privileges.

The telephone and mail requests for information have bedeviled posts with an overabundance of “quiz-type” questions. Obviously, the origins of these cannot be controlled. However, librarians should be instructed to spend less time on these questions. In one major post, an [Page 77] extraordinarily large percentage of the reference-service man-hours has been consumed by quiz questions; at another post, USIS has arranged with the public library system to take over this activity and refer only those questions to USIS beyond the ken of the public library. Posts should find a way to tactfully deal with this vexing problem.

When replying to written inquiries, we should take the liberty of enclosing book-promotion materials which will broaden reader interests to include subjects relevant to USIS purposes.

(b) Music: ICS no longer automatically sends out scores of American music, except to 25 posts which have shown need for the product. From personal inspection and from talks with returning American officers, we gather that some scores are dormant in USIS centers. We recommend that the scores either be incorporated into the library reference service and limited for lending purpose to conductors, music teachers and students, or else loaned on a long-term basis to conservatories or schools which have shown evidence of interest in contemporary American music.

Posts should consider similar action on musical recordings, which are to be used for group educational purposes rather than for straight entertainment for individuals or groups. Tapes which are part of lecture packets should be made available to institutional borrowers. Posts should be guided by the number of commercial outlets making U.S. recordings available; although in most countries the price for American recordings is extremely high, those institutions or persons professionally interested in our music will generally buy the record.

(c) Lectures: It is S.O.P. to tie in books with lectures at our centers. However, posts should also tie in lecture material with the library reference services as additional documentation. The ICS lecture packets are prepared with policy-application in mind; the lectures are written by top people in the academic or writing fields. Recently, the Director of the Agency asked the Agency’s Area Director to call attention of their PAO’s to these lectures and to point out that he feels they have multiple-use potential. The lectures also can serve as background material for Embassy speech-makers and for leader contacts.

(d) Exhibits: Generally, there is good space in centers for display of exhibits and every center should program exhibits and/or book promotion displays on a regular, continuing basis.

Centers should not limit themselves to consideration of fine arts displays. Exhibits distributed to posts for retention (printed unmounted exhibits commonly called “paper shows”), and the circulating panel shows which usually are hung on a Nelson Structure, should receive priority consideration for display in centers.

These “paper shows” and circulating exhibits are concerned with subjects within the framework of the Agency’s and the post’s major [Page 78] themes, and are pertinent to the viewers’ interest in important and current aspects of America. Displayed in full or in part (depending on available space in the center), the shows often gain effectiveness when placed adjacent to allied library materials for special emphasis.

To insure that exhibits received by the post are not lost in the warehouse, or otherwise “shelved,” we feel that American officers charged with supervision of the centers should review each exhibit received. There should be a proper evaluation not only of the aesthetic quality but also of the program value, a consideration that a national employee often is unable to make.

The Agency’s exhibit program (other than the East-West Exchange) is small and consists principally of paper shows, in addition to supplying display components to posts for local production. The Agency is canvassing posts for a determination of the value of paper shows. Let us also weigh their effectiveness as a center activity.


The Agency expects that each PAO will review center operations, make adjustments in program activities, and establish certain review mechanisms so that policy application and program content will be studied continuously for maximum use of books and other materials in accomplishing program objectives.

PAO’s should discuss adjustments in operations with staff, including local employees directly concerned with activities covered by this circular. This message has been administratively controlled for purposes of transmission and the PAO is authorized to disclose contents to local employees, at his discretion.

All parts of this paper should be applied to binational centers, to the greatest degree possible.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Subject Files, 1953–2000, Entry A1 1066, Box 219, Centers, Reports, and Studies, Guidelines and Mission, 1964. Unclassified. Drafted by Glatzer on September 11; cleared by Sorensen, Echols, Harris, Lewis, Lincoln, Bunce, Ryan, Miller, Tuch, and in substance by Jenkins (State SOV); classification cleared by Emond; approved by Glatzer. Repeated for information to Bucharest, Budapest, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw (from Rusk). Sent via pouch. There is no time of transmission on the message.
  2. Not found.
  3. See footnote 13, Document 2.
  4. Not found.
  5. A weekly American news magazine, founded in 1872, that is concerned with the international book publishing business and intended for publishers, booksellers, libraries, authors, and the media.
  6. An American magazine for librarians which was published between 1914 and 1995.