By GAIL FINEBERG and TRACY ARCARO
Historians and directors of libraries from the United States and around the world gathered at the Library on Oct. 23-26 to discuss the history and future of national libraries during the Bicentennial symposium "National Libraries of the World: Interpreting the Past, Shaping the Future."
Participants focused on the special role that national libraries play in the preservation and development of their cultures and intellectual traditions.
Dr. Billington, Associate Librarian for Library Services Winston Tabb, Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole and Librarian Emeritus Daniel J. Boorstin welcomed some 150 participants and Library of Congress staff attending the sessions. Each offered his interpretation of how the four days of discussion would, as Dr. Billington said, "reach out both internationally and back into the past to broaden and enrich all of us."
The Librarian welcomed participants, including 32 national library directors, and reminded them that the digital future would greatly affect libraries, especially national libraries. He asked participants to explore the potential of new technology to create a global library, while preserving, restoring and honoring historical collections and unique traditions. But he also warned of the dangers in creating a gap between those who have access to digital technologies and those who do not.
Dr. Boorstin stressed the impact that the Library has on libraries around the world. "Our national library sets an example for libraries of other countries," he said. He joined Dr. Billington in thanking Congress for its continuing support of the Library.
Mr. Tabb said he was pleased the international symposium occurred during the Library's Bicentennial year. He said the Bicentennial's theme, "Libraries, Creativity, Liberty," added to the meaning of the symposium, "focusing on libraries as instruments of creativity and liberty, libraries as preservers of creativity."
He added that this four-day symposium, with the first two days devoted to the history of libraries and their place in society and culture, and the second two days focused on the future of libraries, "was an opportunity to continue our long tradition of international leadership."
Mr. Cole, who organized and chaired the first two days, said, "This symposium is unique because it combines historical perspective about national libraries with immediate and future concerns. It has been designated Library History Seminar X, continuing a 50-year series established among American library historians in 1961." "It's wonderful that the Library of Congress can simultaneously host, for the first time, both a library history seminar and such a distinguished group of library historians from around the world."
In his opening remarks, Mr. Cole expressed the Library's appreciation to Deanna Marcum, president of the Council on Library and Information Resources, for a grant to help support the symposium. He also noted that the Center for the Book had prepared two background papers for the use of symposium participants: "Library History as a Field of Study: A Selective Chronology and Introduction," and "National Libraries as a Topic of Study: A Selective Chronology and Introduction."
The Oct. 23 program focused on "Library History in 2000: The State of the Art." Leading library historians from around the world spoke about changes in the field of library history and current research in their respective countries. The speakers included Huanwen Cheng, Zhongshan University, China; Boris Volodin, National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg; Peter Hoare, editor, A History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland; Peter Vodosek, Hochschule für Bibliothek und Informationswesen, Stuttgart, Germany; Dominique Varry, École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de Information et des Bibliotheques, France; Keith Manley, University of London and editor, Library History (U.K); Donald G. Davis Jr., University of Texas at Austin and editor, Libraries & Culture; Magnus Torstensson, Swedish School of Library and Information Management; Edward A. Goedeken, Iowa State University; leading U. S. library historians Phyllis Dain, historian of the New York Public Library, and Wayne A. Wiegand, University of Wisconsin; William V. Jackson, associate editor, World Libraries; Peter McNally, McGill University, Montreal, Canada; and prominent British library historians Alistair Black, Leeds Metropolitan University and Paul Sturges, Loughborough University.
"National Library Development" was the topic on Oct. 24, which began with keynote talks from Maurice Line, editor of Alexandria: The Journal of National & International Library and Information Issues, and Giuseppe Vitiello, program adviser, Electronic Publishing, Books and Archives, Palais de l'Europe-Conseil d l'Europe.
Maurice Line spoke about how his views on national libraries have changed since his first involvement with them in 1970. He noted that since his retirement from the British Library in 1988 he has visited 40 national libraries, working for 15 of them as a consultant. A still wider knowledge has come from his editorship since 1989 of the journal Alexandria and his compilation, with his wife Joyce, of collections of articles about national libraries that have been published in 1979, 1988 and 1995.
