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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


LOR, Peter  y  BRITZ, Johannes. Libraries and peace: A critical reflection on the role of libraries in promoting peace. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.4, pp.584-600. ISSN 2224-7912.

From the mid-19th century national and international library associations and professional librarianship developed in close association with polity and liberal internationalism and peace movements, and later with the League of Nations and UNESCO. The emphasis in polity internationalism was not on questioning the system of nation states, but on creating mechanisms for maintaining peaceful relations among them. This corresponds to the motivations of civic leaders who founded the first free public libraries. They sought to stabilize existing relations among social groups and to prevent revolution. Key pronouncements by UNESCO state that libraries can or should contribute to peace. It is thought that the provision of information will lead to increased knowledge, hence to greater understanding and tolerance of other groups, and that this will promote peace. We critically examine these assumptions, starting with a reflection on what is implied by the concept of "peace". Peace embodies juridical, ethical and legal dimensions. For the purposes of our analysis, we conceptualize peace as positive (not merely the absence of conflict) and as processes rather than as a state. This implies that peace cannot be promoted merely by attempts to maintain existing social relations, whether by the suppression of alternative views, the signing of agreements, negotiation of constitutions, or the creation of democratic institutions. The latter are a necessary but not sufficient condition for peace. Social justice and reconciliation are conditions for lasting peace and reconciliation. Reconciliation must include restoring the humanity of parties to violent conflict. In light of this reflection, we analyse the following assumptions: (1) libraries contribute to education; (2) libraries provide information; (3) libraries disseminate information; (4) information promotes knowledge; (5) knowledge leads to understanding; (6) understanding of others leads to peace. We conclude that it is simplistic to see a straightforward link between information and peace. While the free flow of information is vital to democracy, peace and freedom, the relationship between information and peace involves a series of complex causal relations. We consider implications of our analysis for the role of libraries, with particular reference to public libraries. In respect of collections efforts should be made to acquire materials that will support peace processes. In respect of services, librarians need to go beyond simply making materials available. Traditional promotional activities also do not suffice. Libraries need to reach out to communities with programmes that promote a peace agenda and a climate of consultation. At a practical level they can reduce the circulation of rumours by providing mechanisms for dissemination of factual information about community governance and political issues. Libraries can contribute to peace more indirectly but lastingly by capacity building: supporting educational institutions, empowering community members through literacy and skills development, and by inculcating information literacy for more effective participation of community members in the political process. Traditionally librarians have sought to maintain the library's "neutrality" in respect of social and political issues. Arguably, however, maintaining neutrality under conditions of injustice amounts to siding with the oppressor. A more activist role for librarians in working for peace in their communities has implications for their professional ethos. It calls the neutrality principle into question and also holds some risks for the place of the library in the community and the position of the librarian. The organized library profession and library education institutions have a responsibility for raising awareness of social problems among librarians. To be able to engage effectively with their communities in the interests of promoting peace, they need to have a good understanding of social conditions, the dynamics of community politics, and public administration, as well as an understanding of the conditions for peace and the processes of promoting peace.

Palabras clave : Peace; positive peace; social justice; reconciliation; tolerance; empathy democracy; libraries; public libraries; information; library collections; information services; community engagement; activism; professional ethics; neutrality; training.

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