Peace Corps may be “Forever Young” in the public imagination but in reality, it is one of the oldest “new” federal agencies. Its fifty-five years of operation will take a gigantic effort to accurately document. Public, independent and well funded, a Peace Corps Library needs more to be successful. It needs a professional Librarian Research staff, a RPCV advisory committee, an Internet presence as well as a physical location.
Why a Professional Librarian Research Staff?
The materials, books, documents, memorabilia and electronic items are scattered all over. Some are in the public domain; some are in private or public university collections. Most of the documents from Peace Corps’ first decades are hard copy and have not been digitalized. The expertise of a professional Librarian Research staff is necessary to locate all of the items, to create a catalog system and to work to make these items accessible, even if they remain in the physical possession of the different institutions.
American University has a Peace Corps Community Archive, University of New Mexico has an extensive collection of public records relating to training and selection for early groups going to South and Central America; University of Michigan and Rutgers are just some of the universities with individual Peace Corps collections. Federal depositories of Peace Corps history include the Smithsonian Institution; the JFK Library with its extensive Peace Corps staff and RPCV collections, including 500 RPCV oral histories; and the Peace Corps Record Group at the National Archives in College Park, MD. Professional Librarians will have the skill to coordinate with Librarians and Archivists in all these important places.
Why a RPCV Advisory Committee?
A RPCV Advisory Committee is necessary because the Peace Corps has no institutional memory. Each decade should be represented by at least one RPCV, who could answer questions about Peace Corps operations in that era; or, who could contact friends and others to help answer questions and correct errors. The Peace Corps Act called for a Peace Corps Advisory Council to advise the President on matters regarding the operation of the Peace Corps. There has been no council for decades. However, I think that the concept of Advisory Council for a Peace Corps Library reflects the values, which first created the Peace Corps Advisory Council.
My experience also prompted me to recommend the creation of such a Council. I have encountered all kinds of misinformation about Peace Corps in my search for records. One NARA archivist thought that I had “worked” for Peace Corps in Colombia for twenty years. Another archivist was frustrated because some Peace Corps records were listed under ACTION. T.
The professional librarian staff together with the RPCV Advisory Committee, as well as the National Archives staff and that of Peace Corps, must develop protocols to protect personal and “confidential” information that may be contained in these materials. The documents must be protected for future historians, but some may have to have restricted access, today.
Why an Internet Presence?
The Internet is the new neighborhood bar, college library, Encyclopedia Britiana, backyard fence, coffee cafe, or old fashion Barber shop and Beauty parlor; it is where you go to find out what’s going on. The Peace Corps Library has to be there; the place to go to find answers to questions about Peace Corps; to find Peace Corps history; and to link to the official Peace Corps website; as well as all the independent RPCVs websites and activities
Perhaps it would also be possible to offer a special research review to those scholars who are preparing theses and dissertations about Peace Corps. The scholar could post his or her work, prior to final submission, and ask for comments from serving PCVs and RPCVs. The Research Librarian staff could facilitate this with colleges and universities.
Why a Physical Location?
In the age of the Internet, why would a Peace Corps Library need actual space? Michelle Jeske, Denver’s City Librarian said it best in her description of why a physical location is essential to a public library “And we act as so-called third places — gathering spots away from home and work — where people can collaborate, share or escape into an engaging book or project.” (http://www.denverpost.com/2016/11/26/considering-the-denver-public-librarys-mission-in-the-wake-of-the-election/)
The Peace Corps Library’s “Third Place” should be multi-dimensional; to include the prerequisite research room, a public reading and video place, a book and craft store with the essential coffee/tea bar, a conference room and a museum with special collections for children.
RPCVs have created excellent documentaries, such as Jill Vickers’s “Once in Afghanistan“, all of Alan Toth’s work with Posh Corps, and Alana DeJoseph’s “Towering Task”, now in final stages of production. Serving Volunteers write blogs and post videos of their work, and Peace Corps is well represented on You Tube. The National Archives also has a collection of videos and photographs from the early years. These should be easily available to view at a Peace Corps Library. John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil have promoted Peace Corps Writers for over 35 years and all of those hundreds of book should be available not only in a “reading room” but also for sale in the book store. Craft items from Peace Corps projects should also be for sale.
The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience has been a project of the Columbia River Peace Corps Alumni group for many years. http://www.museumofthepeacecorpsexperience.org/CMPCE_site/HOME.html. It is hoped that the committee for this wonderful project would agree to also exhibit in the Peace Corps Library.
Together, all of this beautiful Peace Corps synergy would be in pursuit of the Third Goal: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. I would hope that the next four years would be a good time to concentrate on the making of a Peace Corps Library a reality