A comparison of the present condition and on-line readiness of research and university libraries in Central Europe with the status quo as it arrived at the doorstep of the post-1989 era leaves no doubt that dramatic improvements have taken place. But even though the once empty (if not broken) glass is now half filled, it also remains half empty. Certainly that is how most of the participants tend to see the situation, perhaps because they are too close to it and because chronic dissatisfaction is a common attitude. Yet the fact remains that throughout the implementation and in all of the projects, obstacles appeared nearly every step of the way. While most of the obstacles were resolved, although not without some cost, all of them can be traced to three basic sources of friction: (1) those best attributed
to external constraints-the budgetary, legal, political, and for the most part, bureaucratic ties that directly affect a library's ability to function and implement change; (2) those caused by cultural misunderstandings-the different habits, values, and expectations that inform the activity of localization; and (3) the internal problems of the libraries themselves, no doubt the most important locus of micropolitical frictions and therefore of problems and delays. In what follows, I will focus on the first source of friction (with some attention paid to the second), since my emphasis here is on the changing relations between what are taken to be separate institutional domains (particularly between libraries and other government organizations or the market) as I try to make sense of the persistently problematic relationships between libraries (particularly within the CASLIN group). Obviously, while these analytical distinctions are heuristically valuable, in reality, these sources of friction are intertwined and further complicated by the fact that the two countries are undergoing post-Communist aftershocks and an endless series of corrections. Not only are the libraries being transformed, but so is the world of which they form a part. To make sense of this double transition and to describe the multifaceted process that the library projects have moved through may pose some difficulties. But the task also offers a unique opportunity to observe whether, and if so how, the friction points move over time. What could have been predicted when the initial project commenced-that implementation and system localization would also mean giving in to a variety of constraints-is only beginning to take on the hard contours of reality four years later. In several instances, the results differ from our initial conception, but I don't think it would be fair to assume that the final outcome will be a compromise. Instead, the success of the Mellon library projects in Eastern Europe (of which CASLIN is only one) should be judged by the extent to which they have been accepted and have taken on a life of their own, initially distinguishable but finally inseparable from the library traditions already in place. After all, if the projects were designed to affect a change in the library system-and by "system," we must understand a complex of organizational structures, a real culture, and an actually existing social network-then we must also expect that the library system will respond that way, that is, as a complex sociocultural system. What appeared at first as a series of stages (goals) that were to follow one another in logical progression and in a "reasonable" amount of time may still turn out to have been the right series. It's just that the progression will have followed another (cultural) logic, one in which other players-individuals and the organizational rules that they play by-must have their part. As a result, the time it actually takes to get things done seems "unreasonable," and some things even appear to have failed because they have not taken place as and when expected. What is the meaning of these apparent problems? A seemingly philosophical issue takes on a very real quality as we wonder, for example, about the future of the CASLIN consortium. If establishing a network of library consortia was one of the central aims of the Mellon project, then it is precisely this goal that we have failed to reach, at least now, when it was supposed to be long in place according to our
scheme of things. There is no legal body, no formal association of participating libraries in place. This deficiency is particularly important and, needless to say, frustrating for those of us who take for granted the central role that networking and institutional cooperation play in education and scholarly research. But behind this frustration another one hides: it is probably impossible to say whether what is experienced as the status quo, in this case as a failure or shortcoming, is not just another unexpected curve in a process that follows an uncharted trajectory.
As I have noted above, in 1992 a Letter of Intent had been signed by the four founding CASLIN members. It was a principal condition of the project proposal. In January 1996, when this part of the project was-for all intents and purpose- brought to a close, there was still no formally established and registered CASLIN association with a statute, membership rules, and a governing body in place. Although the four libraries had initially worked together to choose the hardware and software, the work groups that had been formed to decide on specific standards (such as cataloging rules, language localization, or the structure of the Union Catalogue record) had trouble cooperating and their members often lacked the authority to represent their institution. Tasks were accomplished more because of the enthusiasm of individuals and the friendly relations that developed among them than because of a planned, concerted effort on the part of the library leadership guided by a shared vision. The initial stages of the implementation process were characterized by an uneven commitment to the shifting of priorities that would be necessary in order to carry the intent through. There was even a sense, in some instances, that the prestige of the project was more important than its execution or, more exactly, that while the funding for library automation was more than welcome, so was the political capital that came with being associated with this U.S.-funded project, even if such an attitude meant using this political capital at a cost to the consortium. As is well documented from many examples of outside assistance in economic development, well-intentioned technology transfer is a prime target for subversion by other, local intentions; it can be transformed with ease into a pawn in another party's game. Potential rivalries and long-standing animosities that existed among some of the libraries, instead of being bridged by the project, seemed to be exacerbated by it. In one instance, for example, affiliation with the Mellon project was used by a library to gain attention of high government officials (such as the cultural minister) responsible for policies affecting their funding and, most important, their mandate. The aim, as it now turns out, was to gain the status of a national library. This library's target, that is, the library that already had this status, was the Slovak National Library, its primary CASLIN partner. While both libraries participated in the CASLIN project's implementation and even cooperated in crucial ways at the technical level (as agreed), their future library cooperation was being undermined by a parallel, semiclandestine, political plot. Needless to say, this situation has left the CASLIN partnership weakened and the managements of both libraries dysfunctional.
