Global Dimensions: A Prospective Action Agenda

LandScan Global ambient population map, from the LandScan database. Courtesy of East View Information Services.

Some key points of consensus that emerged at the December 2012 Global Dimensions Forum suggested measures CRL and its constituent libraries might take to strengthen library support for area and international studies (AIS). Three key points were:

  • General pessimism about the future of federal support for area and international studies. Cuts in Title VI, TICFIA, and other programs in 2011 and 2012 signaled a decline in federal resources for area studies and humanities collections, even before the sequestration and partial shutdown of the federal government occurred in October 2013. James Nye’s paper for the Forum urged that “the highest priority should be placed on expanding nongovernmental support to achieve goals identified by the Global [Dimensions] Forum . . . The Forum should develop plans which will encourage sustenance and expansion of nongovernmental support from universities, corporations, foundations, and individual donors to expand library and archival resources supporting area and international studies.”
  • The existence of a newly enlarged audience in academia for foreign library materials. Traditional area studies are no longer the exclusive domain for the study of world regions at the post-secondary level. To a large extent, globalization is internationalizing the curriculum and research agendas of the professional schools: Law (trade, human rights, and IP); Medicine (epidemiology and public health); Finance (international/multinational business); Engineering (civil infrastructure, computer science); Communications (broadcast and journalism); and the Sciences (agricultural development, energy). From the Africana Librarians Council response to the preliminary report: “We need to build collections which support all approaches to research. To create a polarization between local versus global seems unnecessary when both depend on each other and co-exist.”
  • The need to coordinate and better leverage the multitude of existing but dispersed area studies initiatives and assets. Over a half-century of library and scholarly investment has generated a wealth of resources for international research that are not adequately known or accessible. Charles Kurzman advocated a new cooperative model that can “track the numerous decentralized, local efforts . . . and endow infrastructure for collaboration, not just short-term project-based funding.”

Outlined below are ways that new support and renewed or expanded action, in some instances building upon existing activities, could help address these new realities.

1. Strategic Data-gathering and Analysis

Jamaica Times, February 1905. Digitized for the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC).

Given the scarcity of resources available for collecting to support area and international studies (AIS), libraries need more and better data to inform their local and cooperative decision-making. Information is needed about new and emerging fields of research in international studies, such as cultural geography, social network analysis, economic history, and migration and human rights studies. Those fields require rich primary data and documentary evidence, which is available in a growing array of commercial and open access databases.

Moreover, major bibliographic utilities like OCLC provide ample data on published materials cataloged by libraries in the developed world, but provide little useful information about library holdings of primary source materials from world regions— many of which are uncataloged—to inform acquisition decisions and planning. Nor do they provide reliable tools for measuring library success in supporting current research methodologies in area and international studies, where ephemeral publications, data sets, and web-based information are critical source materials.

Reliable data, for example, are needed on:

  • The nature and scope of publishing, broadcast, and web output in strategically and historically significant regions;
  • The scope of active and planned projects to digitize international materials, and what content is available in major existing open-access and commercial databases of international materials, particularly IGO and government-produced materials, where overlap is common;
  • The scope, strengths, and gaps of current programs that harvest international web-based materials, including those undertaken by the Library of Congress, Internet Archive, University of Texas, Columbia, Harvard, and others.


  1. Support the ongoing analysis of important trends in the research of new scholars and researchers in international studies defined broadly, focusing on applicants and recipients of ACLS, CAORC, SSRC, Fulbright, and other appropriate fellowship programs, and the work of visiting scholars at policy institutes like Brookings, RAND Corporation, the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, and others.
  2. Provide research fellowships for systematic surveys and inventories of archives and collections in critical world regions, such as conflict zones, developing nations, etc. Where appropriate, build the requirement to inventory such collections into fellowship funding programs.
  3. Support briefings for acquisitions librarians at North American research libraries by researchers and others who are “on the ground” in historically and strategically important regions.
  4. Expand the analysis and evaluation of the major open access and commercial databases of primary source materials for international studies, and the harvesting, aggregation, and analysis of metadata about the contents of those databases. Make exposure of appropriate metadata a standard condition for licensing of commercial databases by academic libraries.
  5. Support analysis and mapping of the original production and flow of electronic source materials for international studies, focusing on primary sources, including content and data produced by news media, governments, and IGOs in problematic and non-transparent zones of interest, such as North Africa, the nations of the Persian Gulf region, Russia, and Southeast Asia. Use the mapping to identify the bottlenecks, logjams, and points where opportunities for evolving the supply chain arise.
  6. Measure following against the aforementioned data and identified needs: the gaps and weaknesses of the LC Cooperative Acquisition Program and CRL Area Microform and Global Resources Projects; the gaps and weaknesses of the major area studies collections of record, such as those of the Library of Congress and National Agricultural Library; and the scope and gaps of the major extant web harvesting programs.1

