The Peace Corps Library – Part II
“How did we get here and where do we want to go?” Surely, my site buddies and I were not the only PCVs to ponder that question. It could even serve as one theme for the 50th Anniversary. However, in the context of the Peace Corps administrative history of information services, it sounds like the message Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe gave to her staff after Peace Corps gained its independence from ACTION in 1982. The Peace Corps Library had been providing support services to domestic operations and now had to refocus on Peace Corps. What would be the best way to support overseas staff as well as Washington Headquarters and avoid duplication and competition between ICE and the Library? Rupert ordered a study to answer precisely that question. The study included a review of previous studies, documents and memos all of which had been carefully archived in the Peace Corps Library. Staff members were surveyed as to their needs, their use of existing resources, and what they would like to see in the future.
The Nixon administration had reduced technical support services to overseas staff and Volunteers. The Ford administration resurrected that function, as the study reported:
“The Information Collection Exchange, or ICE, was established in 1975, picked up the functions and activities that had earlier been dropped…ICE was in a sense a new organization. Due to the fact that Peace Corps Publication and Identification Center (PIC) had been merged with the Library more than five years prior to the birth of ICE, Peace Corps staff, who were experienced with and knowledgeable of information collection and exchange activities were no longer employed by the Peace Corps…. As part of a new operation with no previous experience in providing technical information, ICE staff were ‘condemned to relearn’ what the agency had already known. For the new ICE staff there were systems to develop, contacts to be made, and networks to establish. One of their major tasks was to solicit Volunteer participation and (re)gain their support in technical information exchange. (Peace Corps ICE/Library Study, December 22, 1982, page 4)
The study’s principal tool was a questionnaire distributed to all staff members at the Washington Headquarters as well as a similar questionnaire cabled to all overseas posts.The results showed that strong support for the ICE from overseas staff. “Opinions about ICE received from the field were overwhelmingly positive and supportive of ICE and ICE staff, with few weaknesses being mentioned. In fact, a significant number of overseas posts stated that not only had they not observed any weakness, but that ICE staff were outstanding in their response and support. (Peace Corps ICE/Library Study, page 26) The enthusiasm for ICE and its staff was reiterated throughout the report.
In contrast, the survey results from Headquarters staff indicated the Library was underutilized because of a lack of understanding of this resource. (ICE/Library Study, page 19) The resources included the collecting, cataloguing, sharing, and loaning of a wide range of resources, exclusive of technical materials.
One of the Library’s most important functions was as a Peace Corps’s historical archive, through the cataloguing and storage of documents, which become records of ‘what the agency already knows’. This is a vital function in any agency, but is even more critical in the Peace Corps where staff turnover is mandated by the Five-Year Rule.” (ICE/Library Study, page 29)
The Report concluded that there was little duplication between the Library and the ICE and that coordination between the two should be encouraged. Each office served an unique function. (ICE/Library Study, page 30). Among the final recommendations were:
-Develop a Peace Corps Information resources and Services Manual to include a descriptions of resources maintained and where resources are located and which offices provide services.
-Develop a mechanism to ensure that a copy of all Peace Corps generated publications, reports, etc. are automatically sent to the Library.
-Peace Corps staff should be provided orientation regarding the resources and services made available by the Peace Corps Library and ICE. Before staff initiates studies, projects, etc., research should be done in the Library to make use of those resources and avoid needless and costly duplication of efforts. (ICE/Library Study, page 30)
Director Rupert guaranteed that the Peace Corps Library would continue and its functions strengthened during her administration. Yet, fifteen years later, by 1998, the Library was gone. The ICE remained. There is no study, memo, or evaluation to explain why the Library was closed. There is only a description of a cataloguing project for the merging of the ICE and Peace Corps Library collections that holds only a clue as to what happened to all of the Library’s collection. We will look at that next.
3 CommentsLeave a comment
Nice work, Joey! I look forward to your next post.
Joey, I am sorry to say that the former librarian I contacted does not appear to be interested in talking with us about the library’s final days. She acknowledged my first email, but not the second which raised the questions we have more specifically.
David, Thank you so much for trying. Perhaps her reply might come after the holidays. We can only hope.
Lorezno, Thank you so much for your comments.