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Dr. Yakov Shraiberg

President, ILIAC

First Deputy Director, Russian National Public for Science and Technology

International Experience and Russian Reality: Library and Information Field

The development of library and information environment in Russia is certainly going with account of international experience, American as well as European, but it has its own unique features. These features as well as ideas that the Russian library and information community borrows from international experience are important for understanding the prospects for the society development. It should be mentioned that Russian – American professional library programs and projects remain an effective catalyst for stimulating bilateral relations in library and information field and in the field of culture and education. Along with that, several past years of the new century have made their corrections, for instance, have significantly strengthened the emphasis on professional cooperation between Russian and European libraries.

In the beginning of the library automation era, in the times of mainframes, American and European libraries were at approximately same stage of technological development (I am talking about 1950-60s), and American and Russian libraries surpassed their European colleagues by means of advanced technology of mainframe design and manufacturing. But later three serious issues imposed by the former Soviet government and a number of other factors resulted in Russia’s seriously falling behind in the field of development and implementation of information computer technologies in Russian libraries, and the outcomes of this setback are felt till present time. These factors are as follows.

1. By mid 1960s the USSR achieved significant success in cybernatics, in first place, in the development and use of computing systems in such areas as space exploration, nuclear physics, mathematics, information systems, and major libraries became part of the latter. But after the famous XX congress of the CPSU that disavowed the Stalin cult, Nikita Khrushev proclaimed cybernatics a “false science” and following that almost all research and development in computer technologies in the country was frozen. In early 1970s the country’s new leadership understood the mistake but it was already too late, as IBM, Hewlett Packard, DEC and other companies occupied the computer hardware market, while other American companies, Microsoft inclusive, occupied the software market. We had to catch back on new technologies, or rather try to keep pace with the progress. The best thing to do at that point was to copy and manufacture Russian counterparts of foreign computer models and to translate the software. Thus appeared “ES EVM” machines (counterparts of IBM), OS ES EVM operating systems, and many others. That wasn’t easy, as COCOM restrictions were in effect, legal norms were not always observed and even not always known, but in spite of them the manufacturing of IBM\360 and later IBM\370 counterparts and other American machines was deployed within the territory of USSR and a number of East Bloc countries. Practically all computer production in the USSR and East Bloc countries (with the exception of powerful domestic industry of supercomputers hidden from the eyes of ideologists of the “false science” ) was targeted at producing counterparts of American computers. But mainframes already appeared at major libraries, while other libraries that couldn’t afford purchasing mainframes were able to connect to and use the resources of specially created cooperate computer centers intended for corporate clients (libraries, universities, other users of computer resources) .

At this time library automation software and hardware systems were introduced in some countries, mainly in the US and to a less degree in some European countries and Israel; in the USSR library automation systems were primarily self-made with the exception of several cases of foreign systems purchase (for instance, VTLS system installed in 1970s at the former Lenin Library, presently – Russian State Library). So the first factor is USSR’s falling behind in computer production, COCOM restrictions, impossibility to buy foreign computers even with sufficient funds at hand, lack of own system development in the field of library automation (with the exception of a few major libraries); and this all resulted in Russian libraries falling behind American and the majority of Western European libraries in introducing information and computer technologies.

2. Standards, formats, and protocols. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), established in early 1970s as an economic and to a great degree political organization of the Eastern Bloc, as part of its original projects have chosen to develop its own standards in many fields of science and industry, including library, information and telecommunications sectors. In telecommunications industry that was dragging behind the Western level because of poor development of civil telecommunications infrastructure only defense and a number of other agencies networks (like railway and air tickets reservations systems) had strong positions in the country. The only academic network, ACADEMset, had more of theoretical than practical importance and hasn’t been really implemented. In addition to this, CMEA have neglected to follow the recommendations of the International Consulting Committee CCITT or ISO standards and have started developing its own telecommunication protocols.

The same situation developed in the field of library standards, formats and classification. The famous Russian GOST 7.1 – 84 standard differed from AACR and other cataloging rules accepted in the West but not dramatically because of these standards’ common prototype – ISBD recommended by IFLA and, luckily, not ignored by IFLA member countries (USSR was an IFLA member, and an active one). Things were worse with bibliographic formats – while the world community was choosing the best suitable format among the MARC family: USMARC, UKMARC, UNIMARC or other, CMEA started developing its own communicative formats of the MEKOF group that didn’t correspond to the international trends (though, again, in early 70s the first translations and adjustments of USMARC were made in the USSR), and till mid 90s the library records of Russian libraries were incompatible with foreign ones.