2. Access to Primary Source Analog Materials

Acquisition of new materials

Many Global Dimensions Forum attendees and respondents to the preliminary report noted the special importance to area and international studies (AIS) of primary source materials, i.e., materials produced outside the academic sector. They also observed that in many less-developed regions like Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, print is still the primary means of information exchange. Those who study such regions value newspapers, pamphlets, archives, government gazettes and reports, central bank reports, NGO and political party web sites, blogs, and other materials produced for non-scholarly purposes. The growing trend toward sophisticated, quantitative analysis of economies, industries, nations, and other global forces by historians and researchers in the social sciences is increasing the importance and usefulness of such materials.

To address those needs, Charles Kurzman called for “infrastructure for collaboration, not just short-term project-based funding,” “new models of collaboration and specialization,” and “place-based sharing of physical material and people, globalbased sharing of digital material and distance learning . . . not just hoarding materials and expertise, especially removing them from poor countries, but upgrading them in place.”

Clearly the existing cooperative acquisitions programs at the national level do not fully accommodate the evolving realities of the information supply chain and new types of research. The institutions that built the world’s foremost collections for area and international studies in the twentieth century—the Library of Congress, British Library, certain major US research libraries, and cooperatives like CRL— were adapted to the media and research agendas of the mid-twentieth century. LC’s Cooperative Acquisitions Program, CRL’s Area Microform Projects, and the Title VI Centers, however, continue to yield important benefits, and their efforts in some areas are evolving.2

New infrastructure is needed to adequately serve today’s area and international studies, leveraging the significant logistical, intellectual, and financial existing infrastructure already in place.


  1. Create a new international network of non-federal foreign acquisition “centers,” supported not by federal funds but by the North American, European, and UK research libraries community, to supplement the LC, CRL, and the other extant AIS acquisition programs, identifying and acquiring materials of a type and from regions not currently covered. The new network should be able to act quickly in response to—even preempting—crises that endanger important evidence, such as the Afghan War, Arab Spring, and the recent Islamist insurgency in Mali.3 The network could draw upon the existing network of AMPs and Global Resources Projects, and Title VI centers for the resources and expertise necessary to guide the effort.
  2. Focus the international network’s efforts on acquiring materials of interest to a broad range of disciplines, serving a coalition of humanities, social sciences, business, economics, law, communications, and health research interests. Acquisition efforts should focus on materials produced by the news media, political organizations, governments, financial organizations, NGOs, and IGOs, and relevant to economic development, civil society, and demographics, and include ample materials published in English to maximize benefits to undergraduates and non-area specialists.

“Unlocking” Existing Area Studies Collections

North American, UK, and European research libraries already contain an enormous, latent body of primary source materials (much of it uncatalogued) from all world regions. Those materials, in paper and microform, represent an enormous, historic investment by the community that has not been fully exploited. Unlocking those materials through cataloging and digitization could have an immense, positive impact on American scholarship. Because much of this material was produced within the last 75 years, however, intellectual property issues make it unlikely to be digitized by commercial publishers, Google, or open-access efforts like the DPLA, HathiTrust, and World Digital Library, which focus largely on public-domain materials.

Numerous individual and cooperative efforts also digitize and expose primary source materials from world regions to the web. These kinds of initiatives, however, typically rely on one-time funds for initial support, and tend to lose momentum after initial local enthusiasm or funding ends.

