Report: First International Conference on Bahá'í Libraries and Archives

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Posted by Jonah ( on January 30, 2003 at 19:36:42:

Report on the

First International Conference on Bahá'í Libraries and Archives

Landegg International University,
2-4 January 2003

The historic First International Conference on Bahá'í Libraries and Archives was attended by 31 individuals from 16 countries who came together to share their experiences, to learn about best practices in Bahá'í libraries and archives, and to begin developing a structure for world interaction among those who handle and organize Bahá'í library and archival materials. The conference was convened by Landegg International University and Barbara Geisey, the University's visiting librarian.

The conference opened with a wide-ranging keynote address by William P. Collins, former director of the Bahá'í World Centre Library and currently at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. The address, entitled "Challenges and Myths: Making Libraries and Archives Relevant in the Bahá'í Community", provided observations on the process of establishing functioning Bahá'í libraries and archives, key challenges ahead that will need attention after the conference, and some of the "myths" that may bedevil us along the way. Solutions to these problems will come from consultation and the involvement of other colleagues not present at the conference.

Friday morning, 3 January, began with a session on a number of themes. Dr. Graham Hassall of Landegg University surveyed current developments in Bahá'í archives and libraries. Louise Mould, the current director of the Bahá'í World Centre Library, discussed the origins, development, collections and current challenges of the Bahá'í world's premier library. Pauline Tuttle, from Canada, reviewed indigenous audio-visual collections and archival development from an ethnomusicological perspective.

The following session reviewed case studies of the establishment of libraries. Jan Jasion from France proposed minimum standards and requirements necessary for the establishment of national Bahá'í libraries. Masoud Rowshan presented an overview of the development of Australia's national Bahá'í library and made proposals for developing the library further. Guido Cooreman of Belgium presented a case study of the establishment of that country's Bahá'í library, which is unlike the others covered in the conference because it also serves as a lending library for the community.

The third session of the day was dedicated to case studies in the establishment of archives. Anita Graves, archivist for the National Spiritual Assembly of Cyprus, reviewed the results of her survey on the present state of Bahá'í archives in Europe, which showed the significant challenges facing the continent's Bahá'í institutions. She also shared a paper by Necati Alkan on the Bábí and Bahá'í religions in Ottoman Turkish sources, detailing some of the treasures hidden in Ottoman archives. Margaret Anderson followed with an overview of the Australian Bahá'í archive, and its use of non-Bahá'í professional consultants to establish their archival program on a sound basis. Australia's is a very good illustration of how Bahá'í institutions with no professional resources within the community might go about setting up their archives. GŁnter Maltz discussed the practical methods for arranging and housing the German Bahá'í archives. Virginia R. da Costa, a trained archivist and the sole attendee from Latin America, provided a portrait of the establishment and current state of the national Bahá'í archives in Brazil, which faces many environmental challenges.

There were two sessions on 4 January. The first was a panel, moderated by William Collins, on the issue of intellectual control, i.e. cataloguing, classification, description and indexing. J. Michael Kafes described the current efforts to complete and computerize Marian Lippitt's "Worlds of God" index, a means of analyzing and indexing implicit subject content in the Bahá'í Writings. Peter Wise presented a simple classification used in the Irish Bahá'í Bookshop based on categories in Eunice Braun's A Reader's Guide: The Development of Bahá'í Literature in English (Oxford : George Ronald, 1986). Paul Gerard, a library cataloguer and classification expert from Australia, has spent several years developing a complete revision of the religion (200) section of the Dewey Decimal Classification. The resulting classification schedule eliminates the current Dewey bias toward Christianity and treats all religions equitably. The classification also provides sufficient depth for all religions, including the Bahá'í Faith, so that Bahá'í libraries have a means of treating all religions in a Bahá'í manner and of cataloguing a specialized Bahá'í collection. Follow-up discussion revolved around relative merits of choosing to follow the Bahá'í World Centre Library's classification based upon the Library of Congress, the revised Dewey 200s classification by Mr. Gerard, or one of the other classifications that has been developed. There was also considerable discussing about the inadequacies of simple keyword searching of the Writings, and the importance of subject analysis like that being conducted for the "Worlds of God" project.

The final presentation session of the conference covered issues in collection development. Dr. Moojan Momen spoke on the challenges facing the Afnan Library, a privately managed research library in the United Kingdom that has also been designated a depository library for U.K. Bahá'í publications. Ailsa Hedley, archivist and records manager at the Bahá'í World Centre, explained the relationship of records management to archives. Richard Hollinger, an archivist from the United States, outlined the problems and challenges posed for archives by electronic communications such as e-mail. Dharlene Valeda of Canada discussed electronic online libraries, specifically the "Bahá'í Academics Resource Library" developed by Jonah Winters ( Jonah Winters himself prepared a brief statement about the origins, development and future directions of the resource library.

Landegg international University has offered to put the conference papers on the Landegg Web site, and presenters are encouraged to see that their papers are sent to Dr. Graham Hassall,

This historic conference was also a working conference that brought together national Bahá'í archivists from Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere, as well as a national Bahá'í librarians from Belgium and a Bahá'í school librarian from the Townshend School in the Czech Republic.

As part of the work of the conference, the attendees consulted during two evening sessions on specific steps that could be taken to carry forward the momentum of consultation and development generated by the conference. The group made two important decisions. The first decision was to form a working group composed of Michael Bernhard (Bahá'í World Centre), Parvine Foroughi (Bahá'í World Centre), Ailsa Hedley (Bahá'í World Centre), Richard Hollinger (U.S.), Jan Jasion (France), GŁnter Maltz (Germany), Dharlene Valeda (Canada), and Peter Wise (Ireland) to
The second decision was to form a "World Association to Promote Bahá'í Libraries and Archives" (tentative name). William Collins was selected as its first president, with Ailsa Hedley and Dharlene Valeda as additional board members. These officers will develop a draft charter for approval, coordinate the efforts of the Working Group, prepare plans to handle membership, and plan further development of the association's communications methods, e.g. e-mail group, revised web site, and a regular news vehicle such as Scriptum ( Additional working groups or projects will be discussed, including the desirability of a world Bahá'í bibliography.

The attendees hopes to meet again in 12 to 18 months to exchange further information, review progress, and make additional substantive decisions. Details will be forthcoming.

Further information about the Association can be obtained from William Collins,, or in due course from the revised web site for the association at

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