Library development in Africa has involved large-scale processes of
innovation and policy transfer, also referred to as policy borrowing or
policy learning. A good deal of theory has been developed in various
disciplines to study these processes. This has not been applied
in library and information services (LIS) to any significant extent,
but it can help us to gain a better understanding of why attempts
to transfer new ideas fail, how to select the ideas we want to transfer,
and how to improve the chances of successful innovation and
policy transfer. This paper places policy transfer within the broader
framework of the diffusion of innovations before considering what
we can learn from the theory of policy transfer and related processes,
with emphasis on theory developed in comparative education. An
attempt is made to apply these insights to library development in
Africa and draw some lessons for African library decision makers.
Some of the examples are drawn from the author’s experience in
the South African library profession.