There are historical records that would enhance current discussion on Peace Corps World Wide. “Evaluation of Central Agricultural Training for the Latin America and Caribbean Region, Peace Corps – April 1980“ would be a great companion piece to Don Gayton’s “Chicken Rites.” And for Ethiopia, the country I always felt the Peace Corps stars fell on, there is “The Impact of Peace Corps Teachers on Students in Ethiopia- Research Division O.P.R. 1968.” A study, entitled “Report of the Task Force on Sexual Assault September 26, 1979,” from the Office of Special Services, is pertinent to the current day Safety and Security discussion. These all are relics from what I presume were once the Peace Corps Library collection. These materials should still be located at PC/DC.
My FOIA request, of March 11, 2010 asked for documents showing”when and why the office known as Peace Corps Library was closed; all the disposition of all the documents in the collection which were not incorporated into the Information Collection and Exchange or ICE.” The response was comprehensive. It consisted of the ICE/Library Study of 1982 and the cataloguing project for the merging of ICE and PC library collections. There was also a list of the materials transferred from IRC/Washington to OSIRP – 2009 Peace Corps. The evaluation of training for agricultural projects in Latin American was on that list. Finally, the FOIA included a list, nine pages long, of historical materials for digitization. The report on Ethiopian Peace Corps teachers and the report from the task force were on that list, along with 34 Peace Corps agency telephone directories. What the FOIA did not include was an inventory of all the documents in the Peace Corps Library and the designation showing the disposition of each document, nor any explanation for the careful preservation of telephone directories.
So what happened to the Peace Corps Library? In early 1998, a memo stated “Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange (ICE) division recently has been merged administratively with the former Peace Corps Library into a unit with the new Center for Field Assistance and Applied Research.” The impetus for the merger evidently was the impeding July 1998 move to the current Peace Corps location. There was not an internal staff survey or an in-house evaluation as had been done 1982. Rather a consulting firm, Advanced Information Consultants, Inc., was hired to assist with the new organization and move.
The consultants’ focus was the merger of the two distinct library collections, into a single consistent management system and one catalogue system for improved efficiency. The consultants recommended that both collections be examined and that staff review materials and make a decision as to what to archive, discard or retain. But as noted before, there is not master list documenting those decisions. To its credit, Peace Corps recently hired a Public Records Manager with a PhD in the field and organization of records should certainly improve in the future.
The Rupert 1982 study recommended that the Peace Corps Library be maintained because its primary purpose was to provide information services to the Washington Headquarters staff. There has been no follow-up to evaluate how the closing of the Library in 1998 impacted information services to that staff. However, some conclusions might be drawn from the report, The Peace Corps – A Comprehensive Agency Assessment, June 2010. In discussing the Five Year Rule, the report made following general observation:
There is a lack of institutional memory to support decision-making, strategic planning, and operations. This lack of institutional memory exists on all organizational levels, from secretaries to associate directors, making work at the Peace Corps what one programming and training officer recently called, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Re-Invent.” (Page 82)
It may well be that the Peace Corps Library will be also reinvented. In the section on Strengthening Management and Independent Evaluation and Oversight, the Assessment report recommended:
Historically in the Peace Corps, the passing along of information and experience has depended heavily on oral tradition and a network of personal contacts. With the creation of Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning, (OSIRP), the Peace Corps now has an office responsible for maintaining historical records, and the office has made significant progress in collecting and managing agency data. The agency should continue its effort to collect and share data on the Peace Corps’ activities, including post specific history. (Page 70)
Nowhere in the 204 page Comprehensive Agency Assessment could I find a reference to the Peace Corps Library, not even a footnote.