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Library Assessment Project : Summary of the Project

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The information in this report was gathered as part of the "North Caucasus and Volga Basin Assessment Project," funded by the IREX Special Projects in Library and Information Science Program, but for these purposes acts as a general introduction to the Library Assessment Project. You may continue reading here for information that is focused toward the "North Caucasus and Volga Basin Assessment Project," but applys to the project overall, or link to the following specific reports from:

The principal object of the project is to increase awareness and disseminate information about libraries in Russia among the American library and academic communities. Special attention was given to the many non-Russian republics of the two regions. The information for this report was gathered during workshops held over three days in both Samara and Rostov-on-Don. Representatives from the most important libraries in the Volga Basin attended workshops in Samara, while those from libraries in the North Caucasus region attended sessions in Rostov-on-Don.

This is not the first time workshops of this type have been organized. In many respects this project follows the model of the 1994 assessment project in East Siberia and the Russian Far East, organized by Patricia Polansky, University of Hawaii, and funded by IREX. The 1994 assessment project was described in the report Library Assessment Project: East Siberia/Russian Far East, written by Michael Neubert and published by IREX in 1995. Although Russian libraries are progressing rapidly, this report repeats some of the information contained in the previous report. I have attempted to point out significant differences between what was observed in 1994 and 1995.

Project Methodology

The goal of this report is to present information about the research libraries in the Volga Basin and the North Caucasus, rather than to describe in detail the way the assessment project itself operated. This section will describe briefly how the workshops served to achieve the project's primary goals.

The project utilized an innovative approach to assessment survey travel. Rather than have individual American librarians visit the libraries in each city, the project organizers, Tatjana Lorkovic, Yale University; Eric A. Johnson, Library of Congress; and Michael Neubert, Library of Congress, worked cooperatively with host libraries in Samara and Rostov-on-Don to organize three days of workshops in each city. Two representatives from each of the most significant research libraries in the Volga Basin and North Caucasus were invited. Included in the budget for the project were funds to reimburse the Russian participants for all of their per diem costs. This was crucial, since libraries in the regions would not be able to pay for expenses beyond the costs of travel, which in these regions are more reasonable than they were the previous year in East Siberia and the Far East.

Note that libraries from Astrakhan and Volgograd were invited to Rostov-on-Don, although geographically they are part of the Volga Basin. This was done to balance the number of libraries attending sessions in the two cities.

The American project organizers created a three-day program that included the following topics:

• US librarianship-an overview,
• US library automation,
• bibliographic utilities (especially OCLC), and how they facilitate cooperation and interlibrary loan,
• the Internet and its increasing role in US librarianship,
• e-mail and how it is used by US librarians,
• exchange of materials with American academic libraries,
• sources of free books from the United States,
• opportunities for support from organizations like IREX,
• librarian exchanges and programs for professional development in the United States, and
• other library issues such as preservation, budget, and acquisitions.

During the workshops in both 1994 and 1995, this format proved superior to the alternative method of having a Western librarian travel to individual libraries. The Russian librarians who attended received far more information than they could have from a visit by a single American librarian. Though only an average of two librarians from each of the Russian libraries attended, each participant was given large amounts of materials to share with colleagues who could not attend. Packets of printed information in both Russian and English as well as many text files on diskette were distributed.

This format seems to have been particularly effective in exposing many Russian library directors to issues they have been aware of, but perhaps did not fully comprehend. For example, one library deputy director concerned with automation problems told me that her director had said after each purchase of new PCs, "so, now you have 10 (later 20, then 30 and 40) PCs-are you done now?" After listening to the workshops, the director finally realized that the issue of library automation would not be solved by buying a certain number of PCs.

Cooperation with the "host" libraries in Samara and Rostov-on-Don was essential. These libraries were responsible for organizing most of the logistics of the workshops, including arranging for suitable sites, reserving hotel space for the attendees, ordering group meals during the sessions, and reimbursing the attendees with funds from IREX. It was necessary to rely on the good will of the Russian host libraries to an extent that was greater than is probably desirable, but it is impossible to coordinate such events from Washington, DC, or New Haven, Connecticut. It was easier to communicate with these libraries in order to check on progress, however, than it had been with last year's hosts in Irkutsk and Khabarovsk. It is simple to call either Samara or Rostov-on-Don directly in order to send a fax or have a conversation, while phone calls from the US to Irkutsk and Khabarovsk elicit endless busy signals, and the time difference is too great for business hours conversations.

The American organizers, Tatjana Lorkovic, Eric Johnson, and Michael Neubert, are especially grateful for the work of Director Petr Petrishev and Deputy Director Liudmila Zavalnaia, both of the Samara Oblast Library, and Director Alla Bocharova and Deputy Directors Evgeniia Kolesnikova and Mikhail Mun of the Don State Public Library. We also appreciate the assistance of Nadezhda Shakhova of the Ministry of Culture.

