Book Reviews

William Vernon Jackson

Biographical Directory of National Librarians. Edited by Frances Laverne Carroll and Philip J. Schwartz. London and New York: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1989. 134 p. ISBN 0-7201-1875-1. $50.00.

The stated purpose of this volume is “to provide biographical information about those persons who are currently in executive positions in the national libraries of the world” (p. ix). There are 200 entries (numbers 1-198 plus 14a and 60a), arranged alphabetically by country (Albania to Zimbabwe)strangely with Scotland and Wales appearing separately with no crossreference to or from United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the book promises far more than it delivers: 53 (26 percent) of the 200 entries provide no biographical information; they consist of only the name and address of the national library (sometimes with the librarian's name). The shortfall is even greater if one uses what the editors consider to be the potential coverage (150-165 countries); this would yield 300-330 entries, since they intended to include “the chief administrative officer” and the “deputy librarian or first assistant.”

Entries not here are not limited to the directors of small libraries in Third World countries: there is no information on either the director or his deputy in such countries as USSR, Italy, Belgium, Argentina, Turkey, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and all of the Central American republics.

One can appreciate the authors’ difficulties in trying to determine what constitutes a national library, yet it is hard to understand why there is only one of Italy’s national libraries and one for the 15 Soviet republics when they have chosen to include a number of libraries for autonomous or semiautonomous regions of other countries (Quebec, Catalonia, and the federated units of Yugoslavia). The Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in (former) East Berlin does appear, but there is no listing for the Staatsbibliothek in West Berlin, although both derive from the Preussische Staatsbibliothek. Similarly excluded are certain parliamentary libraries, which in some countries fulfill part of the mission of a national library.

Usable entries provide the following information: name of the director (or deputy); official title; address (of the library); personal address; date and place of birth; spouse; education; professional certificates (“primarily those not issued by educational institutions”); career steps in chronological order; military service; selected publications; honors, awards, and fellowships; professional memberships; civic and political activities; religious groups, social clubs, lodges; languages; and recommended source of the history and description of the library. Apparently all of this information came from completed questionnaires (although no copy of the instrument appears in the book), and data, on the whole, seem reasonably well edited. There is considerable variation, however, in the handling of “Languages.” We are told that “Languages listed before the semicolon (;) are those with which the individual is most competent” (p. xiv), but for some British and American librarians English is included, while for others it is not (cf. pp. 104-115)! One is also puzzled by the use of “(acquired),” added to some languages but not to others, with no explanation of difference in meaning. Perhaps this is the result (usually not a happy one when attempted) of trying to obtain from the questionnaire the degree of foreign language skill.

The compilers state that they have attempted to provide information about persons “currently” directing national libraries, yet they give us no date for the mailing of the questionnaire nor the closing of information. Reading the preface and examination of entries suggests that the work reflects those who were incumbents in the mid-1980s, but there are some sketches for persons who became directors as late as 1987 or 1988. A clear statement would have been helpful.

The book has an attractive appearance; information is well spaced on the page without crowding, and use of boldface type makes it easy to locate the various categories. There is an index at the end which includes names of individuals, countries, and libraries. But it is appalling that in a book with such obvious international dimensions, there is no use at all of diacritical marks for terms (persons, institutions, associations, and titles of books and articles) in foreign languages.

Most of the shortcomings in this work seem to come from too much dependence on the questionnaire as the only source of information. There is no indication of independent research on the biographees in this country’s outstanding library science collections (e.g., Columbia and LC), nor of information gathered at IFLA or other international meetings. The editors state that every effort has been made to be “up-to-date, comprehensive, and consistent.” To one degree or another they have fallen short on each count; one wonders why the volume was published when additional information was highly desirable. A good idea has led to a reference work which is not as good as it should be and which carries too high a price.

About the Author

William Vernon Jackson
Associate Editor of Third World Libraries, is Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Rosary College.

© 1991 Rosary College