The base of support for the serviceable components of this existing infrastructure needs to be broadened and enlarged. These efforts could benefit from the information and expertise of the larger research libraries community, and new resources could provide continued development and accessibility. Such support should be provided by an international alliance of research library organizations, perhaps led by JISC, DFG, CLIR, CRL, and other appropriate national initiators.


  1. Identify the most “credible” existing web platforms that provide electronic access to digitized public domain, primary source legacy materials, specializing in materials from single or multiple related regions of the world. Designate those platforms “Global Resources repositories” and populate them with materials digitized by cooperative programs like CRL, JISC, Europeana, the Area Microform and Global Resources projects, and the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.
  2. Expand CRL’s digital delivery system (DDS) platform to accommodate the large-scale hosting of materials not in the public domain or of uncertain copyright status, such as twentieth-century archives and published material digitized by CRL, and partner organizations.
  3. To further populate the designated platforms, create a competitive awards program to underwrite the digitization of legacy materials, using grant funding initially and eventually member funding. Exploit the established networks, represented by the AMPs, Global Resources Projects, Title VI centers, and TICFIA participants, and the British Library Endangered Archives Programme recipients, to identify and prioritize materials for digitization.

3. Access to Born-Digital Resources

A large and growing number of online sources for area and international studies are available only through vendors in the commercial sector, like East View, ProQuest, and Brill. Of particular importance are databases of demographic, economic, and law-related content produced by media organizations, financial institutions, national and provincial governments, and others. These are high priorities for new research not only in professional schools like law, business, and journalism, but in the humanities and social sciences as well.

At the same time, governments, intergovernmental organization (IGOs) like the World Bank, United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and FLACSO publish similar materials (and in many instances the same materials) directly to the open web. This complex and continually evolving cosmos of resources and tools for area and international studies is difficult to navigate, and libraries individually are at a disadvantage in making key investment decisions and transactions.


  1. Strengthen and expand the site licensing of international e-resources at the national and international levels. Gaining leverage for academic libraries with commercial vendors through coordinated collective bargaining, involving NERL, JISC, Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), and others, could increase the return on library investments in major databases. Potential returns include not only cost savings but publisher concessions on Unicode compliance; new technology development to accommodate display and searching of non-Roman scripts; and greater disclosure of metadata about the contents of major databases, particularly when that content is also available openly on the web.
  2. Support the identification, analysis, and evaluation of open access databases and datasets available though government agencies, IGOs, and NGOs. Such evaluation would identify strengths and gaps, as well as overlaps with commercially databases.
  3. Expand library support for nonprofit aggregators of important digital content. Much unique data and documentation for AIS research are maintained by community-based efforts like the Inter-University Consortium of Political and Social Research and the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, which would benefit from broader support by academic libraries. Providing new support to those organizations, by expanding their subscription base to encompass an enlarged population of libraries, could enable them to expand their coverage and value.

  1. The report of an internal analysis of the Library of Congress Overseas Operations, undertaken in 2009 at the request of the General Accountability Office, recommended that “The Library should lead a national review to determine the current state of [the Library’s area studies] collections and lead the effort to address whatever shortfalls are discovered.” The report also concluded that “Research interest in new geographical areas should guide the expansion of coverage by existing [OVOP] offices or the adoption of new collecting models to address these new areas,” and called for “more data on and analysis of the state of LC area studies collections” and “new models for foreign operations to acquire materials not covered by current LC OVOP and World Digital Library.”
  2. LC, in particular, remains a critical part of the infrastructure for foreign acquisitions by US research libraries, although the 2009 report cited above identified a number of shortcomings in the LC OVOP program, and several developments have degraded the program’s effectiveness since 2001. Those include reductions in the levels of appropriated funds; lack of a presence in key geographical areas (China, Korea, Russia); and little or no coverage of new types of materials, such as data sets, broadcast, and web content.
  3. UNESCO’s Vancouver declaration, The Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation, adopted in 2013, calls for the creation of “an emergency programme aiming at preservation of documentary materials endangered by natural disasters or armed conflicts, as well as a programme for the recovery of analogue and digital heritage that is under threat of becoming, or is already, inaccessible because of obsolete hardware and software.”