The first official mention of a Peace Corps Library is in a July 1965 memo to Charles J. Patterson, a former Acting Associate Director, supporting such a library “for the primary purpose of improved overseas staff orientation.”
It was proposed that the agency “gather together in one convenient place a copy of fundamental materials which reflect our experience and which will help overseas staff. Of course these materials would prove of considerable value to the entire Peace Corps. If properly set up it will save the government time, space, and money and will help the agency learn what it has learned already: thus each new employee need not be condemned to relearn for himself what the agency already knows.” (Peace Corps ICE/Library Study December 22, 1982, page 2)
Nineteen sixty-five was an important year for Peace Corps. The agency was four years old, had weathered the assassination of the President and proved that it could recruit, train and maintain Volunteers in over 40 foreign countries. Volunteers were working in settings as diverse as college classrooms and subsistence farming communities. Its charismatic Director Shriver had already been recruited by President Johnson to run a domestic poverty program and was working only part-time at the Peace Corps. The agency was poised to raise its Volunteer contingent to over 16,000. In August of that year, Congress, at Shriver’s request, would pass legislation amending the Civil Service Act to limit staff tenure at the agency to five years. The agency was growing at the same time as the “old hands” were leaving. The need to train new Volunteers, new staff and to begin to build institutional memory were factors in the creation of the Peace Corps Library at PC/DC.
The Peace Corps ICE/Library Study completed in the December of 1982 identified two constituencies with information needs: The Volunteers and staff overseas who needed job-related technical materials; and, the Washington staff who needed a full range of library services primary in support of headquarters operations. Through the years, these constituencies have been served by a variety of different information units. There have been charges of competition and duplication among these services. This may well have contributed to the final demise of the Library sometime in the mid-nineties. However, the record is not clear. The most definitive history covers the period 1965 to 1982 and comes from the Peace Corps ICE/Library Study. During the 1960s, the Peace Corps’ Publication and Information Center (PIC) “answered requests for job-related technical materials from Volunteers and Staff overseas. “The PIC also compiled, distributed and supplemented the Technical Book Kit consisting of approximately 150 titles, designed as the nucleus of a technical reference library for immediate in-country job support. The PIC assumed the responsibility for producing and distributing all materials Peace Corps used in training and overseas.” PIC also produced TECH NOTES, a publication predicated upon the “belief that Volunteers worldwide were developing new processes and techniques, the communication of which was essential for Peace Corps and the developing world.”(ICE/Peace Corps Study, 1982, page 2-3)
The PIC was merged with the Peace Corps Library, sometime in the late 1960s, despite concerns that this could compromise the ability of PIC to meet the needs of overseas staff and Volunteers. The Peace Corps Library assumed some of the PIC responsibilities until the establishment of ACTION in 1971. The Nixon administration combined all “poverty programs” into one agency, ACTION. Peace Corps became the International Operations unit or IO of ACTION. The Peace Corps library became the ACTION Library and expanded to provide support to domestic operations. The report notes that some of the information functions and activities were dropped by the library, among them “publishing a journal intended to provide a worldwide exchange of program ides and to inform Volunteers and staff of source materials relevant to Peace Corps programs.” (ICE/Library Study , page 3)
It is fair to speculate why overseas support was reduced by the new ACTION agency. Was it because the Nixon administration planned to “phase out” the Peace Corps? Was it because of Nixon’s first appointed Peace Corps Director Blanchard’s New Directions program? This program emphasized the First Goal of the Peace Corps and called for placing trained Volunteers in structured jobs that would directly aid the developing nation. Such emphasis would not require building on existing programs as much as the previous programs utilizing “BA Generalists” had. (For a comprehensive analysis of “New Directions, see: Searles, David P. The Peace Corps Experience. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1997) Or was it because Director Blanchard was the first to fully implement the “In, Up and Out” tenure policy and interpreted that to mean that the old programs and ideas should be discarded to make way for the new?
Next: Peace Corps Library Part II – The conclusions of the Peace Corps ICE/Library Study – 1982