Information presented in this report was gathered by means of a survey that was distributed to representatives of the libraries attending and by follow-up interviews with these representatives.

General Observations and Library Finances

The major research libraries of the Volga Basin and North Caucasus fall into two categories: those under the Ministry of Culture and those under the Ministry of Higher Education. Each oblast, krai, or autonomous republic has a library under the central Russian Ministry of Culture; thus the autonomous Republic of Marii-El has the Marii National Library, while the Saratov Oblast has the Saratov Oblast Library. In theory these libraries report to the Ministry of Culture in Moscow, but in actual fact they report to their local culture administration, generally the Upravlenie Kultury or in autonomous republics the Ministerstvo Kultury. They receive all their funding from the local government. It is clear that these library directors work to cultivate their relationships with the local "culture" officials, as well as elected officials who can influence their budget. Generally these libraries are among the most important organizations that the local cultural authority supervises, so this is a significant relationship. This, however, leads to a somewhat peculiar situation: since the bodies that these libraries report to are responsible for culture rather than information, their primary interest is not the same as the libraries's, which can lead to conflicts. This is less the case where the library has taken on a role as "parliamentary library," or supplier of information to the local parliamentary body. This has occured in many autonomous republics and even in some oblasts and krais. In these cases the libraries have, in effect, two masters.

There are many national libraries of autonomous republics in these two regions. The finances of these libraries are often better than those of oblast or krai libraries, since there may be an interest in funding the national library to show pride in the titular nationality. The National Library of Tatarstan, for example, is well funded, but Tatarstan is also a wealthy republic. Ironically many of these national libraries, such as the Udmurt National Library, are staffed overwhelmingly by Russians. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that Russians make up a majority of the population in some of these republics, and they tend to be concentrated in the capital cities. Also, for whatever reasons, positions in these libraries were not attractive to non-Russians, or perhaps they were attractive but non-Russians were not hired-it is difficult to know. In any event, the effect is that in some national libraries there are difficulties in working with the increased amount of material now being published in the minority languages.

As noted, these libraries often have an explicit role as parliamentary libraries, supplying information to the legislature of their autonomous republics. Krai and oblast libraries sometimes have a similar function. Fulfilling this function assists the libraries in maintaining a high profile and improving their budgetary situation, at least in theory.

Most of the national libraries reported taking leadership in the network of libraries in their republics. This includes leading in automation, the creation of union catalogs, and facilitation of acquisitions. They were also generally responsible for maintaining a national bibliography, letopis, for the republic, of books published and, usually, articles in journals and newspapers as well. Oblast and krai libraries generally do not publish a bibliography of the books published in the oblast or krai, although they do index books and articles about the region.

Libraries under the Ministry of Higher Education are associated with major universities. Not every city that has a library under the Ministry of Culture has a major university library and associated university library; at least this was true up until five years ago-many former institutes have been renamed universities in recent years. University libraries exist primarily to support the studies of the university's students and thus generally have collections that include many copies of a small number of titles, i.e., textbooks. Some university libraries, generally the older ones, have a greater role in serving the general public. Funding is, for the most part, received from the central ministry through the local university. It is entirely up to the local university authorities to decide how much of the funds received from the "center" they will allocate to the library. The libraries often receive enough to operate but not to make needed improvements, such as building repair and purchasing of computers or other automation projects. Generally speaking, libraries of this type reported greater financial difficulties than the Ministry of Culture libraries.

There are regional, zonalnye, university libraries that receive additional funds from the Ministry of Higher Education in order to support the activities of libraries attached to universities and institutes in their region. Three such libraries were represented at the workshops in Samara and Rostov-on-Don: Rostov State University Library, Saratov State University Library, and Voronezh State University Library. The experience of the Library of Congress has been that these libraries are more capable of successfully operating exchanges with Western libraries.

Quite a few university libraries and several of the oblast libraries reported that they are searching for sponsors to help them; it is not clear exactly what is meant by this. It is clear, however, that all libraries are becoming more creative in seeking ways to increase their funding. Ministry of Culture libraries, for example, often try to tie in with local cultural events to increase the library's profile and its budget. An example of such an event was the 900th anniversary of Riazan.

Note that there has been some blurring of previous institutional boundaries. For example, some university libraries, in autonomous republics in particular, receive additional funds from their local government. Another example is that many university libraries and Ministry of Culture libraries are choosing to purchase automation systems other than the ones offered by their respective ministries. In some cases Ministry of Culture libraries have purchased the systems more commonly used by university libraries, for example. The model for different kinds of libraries that used to be applied uniformly throughout the Soviet Union is being adjusted in different jurisdictions of the Russian Federation.