In the field of classification systems the situation was the following: the Dewey system wasn’t accepted in the USSR; Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) had a limited circulation while domestically developed system “BBK” library bibliographic classification - was intentionally implemented.

Thus, both in information and linguistic support and in telecommunication support Russian libraries walked away from the international approach and found themselves on the roadside of the libraries progress.

3. The personal computers era that started with the production of the first commercial personal computer IBM PC in the 1980s, brought new opportunities to libraries. Many libraries in the US and Western Europe began actively using new hardware that almost immediately allowed for the development and application of better library technologies; during this process old mainframes and terminal networks weren’t abandoned but were kept in use and the inclusion of new personal computers went smoothly, sometimes in the way of connecting PCs as intellectual terminals, sometimes as full-function computers with administrative and management capabilities. By early 1990s personal computers firmly occupied their place in library automation hardware, and PC-based local area networks (LANs) became the main platform for the library automation.

But another mistake was made in our country: instead of starting licensed manufacturing and assembling of IBM PC models in the USSR (this way was chosen by many Western European countries as well as Asian countries) we started the development and manufacturing of our own personal computers that were, as could have been expected, much worse than Western counterparts in reliability and technical performance, not to mention their appearance and user interface. Those DVK, ES-1840, Elektronika and other types of scrap metal delayed for another 15 years the development of the country information infrastructure: only in 1988-89 the mass purchases and assembly of IBM PC models in Russia began. Computer software field was mostly captured by Microsoft Corporation, and Bill Gates added difficulties to the general process of computer evolution by including into Windows operating system a Cyrillic encoding system different from the ISO standard and thus creating many problems for the accessibility of Cyrillic information in Windows environment.

So, considerable falling behind in personal computers technology, the lack of own manufacturing capabilities, full prevalence of foreign system software, naturally, broadened the technological gap between Russian and foreign libraries that in early 1990s began to narrow but didn’t disappear altogether. Technological gap inevitably led to the information gap. But since mid 1990s the situation has quickly begun to turn better.

But what happened in mid 90s in a new country – Russia? All three above mentioned reasons seriously set Russian libraries back from the world library progress: Russian bibliography, in spite of the issue of the first corresponding CD-ROM in 1990s, hasn’t been included in international databases, for instance, OCLC; only a small part of libraries has been automated; an integrated library software system has been installed only at few libraries; and online access was more of a toy for a number of selected libraries than a technology. However, since mid 1990s Russian libraries have made such a big progress in library automation that in one advanced field of library information technology, digital libraries, they are now almost equally developed with their Western counterparts. In mid 90s the Internet rapidly entered and changed the library reality; the same time was marked by the commencement of many governmental and grant programs in computer and telecommunication technologies for libraries. It is hard to believe that by the beginning of this year Russian libraries have a common MARC-oriented communicative standard, have several developed systems and implemented corporate cataloging projects, including corporate cataloging projects, hundreds and thousands of Internet sites, digital libraries, developed electronic document delivery systems, and many others. We should mention the great role of the RF Ministry of Culture, RF Ministry for Science and Technologies as well as a number of foundations, the Soros Foundation in first place. I would like to stress that by early 2004 the library information infrastructure of Russia looks very good in terms of the application of modern information technologies; and while the setback from leading Western libraries in the technological sense is still visible, for a number of leading Russian libraries it has been eliminated.

Many technologies and automation approaches have been borrowed from international experience and this is inevitable due to historic reasons that I have mentioned earlier; there are original approaches, including implemented approaches; there are ideas that haven’t been implemented due to national peculiarity; there are borrowed and adjusted American or Western Europeans approaches that I am going to cover in my presentation.

1. Corporate cataloging – there is no point in discussing its effectiveness and efficiency because most part of American and also European libraries already employ it – and the fact that the leading player in corporate cataloging, OCLC, entered the European system and merged with PICA system only proves it. Of course, corporate cataloging is being implemented in the way of modern information technologies, and not only as access to multi-million records of OCLC and RLIN databases; there are a number of regional and local corporate cataloging systems, for example, in Great Britain, Germany, and even the USA have centers different from OCLC and RLIN though they are endangered by the above mentioned monsters.

At the same time, there are problems in our country related to corporate cataloging; luckily, now they are of technical nature (Internet is growing much faster than the birth rate), not financial but mostly the problems of mentality.

