Information Update - Spring 1998


Editor's Note: Charles Kratz, Director of the Weinberg Memorial Library, and Eugene T. Neely, Dean of Libraries at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY recently led a seminar in Riga, Latvia: sponsored by the Association of Latvian Academic Libraries (LATABA). Following is an account of their travels.
Eugene Neely and I led a seminar on "Management in Academic Libraries" in Riga, Latvia, on December 2-4. This seminar was sponsored by the Association of Latvian Academic Libraries (LATABA), whose membership includes 15 of Latvia's largest academic libraries. LATABA's purpose is to promote the optimal provision of information to Latvian science, to higher education, and to the national economy, and to unite its members and other academic and research libraries, which have similar information and research goals and tasks. Our seminar explored the place and role of the library in a democratic society. Topics included library organization, resources, operations and services; long-range planning and budgeting; approaches to library management; evaluation of libraries; library ethics; and public relations and fund raising. Librarians from academic libraries throughout Latvia and librarians from the National Library of Latvia and research libraries such as the Patent and Technology Library of Latvia attended the seminar. Funding was provided by the Soros Foundation-Latvia and the European Union.
Our first day in Riga began with an informal meeting with the Board of Directors of LATABA held in the office of Ms. Aija Janbicka, President of LATABA and Director of the Library of the Riga Technical University. After being interviewed by a reporter from Radio Riga, we had a lively discussion of various topics of general interest and concern to academic librarians, such as funding, technology, services, and education for librarianship. Ms. Janbicka then gave us a tour of her library. The Technical University Library was a hub of activities with users waiting in line to check out books and queuing up to use an Internet workstation.
In the afternoon we were given a guided walking tour of Old Riga. During the tour our guide spoke passionately of the times when Gorbachev's reforms began and it became easier to express one's views and the first anti-Soviet political organizations were formed. On August 23, 1987, the first demonstration in front of the Freedom Monument took place, and people voiced demands to annul the Stalin-Hitler Pact. In its essence, this was a demand to restore the independence of the Latvian state. Two years later, on August 23, 1989, the world view on the issue of the Baltic states was strongly influenced by the formation of a live chain around the Baltic states, reminding the world of the anniversary of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. In spring 1990, the first relatively tree elections were organized, in which 2/3 of the population voted for the Popular Front, which demanded the independence of Latvia.
Immediately after the elections, the independence of Latvia was declared. To preserve its power, the Soviet Union answered with military force. In January 1991, Soviet tanks moved in the direction of Riga, and barricades were built in the streets of Riga to stop them. These were the days when the Soviet army shot at civilians. Gene and I will never forget the moment in our tour when we reached the part of Old Riga where the barricades once stood and relived with our guide the stories of Latvian citizens, including many of our guide's friends, protecting the city at the barricades and fighting for independence. Thanks to the pressure of the world, the Soviets were forced to retreat. The parliament of Latvia officially declared its independence in August 1991, during the coup d'état in Moscow, whose organizers declared a state of emergency in the Baltic states. After the failure of the coup, Russia, giving way to international pressure, finally recognized the independence of Latvia.
Following our walking tour of Old Riga we toured the Latvian Patent and Technical Library. In the early evening we toured the Latvian Academic Library; which was to be the location for the seminal; and set up the projection equipment for Powerpoint and for the transparencies to be used in our lectures.
Gene and I, of course, spoke no Latvian except her the small formalities we had picked up from our phrase book. We found that the level of English proficiency varies greatly among the Latvians. We were indeed fortunate, therefore, that LATABA assigned as our guide and hostess Ms. Sandra Raubo, a former teacher of English and now a librarian at the Latvian Patent and Technical Library. Her English was excellent. Our seminar lectures and discussion periods were simultaneously translated, with most of the participants using transistor headsets. Once we became accustomed to the techniques involved, our language differences seemed to present few impediments to our lecturing and to an exchange of ideas and experiences with the participants. Our ease in communicating with and in relating to our Latvian colleagues grew appreciably from one day to the next. Our hosts, the LATABA Board of Directors, and the fifty-some-odd participants in the seminar were warm and hospitable and most receptive throughout our stay. Gene and I were overwhelmed by the closing ceremonies and reception, which included Latvian champagne and a veritable feast of Latvian dishes spread upon a twenty-five foot long table!
Latvian academic libraries are grappling with the many problems and challenges common to all libraries in the former Soviet states - e.g., extremely inadequate funding (especially for acquisitions), inadequate library holdings, the lack of standards (for either libraries or librarians), the refinement of national information policies and protocols, and the further technological development of national systems and networking. However, Gene and I left Riga with the sense that there are more similarities than differences between Latvian and US libraries; we are facing many of the same challenges in developing, promoting, and managing our libraries. The differences are more in magnitude than in nature. Lativa is also moving ahead with the development of a National Information Policy, This policy will promote the active involvement of Latvia in the European process of the creation of the Information Society and will provide interconnectivity of communications and interoperability of services with the European Union's information systems. Latvia's goal will be to encourage the creation of new jobs, to further progress in underdeveloped regions, and to encourage an increase in the level of life of the whole society. Wide use of global electronic services will promote small and medium businesses and libraries and provide to these enterprises potentialities equal to the possibilities of international companies.
During our visit Gene and I also had the opportunity to view the National Library's exhibition on the tragic treatment of Jews during the Nazi occupation in World War II. The exhibit captured the horrors of the German rule. By October 1941 more than 125,000 Jews from the Baltic Republics had been killed. In Riga alone, 10,600 died.
Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic states, is a beautiful and hustling metropolis, with a rich and complex history going back to 1201, when it was founded as a German fort. The population of Riga is 827,000, which represents almost one third of Latvia's total population. The city was ruled at various points in its history by Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Russia. During the Soviet era it became the industrial and commercial powerhouse of the USSR's Baltic states; thousands of Russians migrated to Riga. Even today, Russians represent 44% of its population and ethnic Latvians only 40%. (We had read of the undercurrent of tension between the Latvians and Russians, hut during our short stay this was not perceptible to us.) Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the first Parliament was elected in 1993. Our hotel, a handsomely converted fifteenth century convent, was located in Vecriga (Old Riga), the historic (and until the mid-19th century, the walled) heart of the city, with twisting and narrow streets and an eclectic array of architectural styles, representative of the many centuries and the multiple cultural influences on Riga's history. Old Riga presents a colorful and charming blend of the old and the new. We were particularly struck by how many people, most of the quite young, were talking on cellular phones as they walked down the cobblestone streets. The five days passed quickly, We regretted that we were unable to extend our stay, exploring other parts of Riga and Latvia, visiting museums and other cultural attractions. Toward the end of our visit, Christmas trees and other signs of the holidays began appearing. This was wonderful to see for in Communist times, Christmas could not be celebrated in public bur was restricted to the privacy of one's home.
Charles Kratz aid Eugene Neely
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