Monthly discussion: What is international librarianship?

What is international librarianship?

In thinking about writing this post, we came across this definition from 1974 and present it here as a starting point for some discussion. The first question then is this: Is a definition nearly 40 years old still relevant in a rapidly moving profession?

“International librarianship consists of activities carried out among or between governmental or non-governmental institutions, organizations, groups or individuals of two or more nations, to promote, establish, develop, maintain and evaluate library, documentation and allied services, and librarianship and the library profession generally, in any part of the world” (Parker (1974) p.221).

The International Librarians Network was started to try and give the opportunity to individuals to make connections with like minded professionals from around the world. If we use this definition from Parker as a starting point we can ask ourselves:

  • How can we go about bringing an international perspective to our work?
  • What does it mean to be an international librarian in 2013 (and beyond)?
  • How do you do it, and what benefits does it bring?
  • What are the issues that span borders?

We’d really love to hear what you think in the comments below. Perhaps you’d like to share another definition of an international librarian.

Around the world: Paris, London, Penang, Stonehenge, Botany Bay

Around the world: Paris, London, Penang, Stonehenge, Botany Bay

Parker, J.S. 1974. International librarianship – a reconnaissanceJournal of Librarianship 6 (4), 219-232.

Posted in Discussion topics and tagged , , .


  1. My initial impression was that the definition provided is surprisingly relevant today – but that may be because it’s so broad! Almost any kind of activity that crosses borders can fit into that definition, which is a good thing. I like the idea of a broad definition of international librarianship – anything more narrow risks loosing relevance across different cultures and environments.

  2. A phrase that often arises in these kinds of discussions is ‘think global, act local’. I think one of the really exciting opportunities in working with other librarians internationally is the opportunity to learn from the experiences of colleagues all around the world. The world is so much smaller than we like to think and I’m constantly learning from links and stories that my own PLN share. The challenge for me is to then think about how I synthesize what’s happening out there with my own experiences at my library and make something happen.

    • Hi Kate
      I absolutly agree with your comment.I think international librarianship is giving so much in return when it comes to inspiration to act and make things happen in the community where I am a (G)local librarian.

  3. I feel that advocacy plays a key part in International Librarianship. I am excited to be taking part in this year’s Cycling for Libraries ( event in June and one of the key aims of this project is to make people aware of how valuable services and resources that libraries offer are at a time when public libraries in particular are under threat. The situation is the same for many countries around the world and I think getting so many librarians from many different nations together for an event like this will help to encourage solidarity and ideas sharing across borders.

  4. I think libraries across the globe work towards the same goals and share a lot of the same values and challenges. If we learn from each other internationally and translate what we learn from other countries and cultures to something that fits our own local communities and make things happen (Like Kate says above) – I think we practice international librarianship in a way where we are globally inspired and acting for the benfits of our own local community. This is worth the effort in a globalized world in economic hard times.

    What I stated above is how I define myself as what I call a Global librarian – I have written and spoken about the subject:

    Short video about international librarianship:

    How to collaborate internationally via social media (Learnings from Buy India a Library):

    Letter from World Libraries (Why we are more alike than we think – a celebration)

    You could also listen to some of my thoughts on international librarianship on the Circualting ideas podcast:

  5. I think the idea of International Librarianship improved a great deal with the Internet and with social media. We can go and look how others are doing it, and we can connect across the borders with by way of tweets, and by way of this initiative! Thanks!!!

    I feel isolated in our part of the world, and because of budgetary and other constraints, we are never given the opportunity to attend international conferences. It helps to follow conferences, and to look at topics and presentations being discussed, but it is never the same than being there in person!

    I am doing a bit of curation over at – It helps me to stay on top of what is happening in librarianship and archiving across the world.

    Our jobs get so specialized (narrow and focused), that I feel I am losing touch with the bigger picture in Librarianship!
    I haven’t catalogued a book in 20 years, but only other audiovisual formats.
    It is a total different ballgame where we are making the rules ourselves (mostly) as we go along. I
    also work with specialists from other fields of interest who do not always have a librarian/archivist mindset! (We are a different breed).

    I like connecting across borders to discover that we have the same issues and problems to deal with, although on a larger or bigger scale…

  6. International librarianship may be a lifeline for those of us from ‘disadvantaged ‘ regions. I am from Ghana and have never attended any international conference outside my country. I try to keep up by visiting other libraries websites and reading archived conference materials and other information which I think may be useful in my work as an academic librarian. An area to be considered should be in the area of librarian exchanges and study tours .

  7. I agree Gladys – I have heard tell of librarian exchanges, but I’m not sure they happen very often. I guess it’s a bit more complicated than student exchanges, by the time we’re working we often have partners, families, houses, pets – things that are hard to organise in an exchange. But gee, it’s the kind of thing I’d love to do one day.

  8. I have found that many issues are universal in libraries (managing budgets, space limitations, keeping up with technology, library advocacy, education) and I guess approaching librarianship from an international perspective can help all of us have a better perspective on those universal problems. I am always amazed to see how creative librarians can be when tackling issues.

    Karen- I’d be interested to see how you are curating that knowledge. Is that something that can be shared?

    • We put up a post on the blog today from Mel who has worked in both Australia and New Zealand as a librarian. Even though the two countries share many, many similarities, Mel has found enough differences to make the transition something of a challenge!

  9. The reality is that not much is available in terms of professional development and networking opportunities for library professionals in my country. Most of the programs being organized on the few occasions when they are done, are specialized in nature so doesn’t really benefit majority of the library professionals. Realizing the need for such programs to fill the gaps in our professional knowledge , I have recently decided to organize some locally and an international one in future. Please share ideas with me.

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