A U.N. library, in Springfield, Mo.

Monday, January 21, 2013

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Ann Fuhrman is a United Nations librarian. No, she doesn't work in New York City, headquarters of the world organization. She works on the first floor of the Meyer Library at Missouri State University.

The Meyer Library is one of only 43 libraries in the nation designated by the U.N. as a depository of documents. It is the only such library in Missouri, and Fuhrman is its enthusiastic advocate. She is an ambassador not only for her domain and its contents, but for the United Nations in general.

"I will talk to anyone, anywhere, about the U.N.," she says. "I can do an entire hour on just how to navigate un.org."

Fuhrman, 65, is willing to visit classrooms, Rotary meetings and breakfast club gatherings. She knows her U.N. history.

The U.N. was founded in 1945. The United States became the first nation to join when Harry Truman signed on Aug. 8. Ironically, the United States dropped its second atomic bomb on Japan on Aug. 9.

There were 50 nations in the U.N. by the end of 1945 and there are 193 today, she says.

"What was the most recent nation to join?" she asks.

South Sudan, her boss, Thomas Peters, answers correctly. Peters is dean of library services.

"If you put something in the mail to go to Rome, how do you know it is going to get there?"

This time she asks a reporter, who doesn't know.

"Exactly! That's my point!" Fuhrman says.

Few people know, she says. There are dozens of U.N. agencies that make sure, for example, that international letters arrive where they need to go and that airline pilots know what flight path to take and how to communicate with air traffic controllers in foreign lands.

Most of MSU's U.N. collection is digital, but that doesn't mean you'll find what you're looking for without some help.

"We live in an age of info-plenty," Peters says. "Being able to find what you need is actually becoming more difficult."

The big picture, he says, is that having the U.N. depository at MSU helps the school achieve its state-mandated mission of public affairs, which covers three broad themes: ethical leadership, community engagement and cultural competence.

"The number of human challenges that cross borders is increasing," Peters says.

As an undergraduate at Western Illinois University, Fuhrman participated in the Model United Nations program, where students from different schools convene, as if at the United Nations, and are assigned a country to represent. She was assigned Yugoslavia, a nation that ceased to exist in 1992.

"When you talk to young students -- to me it does not seem that long ago -- to them it's ancient history," she says.

The students who most often use the depository are those studying international relations, political science, history, business and global studies. Or they might be on the debate team.

Debaters are assigned a topic that might involve a foreign treaty, for example, or a question about world hunger. They can find accurate global information straight from the U.N.

Fuhrman gathered a dozen or so U.N. books and brochures for display. They have titles such as the following:

* "Innovative Technology in the Russian Forest Sector: The Way to the Green Economy"

* "Investment Policy Review, Mozambique"

* "Women and the Right to Adequate Housing"

The MSU collection of U.N. documents includes much more. It has annual yearbooks published by the U.N., including the first, the 1946-1947 tome that covers Truman's involvement.

Also, Fuhrman is eager to help anyone who, for example, wants to search the U.N.'s oral history archives, kept at the main library in New York City.

"I am not an international scholar," Fuhrman says. "But I get it why all of this is important, why all of this is necessary and why all of this is relevant."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: