Planning the Future of the National Library of Mongolia

Monika Segbert-Elbert and David Fuegi describe the National Library of Mongolia's plans to modernise its infrastructure and services.

In November 2008, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a grant to Stichting to help the National Library of Mongolia (NLM) create a strategic plan in the course of 2009. [1] is an international not-for-profit organisation with a base in Europe and a global network of partners. It works with libraries around the world to enable sustainable access to high-quality digital information for people in developing and transition countries [2]. Founded in 1999, began by advocating for affordable access to commercial e-journals for academic and research libraries in Central and Eastern Europe. Today, partners with libraries and library consortia in over 45 developing and transition countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Its work has also expanded to include other programmes designed to increase access to knowledge.'s approach is to partner with libraries organised in national library consortia - groups of libraries that share common goals - thereby effectively reaching millions of people. Library consortia can speak with one voice to stakeholders and policy makers, and share resources and activities in order to serve their communities.

Mongolia is a huge land-locked country bordering Russia and China. Its 3 million inhabitants are somewhat isolated geographically and linguistically and by comparative poverty. English is not much used and the National Library of Mongolia is little known in the West. Even its links with China and Russia are not strong though many of its senior staff were trained in the former Soviet Union.

The circumstances creating the opportunity for the National Library of Mongolia to raise its profile and potentially transform the library scene in Mongolia depended on two main events: the decision of the Emir of Kuwait announced late in 2007 to gift a new national library building to Mongolia [3]; and the development of the eIFL-supported Consortium of Mongolian Libraries in Mongolia [4]. The former raised the profile of the Library in government and necessitated a focus on planning. The latter helped provide a professional forum in which issues could be examined and library stakeholders consulted.

The National Library of Mongolia, also known as the State Central Library, is the largest library in Mongolia with more than 3 million books and publications, and an outstanding collection of 1 million rare and valuable [mainly religious] books and manuscripts. Potentially one of its most important roles is to act as the 'methodological centre' for professional in-service training for public librarians in Mongolia. The national library has been connected to the Internet since 2001 and is also a key member of the recently founded Consortium of Mongolian Libraries that aims to expand access to electronic resources for academics and researchers, students and citizens.

photo (59KB) : Façade of the National Library of Mongolia

Façade of the National Library of Mongolia

The library's current building, dating from 1951, no longer offers adequate space and facilities to accommodate and meet the needs of both a growing number of users and range of services. The foundation stone for a new building, largely funded by the state of Kuwait, has been laid, and the library is expected to move there officially within three years; though in fact building work has not yet begun as discussions continue about design, service priorities and funding.

photo (74KB) : The Sanduin Jud, one of the precious sutras in the NLM

The Sanduin Jud, one of the precious sutras in the NLM

In April 2008 the National Library itself and the ministries interested in ICT and libraries requested to provide assistance to prepare a strategic plan for the National Library and its transition to the new building, a move that would go hand in hand with organizational change and the introduction of new services and technologies. The main purpose of this project was to enable to provide a programme of capacity building in strategic planning, focusing on the senior staff of the National Library. However, it would also include other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (MECS) (the principal funder), the national ICT authority (the main innovator), the parliamentary committee overseeing the new building, and representatives from the other members of the Mongolian Library Consortium. Together they constitute the main players in providing access to knowledge for all parts of urban and rural society. As a result of the project, the senior managers of the National Library were able to envisage the potential and opportunities the new building could offer in terms of improving services and facilities for local and remote users.

Objectives and Activities

The main objectives pursued by the project were:

  • To help the National Library in preparing a strategic plan for future service delivery in the context of the transition to a new building and new forms of services
  • To help the Library in understanding the management of change necessitated by this move
  • To build capacity in the National Library, its stakeholders and other key libraries which are members of the national library consortium in strategic planning
  • To transfer knowledge and expertise inherent in other libraries that have gone through this process
  • To identify financial issues likely to affect activity in the planning period.

