154. Letter From the Director of the International Communication Agency (Reinhardt) to all ICA Public Affairs Officers1
In my first letter of this series, I mentioned that I would be discussing with you the role of the library in the Agency’s overall operations.2 In this letter, I will indicate the importance, nature, and objectives of our libraries, as well as what we expect of you in their management. Some of you have libraries, some of you do not. The purpose of this letter is not to open or close libraries; rather it is to establish general principles governing their operation, wherever they exist, and unmistakably to point up their fundamental importance in the communication process.
Libraries will not run themselves while principal officials turn their attention to “more urgent” matters. Libraries are important; we will treat them as such. Libraries are expensive; they require prudent and direct management by PAOs.
The ICA library is an overt expression of the importance of free inquiry and of an informed citizenry. While the library can be a means of communicating specific ideas in the ICA programs overseas, it can also be, in itself, a powerful statement about American knowledge, culture and achievements. Our use of libraries must be consistent with the precepts of good communication, the precepts of contemporary American library practices, and the tradition of the American library.
Libraries are institutions with a long-term communication objective. The social and intellectual rate of return on libraries cannot be measured in months or even tours of duty.
In my first letter, I established the “increase in the intellectual or social momentum on any chosen subject” as our ultimate objective. We should admit, I think, that the stimulation of certain kinds of ideas—including those represented by our libraries—will take time. Indeed, one of the virtues of a library is to serve as a daily reminder—as we deal with the brush fires of the day—that serious communication on serious topics is a long-term proposition. We do need to focus on today’s problems, we will focus on these problems, but we also need to avoid the trap of being consumed by them. The task of integrating [Page 448] a library into an effective communication strategy will force us to probe more deeply into the nature of our communication problems and opportunities. It will force us to keep our eyes on the long haul—as we must.
An ICA library must consist of a core collection containing those books, periodicals and other materials which embody the sustaining ideas of the American past as well as the generative energy of the present. It must center on American biography, history, philosophy, fiction, drama, and significant works in contemporary social science broadly defined. Every ICA library worthy of the name should offer the best—and only the best—books and journals in these fields; it follows that any foreigner using such a collection becomes important to us, even though we do no more than respond to her or his library needs. The library’s design, collection and evolution must attract segments of the broad student community. Indeed, few resources at the disposal of a PAO are more adaptable to the student population. When carefully selected students are attracted to and use the materials of your library, count your blessings. Conversely if they do not darken the library door, the burden of explanation is on you.
Special circumstances may justify the inclusion of other materials in the library, materials selected with student and non-student users in mind. The communications needs of your post might be served by the inclusion of materials on management techniques, for example, or American scholarly works about the host country. But such materials serve an objective different from the central objective which I assign to the library as an institution; you should be able to justify the ways in which these additional materials support important objectives. The core collection itself may change and grow, but by nature will be steady, dependable, relatively timeless.
Local institutions may serve the same needs as our core collection. In no case should we simply duplicate an existing, accessible collection—even for the purpose of “showing the flag” (except of course in certain closed societies like Eastern Europe). Where accessible collections exist, our own efforts should effectively be directed to their enhancement or the creation of special ICA collections or ICA reference centers, assuming of course indigenous cooperation and communication interest.
If we accept as our library objective a role in projecting this country’s intellectual resources, inquisitiveness, and openness, our task must be to make the core collection (as defined above) attractive, accessible, relevant and known to the society in which the library operates. The greatest scope for your talents and creative energy lies in making the library relevant and known in selected circles. While the library exists primarily for those who wish to use it, we should be engaged in raising [Page 449] the consciousness of local institutions with respect to the intellectual potential which it represents. I depend on you to engage in the development of a close relationship between the library and local institutions. In X country this relationship may be with principal secondary schools, while in Y it may be the social science faculties of selected universities. In short, the determination must be the PAO’s, there being no precise Washington formula for worldwide application.
Do not confuse this point with “outreach” (on which I intend to send you a separate letter). The Agency’s outreach program has been and will continue to be an important vehicle for communicating certain ideas to a few individuals. The library, on the other hand, might be described as the focus of “inreach”—an intellectual resource available to those who wish to use the collection for their own reasons. Your objective should be insuring that the collection is known as an available and highly relevant resource. But we will not deform a library’s strength as a long-term communication instrument in an effort to reach those whom we have traditionally described as “primary audiences” for short-term purposes. If such individuals use the library, so much the better; but your basic purpose should be to link the library to its natural audiences, among which the selected student community should rank high.
I define a library’s natural audience in the following terms: In all societies, some individuals read; others do not. Libraries draw a natural audience from those who visit or otherwise use the institution. Many will be students, teachers, young functionaries; others will be important current mission contacts. If the latter visit and use the library, we shall be elated. But—and I repeat for emphasis—the library must not be deformed to serve only current leaders or the acknowledged elite. Bear in mind that cabinet members and university presidents are not frequent visitors in Bethesda or Boston free public libraries. Those in the natural audience who use the library and grow to understand the knowledge, achievements and values it represents may, indeed, be unidentified potential leaders in the context of the long-term communication objectives the library is designed to achieve.
One of your major management responsibilities with respect to the library is the support and development of the local national library staff. The significance of the ICA library will depend in part on the level of literacy and English competency in your host country, in part on alternate sources for books and ideas, but significantly on the quality and activity of the library staff. However extensive the library collection and its supporting facilities, the library’s reputation and effectiveness depend to a large extent on the ability of the staff to respond quickly, constructively and imaginatively. The foreign national librarian who can act as an “intellectual detective” to search out and share informa[Page 450]tion, to pursue leads, and to refer people to each other may be a library’s greatest resource.
Limitations of foreign staff may, in some cases, stop us short of achieving this goal. But the Agency’s professional librarians and training programs for foreign librarians (both of which we intend to enhance) are available to help create institutions where the expectation that “something may happen” is the intellectual stimulus drawing people to the library.
We have the resources to achieve our objectives; I expect you to tell us how to put them together. Your Washington colleagues have been very persuasive in arguing that we need from each of you a kind of library Country Plan. I have at least temporarily rejected their counsel because I do not believe that Washington knows exactly what it wants in such a Plan.
Hence, what I should like for you to do in the immediate future (say between now and December 15) is to sit down with your staff and work out a library rationale for your country. (This instruction applies to countries with libraries; at this point I am not taking “orders” for establishing libraries, though any proposals will be attentively studied.) Following the principles set forth in this letter, you should determine how the library advances your communication objective, what its natural audience is, what special audiences will be attracted and how. Then forward this Plan to your Area Director and ECA/FL no later than January 1. It will help them execute their managerial responsibilities. It goes without saying, I hope, that you will also seek the counsel of regional library consultants.
One caveat at the risk of sheer repetition: I have indicated that “selected students” are the principal component of the library’s natural audience. The key word, of course, is “selected.” I am very leery of restrictive attendance formulas; on the other hand, I realize full well that libraries must serve some purpose other than warming and cooling their clients. What I want to establish above all else is that the Agency no longer expects you to attract the prime ministers, cabinet members, and other high-level officials who simply do not have the time, nor probably the inclination, to visit your library very often. But there must be and can be visitors—users—and chief among these are selected students. Students have always challenged us as an Agency; let’s accept the challenge.
John E. Reinhardt
P.S. Remember once more that nothing in this letter addresses the subject of outreach and that in due course we will write about this [Page 451] important communication instrumentality. A library by definition is a book place, people come in, use its collection, and go out. Theoretically outreach does not depend on a library; books could be stored in a warehouse or garage, each affording a non-public place from which we could reach out.