As the additional library projects mentioned earlier were funded and the new
libraries joined the original CASLIN group, it became clear that the new, larger group existed more in rhetoric than in fact. From the newcomer's point of view there was not much "there" to join. "What is in this for us, and at what cost?" seemed to be the crucial question at the January 1996 meeting at which a written proposal for a CASLIN association was introduced by the National Library in Prague. This meeting was not the first time that an initiative had been presented but failed to take hold. Nor was it the last. The discussion about the proposal resulted in a squabble. An e-mail discussion group was established to continue the discussion but nothing came of it nor of several other attempts.
If the point of a consortium is for libraries to cooperate in order to benefit (individually) from the sharing of resources so as to provide better on-line service, then a situation such as this one must be considered counterproductive. How does one explain the chronic inability of CASLIN to get off the ground as a real existing organization? Where does the sense of apathy, reluctance, or even antagonism come from? Most of the answers (and there are many) lie hidden within the subtleties of society and history. But of these answers, a few stand out clearly: the fact that all the original CASLIN libraries come under the administrative oversight of the Ministry of Culture is one key piece of the puzzle. The dramatic cuts in the ministries' overall budgets are passed down to the beneficiaries who find themselves competing for limited goods. Another answer is in the lingering nature of the relationship: if the difference from the previous setup (under the "planned" socialist economy) lies with the fact that the library has the status of a legal subject that designs and presents its own budget, its relationship to the ministry-very tense and marked by victimization-seems more like the "same old thing." In other words, certain aspects of organizational behavior continue not only by force of habit (a not insignificant factor in itself), but also because these aspects are reinforced by a continuing culture of codependency and increased pressure to compete over a single source of attention. The situation appears as if, from our point of view, the formal command economy has been transformed into a market economy only to the extent that strategic and self-serving positioning is now more obvious and potentially more disruptive. So-called healthy competition (so called by those whose voices dominate in the present government and who believe in the self-regulating spirit of "free market forces") seems to show only its ugly side: we see the Mellon project embraced with eagerness in part because of the way its prestige could be used to gain a competitive advantage over other libraries. In the case of CASLIN partners, we see it take the form of suspicion, envy, and even badmouthing expressed directly to the Mellon grants administrator (myself).
What are the constraints under which a research or national library operates, and in what way is the present situation different from the "socialist" era [1948-1989]? An answer to these questions will give us a better sense of the circumstances under which attempts to bring these institutions up to international standards-and get them to actively cooperate-must unfold.
Figures 13.1 and 13.2 illustrate the external ties between a library and other important domains of society that affect its functioning and co-define its purpose before and after 1989 (while keeping in mind that economic, legal, and regulatory conditions have been in something of a flux in the years since 1989 and, therefore, that the rules under which a library operates continue to change).