To meet these objectives, the following activities were planned and carried out:

  • An internal planning visit (January 2009) by Monika Segbert-Elbert and David Fuegi to: assemble a local team from the National Library and the other players; establish a shared understanding of the project's aims and the process to produce the strategic plan; start planning the agenda for the workshops; and continue to construct a relationship of trust and mutual understanding.
  • A workshop on strategic planning
  • A workshop on preparing the strategic plan
  • An additional workshop on advocacy.

The first workshop took place over three days in April 2009 in the capital Ulanbataar, with an audience from the National Library, MECS, the national ICT authority, and from the state university library, the academy of sciences library and the state pedagogical library (all members of the consortium). At this workshop, methodologies of strategic planning and case studies of successful business planning processes in other national libraries (Russia, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia and the UK) were introduced. Resources from this workshop were presented and discussed in both English and Mongolian, and made available on the Web.

In preparation for the workshop, the NLM undertook research into the views of their stakeholders (including users and non-users) on what services the library should offer. Other members of the consortium reviewed the state of Mongolian legislation in respect of libraries and identified areas for improvement. Colleagues from the Russian State Library (Andrei Vinberg) and the national libraries of Switzerland (Genevieve Clavell-Merrin) and Singapore (Johnson Paul) were resource persons for the workshop.

In the 4-month period between the first and the second workshop, the local team undertook further consultations with stakeholders, such as members of the Mongolian library consortium, the ministry of culture, publishers, IT experts and public librarians. The working group then drafted the main chapters of a strategic plan based on the format agreed in the first meeting and held local discussions on priorities. This draft plan formed the basis of the discussions in the second workshop.

In workshop 2 on preparing the strategic plan held over three days in July 2009, the core team from the NLM and external stakeholders from the Forum, the Ministry (MECS) and the ITC Authority discussed the draft plan with the eIFL resource persons workshop-style. The local team had drawn extensively on the results of surveys on users and non-users, on the strategies from other national libraries that were provided as examples in the first workshop, and on comments from and discussions with, a range of stakeholders. They were aware though that the draft plan at this stage still contained weak sections, repetitions and overlap, as well as areas that had been overlooked.

The workshop took place in a positive and constructive spirit, and substantive progress was made in improving the first draft, which in itself was acknowledged to be quite an achievement for the local team. As was put by the representative from the Ministry of Culture and Education and Science: 'a few months ago drawing up a strategy seemed impossible, now we already have a draft to discuss!'

Following the July workshop, the NLM formed a core team responsible for revision of its plan in consultation with its key stakeholders in a series of iterations. It focused on the weak areas identified in the conclusions of discussions during the second workshop, such as:

  • how the strategy fits with government priorities
  • the question of leadership of public libraries
  • options for partnership models
  • the need for an e-strategy and appropriate legislation
  • the need to start a debate about the reform of the Mongolian library system and the NLM's role in any future scenarios
  • and above all, the NLM's human resource strategy, at the heart of successful modernisation.

The near-final draft was translated and provided to the external experts for comments and input. The comments were debated and taken into account by the NLM team and a final draft was completed. During the month of November 2009, the Strategic Plan was submitted to the Minister for Education, Science and Culture and to parliament, to inform budget discussions pertaining to 2010 library budgets in general and the budget of the National Library in particular. At the time of writing this article, the NLM, the Ministry (MECS), the parliamentary commission for the NLM and the National ICT authority all acknowledge the importance of this sound strategic plan that meets international standards, and pay tribute to the fact the strategic planning process has contributed to kicking off change in the Mongolian library landscape. An additional workshop on advocacy took place in December 2009 led by Kristine Paberza of the Latvian State Agency 'Culture Information System.' The workshop provided training on advocacy and explored the advocacy campaign the NLM and the consortium could build on the NLM Strategic Plan.

Events and Learning

During the course of the project many things happened, some within the context of the project and others on a wider stage.

