By DAVID ROACH
Sreten Ugricic, the director of the National Library of Serbia, and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington signed a Dec. 8 agreement to exchange materials documenting the Balkan wars and the culture of that region during the 1990s.
The document signed at the Library of Congress provides that the two institutions will cooperate to establish an "Information Center for Exchange of Documentation on the Wars in Former Yugoslavia, 1991-2001."
The exchange will help fill gaps in the Library's holdings related to the historical record of the disintegration of Yugoslavia at the start of the 1990s, which ignited a decade of ethnic strife among the republics of the former Yugoslavia. The conflict damaged valuable channels of communications with the outside world, including the Library of Congress, as economic sanctions were imposed and conditions in Yugoslav libraries became more difficult.
Although the National Library of Serbia continued to send some materials to the Library of Congress under a then-existing exchange agreement, full documentation of the Balkan wars is only now becoming available.
The Library will work with the Serbian national library as it establishes the "Exchange Center 91-01," the special-information archives that will house a broad range of information, from government publications to the products of popular culture.
"We had been talking with them [the Serbians] for a very long time on what we could do to fill in the gaps of information from the 1990s," said John Van Oudenaren, chief of the Library of Congress European Division. He said that use of digital technology would be an important way to fill some of these gaps.
When the idea was first proposed by the Serbian side several years ago, Library staff realized that the Exchange Center 91-01 would be a valuable resource, not only for historians and scholars but also for the policy community, emigres and refugees from the Balkans, and others interested in the region.
Although the Exchange Center 91-01 will be housed in Belgrade at the National Library of Serbia, in accordance with the agreement, the Library of Congress will obtain digital copies of the materials deposited with the center. In addition, the center will create a special Web site to allow easy access by the public to its holdings.
The materials in the center will be collected from diverse sources and will be stored in a wide variety of formats, including print, microform, digital, sound recordings, moving images, and radio and television broadcasts.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Library of Congress will assist the National Library of Serbia in obtaining materials published in the United States relating to the situation in the Balkans during the 1990s, such as those that reflect U.S. government policies and public opinion toward Serbia and the former Yugoslavia.
Materials from the popular culture of the decade—music, magazines, posters and works of literature—will be a particularly important part of the collections of the exchange center and will be especially valuable for historians studying the conflicts in the Balkans. In Serbia, for example, the government of Slobodan Milosevic often exploited pop culture outlets with pro-Serb song lyrics of "turbo-rock" bands and nationalistic posters to build support for its policies.
The collaboration with the National Library of Serbia will assist the Library of Congress in providing American scholars with access to this material for the first time since the turbulent period of the 1990s.
David Roach is a freelance writer in the Washington area.