Croatian Libraries: The War Is Behind Us, What Brings the Future?
I am going to speak about Croatia and the new information technologies implemented in the Croatian libraries. How are Croatian librarians coping with the consequences of the terrible war we had from 1991 to 1995? What can be done in the situation when the whole country is being restructured and where the priority list is so long? What makes the Croatian libraries so special?
Croatia is the new state, established in 1990, recognised by the United Nations in 1992. For the last fifty years Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, the government, public administration, foreign affairs, military and police have been mostly formed by Serbs. The Croats were represented in negligible numbers. At the beginning of the war Croatia had nothing - the other side had the army, the weapons, the money and the media. The similar situation was in the computer network: prior to establishing the independent Croatian state we had poor public switched digital network based on X35 protocol, and only a few institutions were connected.
And there is a really interesting paradox in the young Croatia! In autumn of 1991, when hundreds of tanks had been hurtling down to freeway from Belgrade to Zagreb (Serbia had gained complete control over the ex-Yugoslavian army) to destroy the idea of the independent state of Croatia and we hadn't known whether we would survive, the ministry of science and technology had decided to establish the scientific computer network. The government had been determined to spend one million dollars to establish such a national backbone and infrastructure. They had realised that we could survive only as an (inter)active part of the world, which meant communication, knowledge acquiring and dissemination of our own knowledge. In the next few years, during the war, the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNet) was established, based on the TCP/IP protocol and UNIX operating system on all network nodes.
There are four Universities in Croatia (Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka, Split), about two hundred research organisations (higher education institutions and purely research institutions); about ten thousand active researchers; and sixty thousand students. After five hard years of the war more than one hundred institutions are connected to the CARNet, which makes more than a half of the community. Those institutions include about 80% of the active researchers (about eight thousand of them).
Currently, there are about two thousand libraries in Croatia and 160 of them rank as scientific libraries. During this war, numerous public, school and university libraries, as well as research and special libraries were wounded (about two hundred libraries). Great number of valuable memorial libraries and collections of old and rare books and manuscripts were destroyed by bombs and rocketing. Some of these libraries were completely burnt, others were seriously damaged. It is hard to describe those days - even during air raids, the librarians often helped by the readers tried to protect damaged buildings and put the library collections in safer places. The mostly wounded and damaged libraries were those in eastern and southern part of Croatia. The western part including Zagreb remained relatively spared from attacks and destruction.
Within scientific libraries there are 91 faculty libraries and the rest are attached to the research institutes and one central library (attached to the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts). I could not get the exact number of the libraries connected to the CARNet and Internet, but the approximate number is about 50 libraries. Scientific libraries differ greatly in size of the inventory. The largest libraries are situated in Zagreb. The most outstanding among them are the following: the Faculty of Philosophy Library in humanities, the Faculty of Law Library and the Faculty of Economics Library in social sciences. In the field of natural sciences, the most outstanding are the Rudjer Boskovic Institute Library and the libraries of the Faculty of Science: the Central Chemistry Library, the Central Mathematics Library, the Central Geography Library and the Library of the Faculty of Agronomy. In the applied sciences the most important libraries belongs to the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture, Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing and the Faculty Pharmacy and Biochemistry. In the medical sciences, the library system includes the Andrija Stampar" School of Public Health Library and the Central Medical Library. Their collections of books and periodicals (cca 150,000 volumes) and their current periodical subscriptions (cca 850 titles) are the most important sources of biomedical information in Croatia.
I am working in the Rudjer Boskovic Institute Library which is the largest scientific library in the field of natural sciences in Croatia. Our library was established in 1950, and has since developed to meet the information needs of scientists inside the Institute as well as those of external users (engineers, university members, students etc.). Library holdings includes about 30000 books and 390 current periodicals. The computerisation in our library started in 1989 when we had received the first PC. The library computers were networked in 1993, but the most significant development started in 1994, when we had received the first library server (Sun Sparc Classic) as a donation from the German Federal Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Technology. Our biggest problem today is the lack of the integrated online library system (client server architecture, Internet compatibility, etc.). We are building our databases of the books, periodicals, etc. using different kind of software (freeware, or in-house made), then we put all the databases on the server, and use freeWAIS and MiniSQL to provide access to our library collections. Taking all that into account there are a few dozen databases which should be weekly or monthly updated what is rather a hard work.