Changes in the Political and Economic Situation

In 2008 and 2009 the 'credit crunch' * adversely affected the Mongolian economy. Falling raw material prices, especially those of copper, reduced government revenues significantly and imposed a less favourable environment for library development.

In May 2009 a presidential election took place. It was won by the Democratic Party candidate Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj who took over the post from the ex-communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party leader. However, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party still has a majority in the State Great Khural (unicameral Parliament). It is not yet clear how this will affect plans for the NLM, but it will involve a need for the NLM and other library stakeholders to build a good relationship with the incoming President and his team. Library stakeholders are optimistic that the incoming president (who has already served twice as Prime Minister) may be sympathetic to their concerns. In his first term as Prime Minister, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj issued a potentially important decree on the status of the National Library whereby the State Central Library was to become the National Library. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (MECS) was in the process of revising its Master Plan for Culture in late 2009. Libraries received little coverage in the earlier version of this plan, so the revision presented an opportunity to raise their profile and start a debate on new directions. The National Library of Mongolia and the Consortium need to follow up on and seize this important opportunity to advocate for library modernisation. The Mongolian Library Association is neither a high-profile organisation nor the main provider of library education, which falls to a division of the Cultural College in Ulanbataar. Neither is yet a member of the Mongolian Library Consortium. The Consortium needs to help fill the resulting vacuum whilst finding ways to strengthen essential institutions such as those mentioned above.

External Partnership Building

Besides the thinking and learning around strategic planning, a second major outcome of the project was the strengthening of links between the NLM and its foreign peers. Mongolia is rather isolated in several ways. This development of links with foreign peers takes place in the context where, as a result of the workshops, the NLM is developing a new partnership model so that partnership working plays a planned strategic role in achieving major goals. As a result of the workshops, relationships with the Russian State Library (RSL), Swiss National Library and Singapore National Library have developed significantly. As a result of the project, the National Library of Mongolia has established for the first time an English language Web site [5] to help raise its profile abroad.

Mongolia's relationship with Russia is very important for historical and geographical reasons. As a result of workshop 1, the relationship with the Russian State Library was revived and will be actively pursued. The RSL has expertise of potential value to the NLM and also has a huge collection of Mongolian literature from the 1920s to the 1980s, much of which can potentially be digitised and made available to the NLM. Switzerland is a small country with surprisingly strong cultural and economic links with Mongolia: it is a major import and export partner for Mongolia as well as a major aid donor. Through workshop 1 a link has now been formed with the Swiss National Library which provides learning opportunities in legal and professional areas. Because of its geographical and geo-political situation, links with the countries of South East Asia are potentially valuable to the National Library of Mongolia. The Singapore National Library is recognised as a dynamic model in many aspects of its operations and is a major regional player. The strong link formed between the two libraries through the workshops seems likely to lead to some training opportunities for Mongolian librarians in both English language skills and modern library management, in the modern service ambience of the National Library of Singapore.

In the course of preparing the Strategic Plan, the NLM examined and studied the National Library Structure of Australia, China, India, Korea Malaya and Russia, as well as taking relevant input from Finland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland and the UK.

Partnership Building within Mongolia

Using the structural framework provided by the Mongolian Consortium of Libraries [6], the project has contributed to partnership building in Mongolia by bringing stakeholders together in the workshops and in a working group to develop the Strategic Plan. The working group on the Plan consisted not only of National Library staff but of representatives of the Information and Communications Technology Agency, the Open Society Forum, the Mongolian Academy of Science and the University of Science and Technology. For the first time the NLM has also begun to conduct user needs studies with its patrons and potential patrons. Whilst the participants in the project are committed to the notion of the importance of stakeholders, strong and sustainable mechanisms for continuing dialogue and influencing need to be nurtured. Of particular concern are the lack of a strong support mechanism for public libraries and the lack of an effective library association which might, for example, provide leadership in fields such as the legislative framework, dialogue with the book trade, advocacy, research and professional education, as well as continuing professional development (life-long learning).

An Approach to Institutional and Structural Reform?