1. Under "party" rule the library, like all other organizations, came under direct control of its ministry, in this case the Ministry of Culture [MK]. One could even say, by comparison with the present situation, that the library was an extension of the ministry. However, the ministry was itself an extension of the centralized political rule (the Communist party), including the watchful eye of the secret police [STB]. The director was appointed "from above" [PARTY] and the budget arrived from there as well. While requests for funding were entertained, it was hard to tell what would be funded and under what ideological disguise. For the most part the library was funded "just in order to keep it alive," though if the institution ran out of money in any fiscal year, more could be secured to "bail it out" [hence "Soft" Budget]. In addition to bureaucratic constraints (regarding job descriptions and corresponding wage tables, building maintenance and repairs, or the purchase of monographs and periodicals), many of which remain in place, there were political directives regarding employability and, of course, the ever-changing and continuously growing list of prohibited materials to which access was to be denied [Index]. In contrast, the library is now an independent legal body that can more or less decide on its priorities and is free to establish working relationships with other (including foreign) organizations. The decision making, including organizational changes, now resides within the library. While the budget is presented to the ministry and is public knowledge, it is also a "hard" budget that is set at the ministerial level as it matches its cultural policies against those of the Ministry of Finance [MF] (and therefore of the ruling government coalition). After an initial surge in funds (all marked for capital investment only), the annual budgets of the libraries have been cut consistently over the past five years (i.e., they are not even adjusted for inflation but each year are actually lower than the previous one). These cuts have seriously affected the ability of the libraries to carry out their essential functions, let alone purchase documents or be in the position to hire qualified personnel. For this reason, I prefer to speak of a relationship of codependence. The Ministry of Culture still maintains direct control over the library's ability to actualize its "independence"-though it has gradually shifted from an antagonistic attitude to one of genuine concern. The point is that whereas the Ministry of Culture is supposed to oversee the well-being of its institutions, it is, as is usually the case in situations of government supervision, perceived as the powerful enemy.
2. The publishing world was strictly regulated under the previous regime: all publishing houses were state enterprises (any other attempt at publishing was punishable by law), and all materials had to pass the scrutiny of the state (political) censor. Not everything that was published was necessarily political trash, and editions were limited; the resulting economy of shortage created a high demand for printed material, particularly modern fiction, translations from foreign languages, and the literary weekly [hence "Seller's Market"]. Libraries benefited from this situation. Because all state scientific and research libraries were recipients of the legal deposit, their (domestic) acquisitions were, de facto, guaranteed. At present the number of libraries covered by the deposit requirement has been reduced from some three dozen to half a dozen. This change was meant to ease the burden on publishers and give the libraries a freer hand in building their collection in a "competitive marketplace." But considering the severe cuts in the budget, many of the libraries cannot begin to fulfill even the most Spartan acquisitions policy. For the same reason publishers, of whom there are many and all of whom are private and competing for the readers' attention, do not consider libraries as important parts of their market. Furthermore, many of the small and often short-lived houses do not bother to apply for the ISBN or to send at least one copy (the legal deposit law is impossible to enforce) to the National Library, which, in turn, cannot fulfill its mandate of maintaining the national bibliographic record.
3. During the Communist era, access to materials was limited for several obvious reasons: political control (books on the Index, limited number of books from Western countries, theft) or deliberate neglect (the progressively deteriorating storage conditions eventually made it impossible to retrieve materials). Over the years there was less and less correspondence between the card catalogs in the circulation room and the actual holdings, and as a result, students and scholars stopped using the National Library in Prague because it was increasingly unlikely that their requests would be filled. This situation was also true for current Czech or Slovak publications because of an incredible backlog in cataloging or because the books remained unshelved. Of course, in such a system there was no place for user feedback. Since then, some notable improvements-many of them due to Mellon and other initiatives-have been made in public services, such as self-service photocopying machines and, to remain with the example of the National Library, quick retrieval of those volumes that have been reshelved in the new depository. Also, readers are now used to searching the electronic OPACs or using the CD-ROM databases in the reference room. On the other hand, the backlog of uncataloged books is said to be worse than before and, with acquisitions cut back and the legal deposit not observed, the reader continues to leave the circulation desk empty-handed. The paradoxical situation is not lost on the reader: if the books are out of print or, as is more often the case these days, their price beyond what readers could
afford, going to the library may not be a solution either. So far the basic library philosophy has remained the same as it has throughout its history: although there is concern for the user, libraries are not genuinely "user driven" (only a few university libraries have adopted an open stack policy) and, as far as I can tell, user feedback is not a key source of information actively sought, analyzed, and used in setting priorities.
4. Under the policies of socialist economy, full employment was as much a characteristic of the library as it was of the rest of society. In effect, organizations hoarded labor (as they did everything else) with a sort of just-in-case philosophy in mind, since the point was to fulfill "the plan" at just about any cost and provide full benefits for all with little incentive for career development (other than through political advancement). Goods and services became known for their poor quality; the labor force became known for its extremely low productivity and its lousy work morale. More time seemed to be spent in learning how to trick the system than in working with it, to the point where micro political intrigue-the backbone of the "second" economy- competed very well with the official chain of command. The introduction of a market economy after 1990 did very little to help change this situation in a library, a state organization with no prestige. Simply put, the novelty and promise of the private sector, coupled by its high employment rate and good wages, has literally cut the library out of the competitive market for qualified labor. Between the budget cuts and the wage tables still in place, there is little space left for the new management to negotiate contracts that would attract and keep talented people in the library, certainly not those people with an interest in information technologies and data management.
