RPCV Lawrence Lihosit Launches Campaign To Save Peace Corps Books

This is a letter that Larry Lihosit, who served in Honduras, is sending around to congress and the senate seeking to establish at the Library of Congress a Special Collection of Peace Corps books. He is particularly interested in books that are self-published and have limited circulation.

This is a very good idea, I think. We need ‘places’ where researchers someday might turn to find out who, what, where, when and how of  the Peace Corps. With the disappearance of books in our world, the Library of Congress is a good location. Or as Hemingway said, “a clear, well lighted place.”

Larry wrote me: “I am taking this opportunity to continue my campaign to cajole for the creation of a Peace Corps Experience Collection at the Library of Congress. I sent the attached letter to my congressman, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer,  Dianne Feinstein, and Barack Obama. I intend to resend it each month. Maybe someone will actually read it! If the letter could serve as some sort of example, feel free to use it on your blog.

“I also sent a shorter version to about a dozen newspapers. If you are also interested in a Library of Congress Special Collection, you might want to consider encouraging people to write to their elected officials. The library has 5,000 employees! There are more special collections then I would have guessed! This would not strain resources nor would it cost much to start since the books would be donated.”

Here’s Larry’s letter to the President and Congress. Feel free to edit and send to your person in Congress.

             As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Honduras, 1975-1977), I request your help to create a new Special Collection at the Library of Congress, the Peace Corps Experience Collection. This would include published memoirs, letters, essays, novels, short stories and poetry inspired by service. By creating such a repository, the Library of Congress would become a historical guardian for the Peace Corps’ collective memory and promote understanding (the Peace Corps’ third goal).

            Currently, there is no such treasure. The Kennedy Library only accepts original material. Tragically, even the Peace Corps Resource Library in Washington D.C. does not keep published work written by its own volunteers, the salt of the earth. As the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps’ inception approaches, let us correct this.

            As you know, hundreds of thousands of Americans have heard the call and hundreds have returned to fulfill that pledge to share their experience through literature. Since commercial publishers have historically shown little interest in Peace Corps Volunteer’s literature, ninety percent of these books are self-published. The Library of Congress currently will not accept any book unless at least 500 copies were printed. In today’s Print-On-Demand publishing world, this excludes almost all Peace Corps’ books.

            Popular government sponsored programs are rare. During the first half of the twentieth century only the W.P.A. and the C.C.C. caught America’s imagination. During the second half of the twentieth century, only N.A.S.A. and the Peace Corps have been equally popular. Yet, like the W.P.A. and the C.C.C., first-hand experience books about the Peace Corps are hard to find and our collective memory fades.  

            The Library of Congress has a great set of special collections, several of which include twentieth century work. There is even a collection of “Amateur Publications” by early twentieth century journalists! The addition of Peace Corps literature will serve our nation well at no cost to the tax payer. The books will be donated. Web sites related to the Peace Corps are numerous. 

            Most wise leaders are remembered for supporting the arts and learning. This is an opportunity. The fiftieth anniversary is the perfect time to announce the creation of a Peace Corps Experience Collection within the Library of Congress. Thanking you in advance for your kind consideration.

Sincerely,

5 Comments

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  • If I may piggyback on this great idea of Larry Lihosit’s, it is not just the books which need to be saved. There are thousands of public records of the work done by Volunteers which have been destroyed or “lost.” There is no place now for researchers to go to understand what Peace Corps was and or is all about. The special collection should not only be in the Library of Congress, but should be the starting point for an independent Peace Corps Library and Research Center.

    What do you think?

  • Lawrence Lihosit dropped me a note to point out, “In response to the comment, the Kennedy Library will accept donations of original letters, journals, news articles, manuals, photos, slides, memorabilia, even technical records from service for inclusion in its permanent collection. ”

    Thanks, Larry

  • There should also be a collection of Description of Service, the long form original. This will really show what each PC did in country and is a great record for researchers.

  • DE, I don’t know if you are referring to what is also called a COS or Close of Service Document. The COS completed by each PCV at the end of service and countersigned by the Country Director is considered personal; is part of the RPCV’s personnel file, and is not available for researchers. Individual RPCVs may release their own COS, but Peace Corps cannot without express permission. You are absolutely right, such documents would be invaluable for researchers and historians.

    In the early days, the Description of Service was a generic form given to every member of a training group, and would be of little use to researchers.

  • Peace Corps Online posted various articles by RPCVs in the form of Memos to the new PC Director Williams. I addressed this important issue with the following recommendation.

    VIII. Protect and preserve the public records of the United States Peace Corps.

    Discussion:
    The Peace Corps is the record of the work done by its Volunteers.

    That public record should be preserved for researchers, for historians, and for the purpose of accountability. Perhaps the most comprehensive document of Peace Corps work is the Close of Service document written by each Volunteer at termination and countersigned by the Director of Peace Corps in the host country. These documents are considered part of the personnel record of the Volunteer, are subject to privacy regulations, and are not available to the public. The National Archivist in consultation with the Peace Corps Director currently decides which other Peace Corps documents will be archived within the National Archives and Record Administration and which documents will be scheduled for destruction. The guidelines for such decisions vary by time and administration. Records from host country may not be preserved if the Peace Corps mission has to be abruptly terminated. Peace Corps personnel in host countries may not be trained in the preservation of such records. As a consequence, the public record of the Peace Corps is fragmented, incomplete, and very difficult to access for the purposes of research or accountability.

    Action:
    -Appoint a committee to establish permanent guidelines for the preservation of public records. The committee should include RPCVs, professional historians and archivists, as well as legal experts. The guidelines should take into account the historical importance of such records, the privacy concerns of Volunteers, and the need to protect the integrity of commentary about host countries without jeopardizing the relationship between the Peace Corps and the host countries.

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