"No type of library varies so much in nature, size, types of media covered, range of acquisitions, functions and services" as national libraries, he began. Mr. Line focused on the question, "What are national libraries for?" emphasizing that "digitization is the great hope and the great challenge" to national libraries that want to share their collections nationally as well as internationally. Moreover, "we can now, for the first time in history, work toward a global library in which national libraries are main components. Like it or not, we live in a globalized world, and we must fit into it."
He concluded by posing several questions for participants to ponder: What is your national library for? Whom is it intended to serve? Is it serving them? If it did not exist, would you invent it? What would a newly invented one look like? How can you move from what is, to what might be? How can you contribute to the global library?
In his paper, "National Libraries in the Age of Globalization," Giussepe Vitiello argued that the new mission of national libraries will be to give "full voice to locally produced culture that, without substantial help from cultural institutions, would remain otherwise totally undiscovered. National libraries should act as clearing centers for national publications and serve as their electronic distribution center, after previous agreements made with rights owners and remuneration for authors."
Speakers during the day addressed specific topics regarding national library development. They included: Hideshige Hara, University of Library and Information Science, Tsuka, Japan; Rebecca Knuth, University of Hawaii; Hermina G.G. Anghelescu, Wayne State University; Jorgen Svane-Mikkelsen, Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark; Gwynneth Evans, National Library of Canada; Irene Owens, University of Texas at Austin; Mary Niles Maack, University of California at Los Angeles; Sun Beixin, National Library of China; Ian Willison, University of London; Martine Poulain, Universite de Paris X, Paris, France; Kenneth E. Carpenter, Harvard University Libraries; and David McKitterick, Trinity College Library, Cambridge, England. The final session was a slide presentation, "The National Library Debate in 19th Century America," by Mr. Cole and Nancy E. Gwinn, director of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
Mr. Tabb organized and chaired the final two days, Oct. 25-26, "Shaping the Future: Current and Future Issues Facing National Libraries," which included reports by participants on digital activities in their countries.
During the Oct. 25 session, William Y. Arms, a Cornell University professor of computer science and consultant to the Library of Congress, with a background in applied computing, mathematics and operational research, discussed "Open Access to Digital Libraries: Must Research Libraries be Expensive?" His answer: no.
Mr. Arms said Cornell, for example, spends about one-fourth of its budget for libraries, one-fourth for buildings and facilities and one-half for staff. Open access to reliable, authoritative information available on the Internet "will drive these costs down," he predicted.
To reduce their budgets, he said, research institutions will have to substitute free or low-cost open-access materials for traditional library formats and rely on powerful, computer-driven, Internet search engines instead of labor-intensive cataloging, indexing and abstracting to access information. "The key word is substitution," he said.
Digital resources can be used in place of some traditional formats, he said. For example, he suggested that Amazon.com can replace Books in Print (Bowker's online subscription service) as a digital guide to published titles. The Los Alamos National Laboratory's open e-print archives can be substituted for traditional journal articles.
"There are lots of low-cost materials available on the Internet," he said. For more than a year Mr. Arms said he has not used the indexing and abstracting service to which he used to subscribe, but he relies instead on an Internet search engine to sift through more than 1.2 billion Web sites to find the latest, best science information that researchers are making freely available.
Automated digital libraries can save research institutions the cost of new construction to house materials in traditional formats. "A computer can replace a building," Mr. Arms said.
A research library no longer will have to own an item to access it or make it available. Because digital surrogates can be housed anywhere on a server and accessed from any computer, libraries will not have to duplicate resources, Mr. Arms said.
The question of computers replacing humans is more complex. "Computers cannot replace human intelligence," he said. For example, he said, computers cannot apply complex Anglo American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd Ed. (AACR2).
But, he argued, "brute force computing—simple algorithms plus immense computing power—may outperform human intelligence," as demonstrated by the ability of Internet search engines.