Libraries of all types are developing "fee for service" operations. This may reflect a fairly aggressive approach. The Don State Public Library in Rostov-on-Don has a deputy director for marketing, who does nothing but develop and promote money-making services and products. At the moment Russian libraries charge fees for services in order to generate income, rather than on a cost-recovery basis, as is usually done in the United States.

Interestingly, none of the libraries reported that they had significant reductions in library staff, and several even reported that they had added staff, generally for automation and fee-based services.

The poor financial situation, however, affects the ability of the libraries to acquire new and often much-needed space. There is little enthusiasm in budgeting for new buildings except in rare cases, such as the National Library of Dagestan, which will soon take possession of a new building. Many of these libraries report a lack of space as one of their top problems.

A positive development was noted by the director of the Saratov University Library. She reported that she felt the worst period financially, 1993 and 1994, was over.

Library Automation

The library survey section of this report includes comments about the automation situation at most of the individual libraries. The progress that has been made in this area over the past several years is quite noticeable. There were few libraries that had not made some progress in automation, and the ones that lagged behind understood the need for automation and were at least making plans. All of the libraries understood that using automation is critical in all traditional libraries. Views on the use of e-mail were more mixed. Many Russian libraries still do not see the benefits given the present cost and the lack of decent communications infrastructure. This will certainly change in the future, however.

Some libraries reported extensive use of e-mail. A few libraries receive data from the book chamber, knizhnaia palata, in Moscow (for a fee, plus the cost of the e-mail itself), communicate with foreign libraries, and participate in the Relcom Russian libraries e-mail discussion group, relcom.sci.libraries, which has about 100 subscribers. This group is similar to Usenet newsgroups in the United States.

In last year's report about East Siberia and the Russian Far East, I noted that library automation software is marketed in ways that discourage cooperation among libraries. There were signs that this is improving. Automation systems that are offered cheaply to Ministry of Culture libraries are also available cheaply to other libraries, but many are coming to realize that these systems may not be the best choice. Cooperation among libraries under the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture within a city or region is becoming more common. For example, the National Library of Tatarstan cooperates with the Kazan State University Library. In these two regions we did not meet any libraries that were aggressively marketing their own systems.

As noted, the oblast and krai libraries and the national libraries generally produce bibliographies of various types, and automating these publications is always a high priority. This is probably one reason why these libraries have been more driven to begin at least some automation as quickly as possible.


All the libraries are increasingly interested in expanding their holdings of foreign language materials. A few have small amounts of hard currency available for purchasing foreign materials, and at least one has worked out a barter arrangement with a Western vendor. In this case the Russian library supplies serials to the vendor's customers, for which it earns credits with the vendor for purchasing materials. Many of these libraries can only acquire foreign materials on exchange, although some of them can not even afford that. The Library of Congress is initiating exchanges with these libraries, with the understanding that they can mail outbound packages to the library's office in Moscow, thus significantly reducing their postage costs. Other American libraries seeking exchanges with provincial libraries should be able to make similar "freight forwarding" arrangements with book dealers in Moscow who offer this service.

Oblast, krai, and national libraries in these regions are generally willing, and able, to supply materials automatically according to a fairly narrow, fixed profile. The biggest drawback to an exchange based on sending lists of offerings back and forth is the great amount of time it takes for the mail to come through. Lists can be sent back and forth via e-mail where it is available, but sometimes e-mail links to these regions are not as reliable as in the West, so it is necessary to be persistent. Also, these libraries can rarely guarantee complete coverage of a particular region or even publisher, due to the poor state of book distribution systems. Libraries have difficulty reliably acquiring even local publications in sufficient quantities for their internal needs, although some are more successful than others. For several years the National Library of Tatarstan, for example, has been supplying the Library of Congress reliably with publications from that region.

University libraries in these regions generally offer their own publications on exchange, although some may have trouble acquiring extra copies in order to do so. The official connection between the university publishing house and the respective university library is not well defined, and the library sometimes has difficulty acquiring even a single free copy to add to its own collections. This is a result of the present state of university publishing, which encourages publishers to agree in advance to supply the entire press run of a work to the author or sponsor, who has paid all the publishing costs. It is difficult for the library to make reliable connections with all these individuals in order to acquire materials. Again, it is easier to have exchanges with libraries that have e-mail. Two of the university libraries attending the workshops, Rostov State University Library and Voronezh State University Library, have been excellent Library of Congress exchange partners for some time and supply regional publications in addition to publications of the university publishing house.