Example. In 1995-96 the group of professionals from RNPLS&T and several other libraries, which I leaded successfully developed and tested the project of Russian Center for Corporate Cataloging (a prototype of OCLC). Despite of detailed technological resolution, desire of many libraries to participate in new system and good Internet at all prospective participants the project was delayed for two basic reasons:

  1. national libraries – major holders and generators of national bibliography were unhappy about the fact that the initiative group from technologically advanced libraries managed to work this kind of project out without their participation and actually blocked it;
  2. Direct financial support was granted to the project participants on the stage of development and experimental testing. Afterwards in the regime of exploitation libraries were supposed to pay for information themselves. This is the standard world practice, all systems of this kind work the same way worldwide. However, the mentality of Russian libraries was not ready to accept that.

Firstly, libraries were supposed to pay for bibliographic information, which they could generate themselves each time. No one showed the intention to compare these efforts. Secondly, they were supposed to take this job out of their staff catalogers. Thirdly, they were supposed to make payments electronically, which is not available to almost all libraries. Meanwhile, it is possible to make payments in ordinary way in custom pay regime. This is not the main obstacle. The point is that at this point we are not successful in overcoming the mentality that information should be paid for, that it is possible to trust someone else’s bibliography and get the own beloved “babushkas”- catalogers out of this job. We have to come to the outlook of this kind ourselves. This process can’t be pushed; it can’t be forced, as sometimes happens within another Russian project on corporate cataloging – LIBNET Center. The Center was formed by two Russian national libraries under support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. While it has a very low number of participating libraries the Center attempts to obtain more participants by any means, which is subject to failure either.

Thus, Russian libraries selected the American model (OCLC model) for corporate cataloging purposes. But the ways of its realization are different than in the U. S. and likely do not have an analogues in the world. This is OK if it gives the result. Would it give one?

2. Corporate library systems. Russia has much more its own models in this field. Many functions of the systems of this kind are not demanded in the West; however, it does not mean they are not needed. The program “Library Automation” by Soros Foundation was the beginning of corporate library systems formation. Works on formation of library consortia unifying libraries of various types (mostly – by geographic principle) and development of software and technological support of their activities and interaction were financed by the Program. The main purpose of each consortium is to provide searching in electronic catalogs of all participating libraries at the same time and create an effective joint library and information resource (union catalogs, subject databases, others) on the basis of the unified technology. The main searching technology is Z39.50 protocol; the main and single exchange format – RUSMARC.

13 consortia unifying over 200 libraries are operating at present. These consortia are unified into ARBICON Association. At present, when Soros Foundation is in the process of terminating its activities in Russia consortia face the problem of their effective development without direct financial investments. Regional library consortia implanted new corporate elements into Russian librarianship, related not just to corporate cataloging or retrospective conversion. Western librarians could learn something from their Russian colleagues in this respect as well.

3. Electronic Libraries. Despite of objective reasons and consequences of Russian libraries’ falling behind in respect of computer and telecommunication technologies (which is almost taken off at present) the era of electronic libraries started for Russian libraries almost at the same time, as for Western libraries. At present libraries in Russia, USA and Western Europe see and use the advantages of subscribing to full-text electronic publications. Libraries are active in purchasing electronic books, journals and other publications for their collections. Russian libraries are more active in cataloging Internet resources and offering them to their users. It’s pretty hard to name a leader (the country) in these activities. But some technologies Russian libraries used to do not work in the West and vice versa. For instance, e-books, which are so popular in public libraries in the U. S. are almost not used in Russia. On the other hand, many libraries in Russia create their own full-text electronic resources (reference, ecological, legislative, other) and offer them to their users. In the West, these types of activities are handled by commercial companies. At present electronic library is a really international phenomenon. But the problems exist here as well.

The major problem is copyright. The system of civilized dealing with electronic resources, which takes the rights of authors and publishers into consideration, starts forming in Russia. However, not all the libraries understand it properly, particularly those, which get an opportunity to improve their poor financial situation a little bit by selling their own electronic products. But the state opposes that. I have to mention that Russia has strict understanding of the necessity to consider international agreements on copyright and intellectual property. The situation in other FSU countries is different.

These three major fields in modern library and information technology development demonstrate the similarities and differences in development of libraries in Russia and other countries. It looks like the situation in other fields is similar. It’s hard to expect that libraries on both sides of the Ocean would follow the same schemes in their development, but it is not actually needed. What is important is that the library world has strict understanding that modern information and technology platform and the agreements on single rules and formats are the basis for interaction and cooperation. Certainly, the desire to cooperate is needed as well, and we can see this desire. Even if politicians oppose each other, libraries could cooperate and actually do that.


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