Librarian of Congress discusses globalization

Technology can be used to heal both broken bones and cultural conflicts, James Billington, the 13th librarian of Congress, said Wednesday.

The Yale School of Medicine held the opening ceremony for the interactive exhibit “Medical Inventions and Innovations” in the school’s Harkness Auditorium yesterday afternoon. The ceremony coincided with the 60th annual lecture sponsored by the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library Associates, delivered by Billington.

Billington’s talk, titled “Freedom as Strategy: The Importance of an Ideal,” focused on the issues of globalization and intercultural understanding. During his speech, Billington described freedom, open access to knowledge and responsibility as the three most significant American ideals. He said these ideals nurture empathy and improve understanding of other cultures.

“Cultural imperialism is the last stage of imperialism,” Billington said.

The tendency to regard “the autocratic China and radical Islamism as inherently hostile forces” is detrimental to the American ideals, he added.

Billington praised technological efforts to bridge the gap between the world’s developed and developing nations, such as the World Digital Library — an online library that aims to bring together material from different cultures and promote inter-cultural understanding.

“We should bring to life the memory of other cultures,” he said. “A great potential to use is the Internet.”

The lecture was preceded by interactive displays that demonstrated Billington’s tour of the Library of Congress and a three-dimensional video of animations about the latest improvements in medical teaching aids.

Martin Gordon, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library Associates and curator of the Medical Innovations exhibit, said the Medical Library has become a “central focal point” for the School of Medicine because of its valuable collection of films on the human impacts of medical innovations, such as those highlighted in Billington’s talk.

“The Yale School of Medicine inculcated the need to know not only historically, but the need to know the individual,” Gordon said.

Betty Young, a member of the Committee of International Health who has worked with Gordon in the past, said Gordon has been involved in designing special fellowships for medical students, such as the Down’s fellowship.

“His dedication to his students has been remarkable,” Young said.

John Gallagher, a librarian from the Medical Library, said Gordon will be retiring this year. Billington’s keynote address also honored the late Evelyn Gordon, Martin Gordon’s partner.

Billington taught history at Harvard University and Princeton University and served as the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., from 1973 to 1987. That year he was sworn in as Librarian of Congress. Billington is the author of “Icon and the Axe” (1966), “Fire in the Minds of Men” (1980) and, most recently, “Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope” (1992).

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