In the course of workshop 2 it was agreed that a discussion about reform and restructuring of the library network in Mongolia needed to begin, which included the library system in the whole country. This needs to take place in a different forum (outside and beyond the National Library) and include professional and political stakeholders. The library sector did not go through reforms as many other sectors in Mongolia did in post-Soviet times. Organisational and legal structures need to be considered in the light of appropriate and relevant external models. This idea was included in the Strategic Plan.

As part of this process, there is a need in respect of the public library service to consider an organisation and service model for a 'public library authority' as well as what a modern 'model' public library in a Mongolian community should look like and do. Other issues include consideration of the pros and cons of a 'stand-alone' national library model and examination of models from other countries such as a combined national and university library. Human resource planning (pay and training) is a major related issue. Potential partnerships with the publishing industry and the book trade also have the potential to contribute to solutions for library problems.

The representatives of the relevant ministries, the ICT authority and the library stakeholders expressed a wish to explore these issues further.

The key players in any push for reform of the library system (predominantly the ICT authority, NLM and the public library network) have requested help from foreign experts to address this major but in their view achievable objective, i.e. reforming the library sector in Mongolia.

Perceptions of the Need for Legal Reform

At the heart of the NLM's new strategic plan is an awareness of the need to modernise services and make them fit for the digital age. The national framework of intellectual property (IP) law is crucial. For the eIFL-IP global conference [7], Istanbul, 25-27 March 2009, the Mongolian Consortium of Libraries prepared a position paper which was well received and which was also presented at this project's first workshop. The Mongolian situation was summarised thus:

  • In the digital age, libraries must be able to create digital archives not only to attract users, but also to extend their service.
  • Without adequate provisions in copyright law, libraries may find themselves in court for copyright infringements.
  • Public/patrons cannot access many existing electronic resources in Mongolia, even those created by libraries, since copyright law does not allow for the creation of a digital archive and does not allow access for patrons to their electronic resources over the Internet.
  • MECS has adopted rules and regulations for the National Library to promote the technological development of library services. However, if the Library were to follow these regulations, it might be infringing copyright law!
  • Mongolia's libraries have no general policy to advocate for the provisions which need to be included in copyright law.
  • Librarians have a lack of knowledge and awareness about how to apply copyright exceptions and limitations to their library service.
  • Lastly, Mongolia's IP office is willing to consider amending the copyright law of Mongolia based on a dialogue with the libraries and information community.

The Main Outcome: The Strategic Plan Itself

The Plan was written by the Mongolian staff, not by the eIFL team.The original of the Strategic Plan is in Mongolian. An English translation of the plan [8] is available.

The Strategic Plan is reformist and visionary as the following quotation shows:

At present, the National Library of Mongolia is not only unable to provide modern services based on digital infrastructure (- to meet the needs of the technology era); it is in fact struggling financially and capacity-wise to provide even the minimum services required from a national library – the services that have become standard services in national libraries in other countries. Therefore, a radical reform in the library service and service environment of the National Library is needed and it will bring a major progress in the intellectual, learning and research advancements of the population of Mongolia.

To initiate such reform, the National Library of Mongolia has developed a Strategy for its development for 2009-2015, comprising two phases: Phase I: 2009-2011 and Phase II: 2012-2015. In this Strategy, we set out comprehensive goals and objectives that require new skills, a new structure, new decisions, a new legal environment for sustained operations and new investment so that the National Library is able to provide new, accessible and reliable services that can meet the demands of 21st century users; besides playing its leading role as the national library of the country. We envision that the outcomes of Strategy will contribute to the realization of the public policy to create a knowledge-based economy and society, benefit every citizen of Mongolia and contribute to the development of Mongolia to a significant extent.