Obviously, having an exchange with a relatively remote library is not going to be easy. Library of Congress experience has been that these libraries are, however, able to supply materials that are presently unavailable through other sources. Centralized dealers are still not supplying regional publications as reliably as Western libraries would like, in large part because of the general absence of a national book distribution network. When added to the partial collapse of the academic bibkollektor, which supplied Russian academic libraries with the books they needed, there is an obvious void for the distribution of academic books. So far there is no sign of an organization to fill that void. As a result, it is still worth having exchanges with partners outside the "center" if a Western library wishes to acquire regional publications.

Effects of Training Programs for Librarians

As a result of many programs that are now operating, including the Freedom Support Act Graduate Fellowship Program administered by IREX, there are now many Russian librarians in the provinces who have been in the United States for extended periods of time. These librarians were able to offer "testimonials" to much of the information that was presented during our workshops. The successes of these programs mean that further workshops in Russia of the type that this project represented should be less compelling as more librarians return to Russia from the United States. Although the primary goal of these workshops is to spread information about Russian regional libraries to select audiences in the United States, the goal of disseminating information about US libraries to the participants is also important and a means to achieving the primary goal.

Access to Information

Russian librarians are now having to work through issues concerning free access to their collections. During the workshops, the Volgograd Oblast Library described how they now require foreign students to pay a refundable deposit of several hundred dollars before they can have use of the collections. Apparently they recorded large losses of materials to foreign exchange students, and a deposit was felt to be the only solution. Russian users are charged no such fees. The reaction of the other librarians was interesting-they seemed to oppose this practice, but about half seemed to be more concerned with technical difficulties they foresaw in implementing such a scheme (they did not seem happy with the idea of having much hard currency around), rather than the more substantive access issue. Many Russian libraries offer new information services for a fee only, again raising the issue of free access, although this rarely seems to be a significant concern with new services. These new services often fall under departments of marketing and may or may not relate to what is understood as library services in the United States. For example, the Don Public Library in Rostov-on-Don rents out portions of its building to local businesses and groups for exhibitions or other activities. Preparation of bibliographies can be arranged, again, for a fee.

Russian libraries of all types traditionally have closed stacks, although there may be significant reference collections in the reading rooms. Most books are shelved by size in accession order, often in special buildings or wings intended only for this use. As a result, although some Russian librarians now admit some interest in having book collections open to readers, it would generally be impossible to do this without huge changes. These would include reorganizing the books according to a classification scheme and adding more space for both books and readers.


Although this report focuses primarily on libraries, rather than regional publishing, one of my experiences from this trip shows the problems that regional libraries face in acquiring books for their collections. A visit to the offices of Samara Publishing House revealed that they had nothing available other than translations of detective novels, science fiction, and children's books. The few books concerning local history or other topics of scholarly interest were sold immediately in large lots to the parties that payed their printing costs. The publishing house did not even have samples!

The national libraries in the minority republics reported, without exception, that the amount of publishing in the vernacular languages of their republics has increased significantly in the last five years. These libraries always consider preserving this type of literature one of their main roles, so they keep close track of this issue.

Book Acquisitions by Russian Libraries

In most cases there is little use of local bibkollektors. For example, Samara oblast reports that it only acquires 2-3 percent of its books from the still-existing Samara bibkollektor. Most of its books come from private companies that purchase large portions of the print runs of new books and then sell them wholesale in provincial cities like Samara. It is better to buy books from these companies directly, since the alternative is to buy them from local bookstores at a mark-up. Libraries also report barter arrangements to acquire books, generally offering space in the library to a bookseller in return for books.

The Samara Oblast Library reported that 150 books published from 1993 to 1995 were listed in the national knizhnaia letopis, but were not acquired by the library. By the time the library found out about their existence they were simply not available for acquisition locally. During that same period the library acquired copies of 500 books that had not appeared in the national letopis. This illustrates the problems these libraries are facing in acquisitions and bibliographic control.

With a few exceptions, all libraries reported that they no longer use templany for acquisitions, since they are too unreliable.


The workshops seem to have been a success on a number of levels. The primary goal of disseminating information will be achieved through this report. In addition IREX funding once again allowed Russian regional librarians to meet with one another. For financial reasons this has been difficult or impossible for a number of years. The workshops also exposed the attending librarians to developments in the American library world; this does not mean that the "American way" of doing things is necessarily better, but it is important for librarians to have access to developments in their field.

Eric Johnson and Michael Neubert, with Tatjana Lorkovic of Yale University and Patricia Polansky of the University of Hawaii, have now conducted similar workshops in four major regions of Russia. It is our feeling that the need for workshops using this model has ended.

(Text compiled by Michael Neubert from information supplied by Russian participants - Michael Neubert is a reference specialist, Library of Congress, European Division, Washington DC 20540-4830. mneu@loc.gov.)