The Rudjer Boskovic Institute Library is also the coordinator for the host system for Croatian Natural Sciences Information system, the project financed by the Croatian ministry of .science and technology, which started early in 1994. Ten largest libraries in the field of natural sciences in Croatia are included. The main goals of the project are:
- working on the data input building the databases of books and monographs, periodicals, bibliographies, doctors' and masters' theses, etc., especially in the libraries which, due to the lack of either personnel or equipment or adequate programme support, have not undergone computerisation yet;
- providing online access to local and commercial databases and other information resources;
- to provide permanent education of library staff (courses, specialisation and professional visits in Croatia and abroad);
- to coordinate the acquisition of monographs, periodicals as well as databases on CDROM (to economise limited financing);
- to establish a database for all current research projects in Croatia in the field of natural sciences collaborating with the ministry of science and technology;
- to improve the interlibrary loan services;
- to compile Union catalogues for books and periodicals;
In the period to come we plan to work intensively on the input data of the complete library collection (retrospective conversion), to work more with the users, to educate them of how to use the new information technologies, especially network services, and to provide our users with scientific information as much as possible so as to meet their information needs much accurately and faster than today. To realise that we need an adequate (and affordable) integrated online library system. To make the most of very limited financing, we need to reduce the paper based resources which is usually limited to the very small number of researchers and acquire needed databases so as to meet the needs of much wider number of users. Hereafter, every library must be equipped by computers and connected to the network. Furthermore, most of the libraries which already have the Internet access are connected very slowly, sometimes unserviceably slow. It is a great problem which we are working on to solve, but it requires considerable investments. In the future we will build virtual libraries for specialised fields of scientific research with variety of possibilities.
Mr. Trotsky says "You might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." This is the reality that is fortunately behind us. In the past five years we have survived the war, we have defended our country, and we have built an information system which is not perfect, but is the best possible result of our efforts. In the Republic of Croatia we have responsible young and enthusiastic people that are managing CARNet, we have also willing people in the ministry of science and technology which realize the extreme importance of libraries and their information systems development, and there are librarians that work very hard. Abroad we have many colleagues with good experiences in the new information technologies implementations willing to help us. The future seems promising to me.
In her own words, Judith Stamenkovic responds to the above article. No other letters on this particular aspect will be published as this is not the place to entire into a duscussion on the rights and wrongs of the war in the former Yugoslavia.
I obviously have to declare an interest at this point, as I am married to a Serb whose car was spat at in Croatia simply because it bore Belgrade number plates,well before the beginning of the recent sad war which broke up the state of Yugoslavia. In spite of this interest, I hold no particular brief for the current Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Even if one accepts that the nationalism of Mr Milosevic provoked the declarations of independence by the former member states, I thought this was going to be about the development of IT in Croatian Libraries since the war. I didn't expect a re-rehearsal of Croatian propaganda with emotive language such as "hundreds of tanks hurtling down to(sic) freeway from Belgrade to Zagreb". I expected an interesting article on the problems of developing IT in a country which had suffered war damage.
After several years I don't pretend to even begin to understand the complexities of the situation in the area where my partner was born and am therefore surprised and disappointed that you felt able to publish paragraphs 2 and 3 with their political comments in their present format. The encyclopedia of nationalism (Snyder, 1990) I have just checked, tells me that Tito, whose dictatorship the people of former Yugoslavia "enjoyed" for much of the 50 years that Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, was in fact a Croatian. But then, since Tito apparently never supported Croatian nationalism, perhaps that is why your author neglected to mention it.
The words like tanks, bombs, war etc. are not nice words, and I would be very happy not to use them at all, but unfortunately, the war (and everything ugly that came with it) is our reality. It seems I simply can not write an interesting article "about the development of IT in Croatian Libraries", without mentioning the war and its terrible consequences.