The Caslin Projects
The Mellon-funded proposal to establish the Czech and Slovak Library Information Network (CASLIN) commenced in January 1993. In its original stage it involved four libraries in what has now become two countries: the National Library of the Czech Republic (in Prague), the Moravian Regional Library (in Brno), the Slovak National Library (in Martin), and the University Library of Bratislava. These four libraries had signed an agreement (a Letter of Intent) that they would cooperate in all matters that pertained to fully automating their technical services and, eventually, in developing and maintaining a single on-line Union Catalogue. They also committed themselves to introducing and upholding formats and rules that would enable a "seamless" integration into the growing international library community. For example, compliance with the UNIMARC format was crucial in choosing the library system vendor (the bid went to ExLibris's ALEPH). Similarly, Anglo-American cataloging rules (AACR2 ) have been introduced, and most recently, there is discussion of adopting the LC subject headings. Needless to say, the implementation was difficult and the fine-tuning of the system is not over yet, though most if not all of the modules are up and running in all four libraries. The first on-line OPAC terminals were made available to readers during 1996. At present, these electronic catalogs reflect only the library's own collection-there are no links to the other libraries, let alone to a CASLIN Union Catalogue-though
they do contain a variety of other databases (for example, a periodicals distribution list is available on the National Library OPAC that lists the location of journals and periodicals in different libraries in Prague, including the years and numbers held). A record includes the call number-a point of no small significance-but does not indicate the loan status, nor does the system allow users to "Get" or "Renew" a book. In spite of these shortcomings, the number of users of these terminals has grown sharply, especially among university students, and librarians are looking for ways to finance more (including some graphics terminals with access to the WWW).
In the period between 1994 and 1996, several additional projects (conceived as extensions of the original CASLIN project) were presented to The Mellon Foundation for funding. It was agreed that the new partners would adopt the same cataloging rules as well as any other standards and that they would (eventually) participate in the CASLIN Union Catalogue. Each one of these projects poses a unique opportunity to use information technology as an integrator of disparate and incongruous institutional settings.
The Library Information Network of the Czech Academy of Science (LINCA) was projected as a two-tiered effort that would (1) introduce library automation to the central library of the Czech Academy of Sciences and thereby (2) set the stage for the building of an integrated library-information network that would connect the specialized libraries of all the 6o scientific institutes into a single web with the central library as their hub. At the time of this writing the central library's LAN has been completed and most of the hardware installed, including the highcapacity CD-ROM (UltraNet) server. The ideal of connecting all the institutes will be tested against reality as the modular library system (BIBIS by Square Co., Holland) is introduced together with workstations and/or miniservers in the many locations in and outside the city of Prague.
The Koſsice Library Information Network (KOLIN) is an attempt to draw together three different institutions (two universities and one research library) into a single library consortium. If successful, this consortium in eastern Slovakia would comprise the largest on-line university and research library group in that country. The challenge lies in the fact that the two different types of institutions come under two different government oversight ministries (of education and of culture), which further complicates the already strained budgetary and legislative setup. Furthermore, one of the universities-the University of Pavel Josef Safarik (UPJS)-at that time had two campuses (in two cities 40 km apart) and its libraries dispersed among thirteen locations. UPJS is also the Slovak partner in the SlovakHungarian CD-ROM network (Mellon-funded HUSLONET) that shares in the usage and the costs of purchasing database licenses.
Finally, the last of the CASLIN "add-ons" involves an attempt to bridge incompatibilities between two established library software systems by linking two university and two state scientific libraries in two cities (Brno and Olomouc) into a
single regional network, the Moravian Library Information Network (MOLIN). The two universities-Masaryk University in Brno and Palacký University in Olomouc-have already completed their university-wide library network with TinLib (of the United Kingdom) as their system of choice. Since TinLib records do not recognize the MARC structure (the CASLIN standard adopted by the two state scientific libraries), a conversion engine has been developed to guarantee full import and export of bibliographic records. Though it is too soon to know how well the solution will actually work, it is clear already that its usefulness goes beyond MOLIN, because TinLib has been installed in many Czech universities.
Fortunately, storage, document preservation, retrospective conversion, and connectivity have all undergone substantial changes over the past few years. They are worth a brief comment:
1. Up until the end of the Communist era, access to holdings was limited not only by the increasingly ridiculous yet strict rules of censorship but also by the worsening condition of the physical plant and, in the case of special collections, the actual poor condition of the documents. The National Library in Prague was the most striking example of this situation; it was in a state of de facto paralysis. Of its close to 4 million volumes, only a small percentage was accessible. The rest were literally "out of reach" because they were either in milk crates and unshelved or in poorly maintained depositories in different locations around the country. This critical situation turned the corner in January 1996 when the new book depository of the NL was officially opened in the Prague suburb of Hostivar. Designed by the Hillier Group (Princeton, N.J.) and built by a Czech contractor, it is meant to house 4.5 million volumes and contains a rare book preservation department (including chemical labs) and a large microfilm department. Because more than 2 million volumes were cleaned, moved, and reshelved by the end of 1996, it is now possible to receive the books ordered at the main building (a book shuttle guarantees overnight delivery). Other library construction has been under way, or is planned, for other major scientific and university libraries in the Czech Republic. There is no comparable library construction going on in Slovakia.
2. The original CASLIN Mellon project included a small investment in microfilm preservation equipment, including a couple of high-end cameras (GRATEK) with specialized book cradles-one for each of the National Libraries-as well as developers, reader-printers, and densitometers. The idea was to (1) preserve the rare collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century periodicals (that are turning to dust), (2) significantly decrease the turnaround time that it takes to process a microfilm request (from several weeks to a few days), and (3) make it technically possible to meet the highest international standards in microfilm preservation. The program has since evolved to a full-scale digitalization project (funded by the Ministry of Culture) that includes the collections of other libraries.
3. The most technologically ambitious undertaking, and one that also has the most immediate and direct impact on document accessibility, is the project for the retrospective conversion of the general catalog of the National Library in Prague. Known under the acronym RETROCON, it involves a laboratory-like setup of hardware and software (covered by a Mellon Foundation grant) that would-in an assembly-line fashion-convert the card catalog into ALEPH-ready electronic form (UNIMARC). RETROCON is designed around the idea of using a sophisticated OCR in combination with a specially designed software that semiautomatically breaks down the converted ASCII record into logical segments and places them into the appropriate MARC field. This software, developed by a Czech company (COMDAT) in cooperation with the National Library, operates in a Windows environment and allows the librarian to focus on the "editing" of the converted record (using a mouse and keyboard, if necessary) instead of laboriously typing in the whole record. As an added benefit, the complete scanned catalog has now been made available for limited searching (under author and title in a Windows environment), thereby replacing the original card catalog. One of the most interesting aspects of this project has been the outsourcing of the final step in the conversion to other libraries, a sort of division of labor (funded in part by the Ministry of Culture) that increases the pool of available expert catalogers.
4. For the most part, all installations of the LAN have proceeded with minimal problems, and the library automation projects, especially those involving technical services, are finally up and running. Unfortunately, this achievement cannot be said for the statewide infrastructure, especially not the phone system. Up until the end of 1997, the on-line connections between libraries were so poor that it was difficult to imagine, let alone test, what an on-line library network would have to offer. Needless to say, this holdback has had an adverse effect on library management, especially of the CASLIN consortium as a whole.