The plan is structured around five key objectives. Readers of Ariadne may be most interested in objective 4:

The Library introduces new digital library services by upgrading its information technology infrastructure, software and search system to meet the international standards and by setting up new electronic databases. To achieve the above objective, the Library:

  1. ensures the legal environment required for electronic services;
  2. establishes an information technology infrastructure required for the reliable delivery of its digital services and provides the technological conditions required for information safety;
  3. digitises selectively the present contents and makes them available for the users;
  4. collects, stores, archives and serves with foreign and Mongolian electronic contents; and disseminates and promotes them worldwide through online services.

The plan accurately represents the aspirations of its authors, the staff and managers of the National Library and has the backing of its main stakeholders. Its creation and its adoption by the Ministry of Education and Culture represent a major achievement for the Mongolian team. This is a crucial first step. However, there are some concerns about how best to ensure that major portions of the Plan are implemented and how a process of reform could be supported. In the Strategic Plan itself, the library points to a number of recent examples where supportive political or even government statements or decrees did not yet lead to the promised actions. For example, the Strategic Plan confirms that in 2009, 'the present economic downturn has resulted in annulling of the 2009-2010 budgets for the public libraries and the National Library's acquisition of new books and printed press.'

Whilst it is good news that the MECS proposed to relevant ministries and institutions including the Urban Development and Planning Agency of Ulaanbaatar that the Plan to construct the new building of the NLM be included in the Construction and Urban Development Plan for 2010, the date for the start of construction remains uncertain while no architect has been appointed and no blueprints exist. Nonetheless, there are other hopeful signs. A foundation stone was laid as early as June 2008 [9]. The NLM team report that according to the newspapers, the President of Mongolia instructed Sairan, the newly appointed Mongolian ambassador to Kuwait, to focus on the implementation of the project to construct the new NLM building in the near future. Moreover, discussions are reportedly taking place with the well-known American architect, Steven Holl.

Whilst the NLM takes responsibility for the Plan, it sees its best hope of success in continuing to work in partnership:

In addition, the successful achievement of these strategic objectives will depend on the policy support and investment from the Government of Mongolia and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences. It will also require partnership with and investment from international organizations and philanthropy organizations, as well as exchange of best practices with national libraries of other countries. [10]


The work of the project went well. An excellent working relationship was enjoyed by all concerned and the NLM has produced a forward-looking and ambitious strategic plan which has been accepted by its sponsoring Ministry and is shared with other key stakeholders. Inevitably the process identified further issues to address and there is good reason to suggest that under current circumstances, despite the apparent good intentions of all concerned, the NLM is right to believe that working in partnership both in Mongolia and internationally is the best guarantee of successful implementation of the Strategic Plan. Whether the current plan is fully implemented or not, the library community in Mongolia and especially the management of the NLM are now more aware of how a strategic plan is developed and of the critical success factors in implementation. The NLM intends to continue to work with the Mongolian Library Consortium and other national and international stakeholders to provide improved access to information and learning for the people of Mongolia and those interested in Mongolian sources world-wide.


  1. Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL)
  2. eIFL countries include Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Mali, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Poland, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  3. Mongolia Web News: Kuwait announces plans to build public library in Ulaanbaatar, 28 November 2007 05:50
  4. eIFL Member Countries
  5. National Library of Mongolia
  6. Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL): Mongolia
  7. Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL): Reading material
  8. National Library of Mongolia Strategy 2010-2016
  9. Mongolia Web News: $20 million national library project kicked off by President, 13 June 2008 14:52
  10. National Library of Mongolia Strategy 2010-2016, section 1.3, p.6

* Editor's note: as a form of future-proofing, Ariadne provides a snapshot of the 2008-9 global financial crisis as of 31 July 2009, though not, I regret, with particular reference to Mongolia.

Author Details

Monika Segbert-Elbert, MBE FLA (hon)
Member of the Management Board
Eremo srl

Web site:

David Fuegi MA (Cantab.) MCLIP
Principal Consultant,
Eremo srl

Web site:

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Date published: 
Friday, 30 April 2010
Copyright statement: 

This article has been published under copyright; please see our access terms and copyright guidance regarding use of content from this article. See also our explanations of how to cite Ariadne articles for examples of bibliographic format.