Magazine article American Libraries

More Than a Memory Center: The OAS Library Has Much to Offer American Librarians and Scholars. (Collections)

Magazine article American Libraries

More Than a Memory Center: The OAS Library Has Much to Offer American Librarians and Scholars. (Collections)

Article excerpt

The Organization of American States (OAS) is the world's oldest regional organization of nations. The association of 35 American countries is also an important cultural institution that has worked effectively for the international community's benefit. Its long history traces back to the First International Conference of American States held in Washington, D.C., from October 1889 to April 1890.

An outstanding library serves as the cornerstone of this venerable Inter-American institution, helping to fulfill its mission of promoting peace, security, and representative democracy in the Western Hemisphere. "Our library functions as a modem documentation center that preserves and provides useful information to support the OAS's mission," explained OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria in an interview in the magnificent OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Columbus Memorial Library (CML), as the OAS library is known, also contains rich cultural resources--dating from as early as the 16th century--that can be used by many other patrons besides the secretary general and his support staff. Indeed, a close look at its collections and services reveals that it has much to offer American librarians and scholars. "We are a noncirculating library, but we have many services that reach out beyond the GAS mandate and membership," explained Beverly Wharton-Lake, acting library director.

Founded during that first conference in 1890, the CML was originally housed in the OAS's Pan American Building. A $750,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie supported its construction. Space problems, however, compelled the OAS to move the library in 1988 to its present location in the Administrative Services Building.

In 1890 the library accessioned its first purchased volume, a work in German by M. Clotten titled Amerika. Since that humble beginning, the CML collection has grown to more than 500,000 printed volumes, while adding thousands of items in a variety of formats, from microfilm and photographs to memoranda and technical reports to stamps and honorary medals.

Central to the library's mission is its role as the memory center for OAS actions and policies. The CML directs the archives and records-management program of the OAS General Secretariat and preserves and indexes the OAS's official documents, the most complete collection of printed documentation of the OAS and its predecessor organizations, the Pan American Union and the International Bureau of the American Republics. American libraries can purchase these official documents--including the minutes of the Permanent Council, resolutions of the General Assembly, committee reports, and the secretary general's annual report--by year or by individual document.

These holdings, however, represent just the tip of a collection that has made CML one of the cultural treasures of the nation's capital. For starters, there are the holdings of the traditional library--500,000 volumes, in both monograph and serial form, that document the history and culture of member states and that include a large number of titles about Spain, Portugal, and France, as well as thousands of issues of serials relating to laws, treaty agreements, executive orders, and modification of regulations. To this collection, the library adds about 2,000 books annually in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

The CML has also acquired a large amount of material from the GAS Permanent Observer nations program, which originated from the OAS's efforts to ease multilateral development projects between member and nonmember states. On February 2, 1972, Canada, Spain, Guyana, and Israel became the first Permanent Observer nations. Today, the Permanent Observers total 56--more than the number of OAS member states.

Many of the Permanent Observers have been quite generous in donating books, serials, and other material, but as Wharton-Lake revealed, "The gifts have stretched our limited resources. …

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