Mr. Arms believes such computer power will render obsolete "federation rules"—the protocols and standards (such as AACR2 and MARC that govern cataloging and bibliographic record access and exchange) and online service and use agreements "so complex few agree to them or follow them."
Just as the Model T brought the automobile to the masses, so automated digital libraries are providing lots of good information that people did not have in the past, and they will bring quality information to people in the future, he concluded.
Library of Congress Internet Archives
Cassy Ammen, a Library reference specialist assigned to a Library project of the Digital Futures Group, on Oct. 25 described a pilot effort to capture open-access, born-digital materials, place the sites on a closed server, study their content and structure and provide access.
Guided by selection criteria to keep a narrow, manageable focus and to choose material that will be important to Americans in the future, the Web Preservation Project Team chose political Web sites from a broad spectrum of federal, state and local election campaigns. Working with a subcontractor, the team identified more than 150 Web sites related to millennium-year elections. Political science subject specialists at the Library reviewed the team's 150 selections to ensure they reflect all views.
The Internet Archive, a not-for-profit foundation in San Francisco that began in 1996 to capture and archive "snapshots" of all accessible sites on the World Wide Web, agreed this year to harvest political Web sites for the Library. Since September, Ms. Ammen said, the test site has accumulated between 30 and 50 gigabytes of data—an amount that is expected to grow to more than 400 gigabytes by January 2001.
Ms. Ammen said the technical problems of capturing and containing World Wide Web sites are "enormous." Her team is describing problems and errors that occur in capturing sites that include not only digital text but also static and moving images, sound and interactive links to other sites.
The team is working cooperatively with the Online Computer Library Center to catalog and create records for the test sites. Each record for one site will receive full MARC cataloging, including a Library classification number, links to the site's current URL and to the Web archive and subject headings. Holdings information will reflect the dates of capture of each test web site. The team will decide whether to catalog the political Web sites separately or as one collection.
The team has other metadata questions to answer, as well as preservation issues to tackle. "The team has not even begun to talk about preservation," she said.
"We know we need help from our colleagues around the world. No one agency can keep all this information," Ms. Ammen said, emphasizing that today's information is tomorrow's historical record and must be captured before it is lost.
Throughout the last day, on Oct. 26, visiting librarians from around the world described digital projects they have under way or would like to begin, and many talked about materials of cultural and historical significance to countries with shared histories.
Alix Chevallier, of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, discussed "Biblioteca Universalis," a pilot project established by 13 national libraries to identify digitized materials on their Web sites that relate to the topic "exchange among people," as people from one country have traveled, immigrated or migrated elsewhere. The idea is to create a universal Web site that will be important to scholars.
Mr. Tabb issued a call last spring for inventories of digital projects on the topic and received descriptions from the national libraries of Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the National Diet Library of Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.
Discussed in detail during the last day of the symposium were collaborative projects that the Library is undertaking with the Russian State Library and the National Library of Russia and with Spain. Representatives from national libraries in Portugal, Japan, Norway, China and Italy discussed their digital libraries.
Laura Campbell, the Library of Congress's associate librarian for strategic initiatives, briefly discussed the National Digital Library Program and its collaboration with 36 other libraries to digitize collections of historic and cultural importance in America. She and Mr. Tabb then called on all the international visitors to describe potential areas for collaboration among national libraries.
Having heard all of their ideas, Dr. Billington said it is important for the libraries of the world to identify what they have in common in the way of uniform standards, best practices, fair-use solutions to copyright regulations and digital projects so they do not duplicate efforts. He encouraged libraries "to go deep into their own cultures" and to consider digitizing materials that document parallel histories with other countries. He suggested migrations and the roles of minorities as sample topics.
The Librarian suggested libraries begin with small projects, get feedback from users as they go along and demonstrate success with test projects in order to secure funding for larger projects.
"It is very important for national libraries to take the lead with this initiative, which has the potential to increase international understanding," Dr. Billington said, emphasizing that access to such digital sites should be free.
Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter. Ms. Arcaro is on a detail to The Gazette office.