5. As mentioned above, the first information technologies arrived in the state scientific and national libraries in the late 1980s. Their impact on budgets was minimal (UNESCO's ISIS is freeware) as was their effect on technical services. On the other hand, the introduction of information technologies into these libraries, in particular the CASLIN group, was the single most visible and disruptive change-a sort of wedge that split the library organizations open-that has occurred since 1990 (or, according to some, during the last century). The dust has not yet settled, but in view of our present discussion, one thing is clear already: between the Mellon funds and the initial capital investment that followed, libraries have become a significant market for the local distributors of hardware and for the library software vendors (in contrast to the relationship with publishers). But as we all know, these purchases are not one-time purchases but only the first investments into a new kind of dependency, a new external tie that the library must continue to support and at no small cost. And the cost is not just financial. The ongoing complications with the technology and the chronic delays in systems localization only
contribute to the present sluggish state of affairs and thus lend support to the ever cynical factions within the organization that knew "all along" that "the whole automation project was a mistake." Obviously, the inability to attract qualified professionals doesn't help.
What I have painted here is but part of the picture (the other part would be made up of a detailed analysis of the micropolitics that actually go on, both inside the organization and in relation to other organizations, particularly other libraries). But the above discussion should help us see how and why the libraries feel trapped in a vicious circle from which they perceive little or no way out other than continuing to battle for their place in the sun. Of course, their tactics and battle cries only reinforce the relationship of codependency as well as their internal organizational problems. And that is exactly what the public and government officials see: that these institutions need to grow up and learn what real work is before more money is poured down the drain. Needless to say, a sizable portion of the blame must be carried by a government that has made a conscious choice against long-term investment into the educational, scientific, and information sectors.
If the long-standing administrative ties between libraries and the Ministry of Culture inform and override the building of new, potentially powerful ties to other libraries, then the flip side of this codependency, its result, is a lack of experience with building and envisioning the practical outcome of a horizontally integrated (i.e., nonhierarchical) association of independent organizations. The libraries had only limited exposure to automation, and the importance of long-term strategic planning was lost on some of them. At least two other factors further reinforced this situation: the slow progress (the notorious delays mentioned above) in the implementation of the new system, which had involved what seemed like impractical and costly steps (such as working in UNIMARC), and the sluggish Internet connection. These factors suggest that at the present, a traditional understanding of basic library needs (which themselves are overwhelming) tends to take precedent over scenarios that appear much too radical and not grounded in a familiar reality. Since the on-line potential is not fully actualized, its impact is hard to imagine, and so the running of the organization in related areas continues to be predominantly reactive rather than proactive. In other words, in-house needs are not related to network solutions, especially when such solutions appear to be counterintuitive for the established (and more competitive) relationship between the libraries.
Cooperation among the libraries exists at the level of system librarians and other technical experts. Without this cooperation, the system would not have been installed, certainly not as an identical system in all four libraries. In addition (and, I should say, ironically) the CASLIN project has now received enough publicity to make it a household name among librarians. The acronym
has a life of its own, and there is a growing interest among other scientific libraries to join this "prestigious" group (that both does and does not exist). But are we waiting for a moment at which the confluence of de facto advances in technical services and a growing interest of other libraries in logistical support (involving technology and technical services) will create a palpable need for a social organization that would exist (1) above and beyond the informal network of cooperation and (2) without association with the name and funds of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (its original reason for existence)? I have heard it said that "nothing more is needed," because the fundamentals of CASLIN are now embedded in the library process itself (reference here, I gather, was to cataloging) and in the existing agreements between individual libraries on the importing and exporting of records into and from the CASLIN Union Catalogue that is to be serviced by the two national libraries. In fact, as the most recent meeting (June 1997) of the Union Catalogue group made clear, such processes are indeed where the seed of an association of CASLIN libraries lies. The import and export of records and the beginning of the Union Catalogue database have yet to materialize, but they did bring together these individuals who represented individual libraries. If these people figure out a way to run their own show and stick to it, then there is a fair chance that an organization of CASLIN libraries will take off after all.