WWW Administration - Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld

Local and national archiving of electronic publications

Dr. J.-F. Jauslin, Director of the Swiss National Library

1. Situation

The Swiss situation regarding the preservation of information is quite special. The density of its network of libraries is greater than the average of many other Western European countries and a large amount of information is produced. These two phenomena are all the more remarkable since several criteria hamper this development considerably. In the first place, the market is extremely restricted: on a European or world level, Switzerland's 7 million inhabitants form only a small group of people interested in information in any form. To this must be added the fact that in the literary field especially, but also concerning culture in general, the diversity of languages and mentalities means that the market is divided into many sectors. The French-speaking part of Switzerland hardly knows what is happening in the German-speaking part. The German speakers know very little about what happens in other linguistic regions. Ticino, the Italian-speaking state, is perhaps the part of the country which is the most influenced by French and German-speaking cultures, but cannot manage to make its own output known in the other Swiss regions. Each linguistic area imports a large amount of foreign culture, the German-speaking part from Germany, the French-speaking part from France, and Ticino from Italy. It is however interesting to see that each of these regions is showing a growing interest in translations of titles produced in Switzerland. As we can see, linguistic barriers play a considerable role in our country. One common point among all these regions concerns the cultural and information invasion by the Anglo-Saxon countries, the US in particular.

Switzerland has not distinguished itself in the field of information management. Its network of libraries has grown up without the basis of high level training. No university has a chair in information management. Training in library and information science is provided by the Ecole suisse d'information documentaire in Geneva (E.S.I.D.) or by the Association suisse des bibliothŠques et des biblioth‚caires (BBS). Some postgraduate courses enable university graduates to be trained in the information field. There is very little activity in the field of research, and that which does take place is generally confined to very specialised university institutes well outside the library world.
It is therefore not really surprising that library developments have concentrated more on computing and technical advances rather than those in the documentation field.

2. The situation in the Swiss National Library

The situation of the Swiss National Library (SNL) in Bern must be seen in the above context. The library was founded in 1895, with a restricted mandate since its task is to collect Helvetica. Nonetheless, it played a deciding role in the library world during the first half of this century and was even cited as a model within Switzerland and abroad. Several of its directors were very active both nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, from the second half of the 1960s onwards, the library failed to move forwards and introduce automation into its management practices, and was even less concerned by the arrival of new media. Lacking resources, and falling steadily into oblivion, the library no longer played the role normally expected of a national library i.e. being a leader for other libraries in the country. Thus in 1990, all the SNL's collections, around three million works, plus the national union catalogue of foreign titles held in Switzerland, around six million bibliographic records, were still managed completely by hand. Needless to say, management of electronic media and publications had not even been considered within the library. I should specify that despite its role as a national library, the SNL has never had legal deposit and obtains items from publishers only via agreements.

3. Reorganisation of the Swiss National Library

At the beginning of the 1990s the Swiss government decided to modernise and totally reorganise the Swiss National Library. A new law was quickly voted by Parliament which defined an innovative policy for the preservation of information in Switzerland. Without completely altering the initial text of the law from 1911, Parliament extended the mandate of the Swiss National Library to cover all media. This means that the library must henceforth collect, preserve and make available to the public not only printed information, but also information produced on all media, including electronic publications. We should point out however that there is still no law of legal deposit on a national level, as there is no constitutional basis for it, and that the SNL must undertake to acquire these items without any special legal facilities. However, it has been accepted that the SNL cannot carry out this work alone and it is foreseen that the library may delegate certain tasks to other institutions in the country.

4. Switzerland's electronic heritage


In the audio-visual field, i.e. everything which corresponds to visual and sound media, in particular fixed images (photographs) and moving images (film and video), it must be admitted that little has been done in the area of preservation. The main producer, the Soci‚t‚ Suisse de Radiot‚l‚vision (SSR), has of course invested large amounts of money in the storage and preservation of its own broadcasts, though it has not been able to save the majority. The Cin‚mathŠque suisse in Lausanne holds a very large collection of films, especially foreign films, but has few resources for restoration or preservation on a large scale. The Fonoteca nazionale in Lugano is hardly able to fulfil the first of its mandates which is to take care of commercial sound output. It has certainly not the resources to take on other important sectors such as the country's radio output. Despite being heavily subsidised from public funds, the Cin‚mathŠque and the Fonoteca are private institutions since the Swiss Confederation has never wished to involve itself heavily in this sector.

In 1991, when the law on radio and television was revised, Parliament was preparing to add an article specifying that the federal government could request the free deposit of any quality broadcast. A member of parliament inquired which institution would be able to take the responsibility for this mandate should the article be introduced. The National Library was asked to study the problem and to see what solutions might be available. A study began in 1991 in close co-operation with the Federal Archives, the Cin‚mathŠque, the Fonoteca and the Soci‚t‚ Suisse de Radiot‚l‚vision. Its first goal was to determine the current state of audio-visual collections in Switzerland. The results showed a catastrophic situation: each day Switzerland was losing important documents through lack of a national policy and adequate resources. In the economic climate which has reigned since the beginning of the 1990s it was impossible to take the most clearly appropriate measures immediately, such as the creation of a national institute for audio-visual archives for example. For want of a better solution, at the end of 1995 an association was set up which brings together the main institutions which are active in the field. The goal of the association is to bring together resources and expertise which are scattered today, and above all to set up a co-ordinated plan to save the country's audio-visual heritage. This is however only a small step which on its own will not allow us to catch up on the time Switzerland has lost in this area.

Other electronic publications

As one might expect, there is no co-ordinated policy to tackle the problem of preservation of electronic publications which are not directly linked to audio-visual media. Many Swiss libraries have been influenced by the market and by user demand and have acquired electronic media, mostly CD-ROM. These are foreign titles for the most part as Swiss publishers have not led the way in this field.

The lack of co-ordination is such that the libraries of the country have not yet managed to set up a programme to digitise their collections. There is a great risk of duplication of effort, plus of course the danger that institutions diverge in their choice of technologies. The start of the projects launched by the G7 for information management aroused a great deal of interest in Switzerland. The first question to be resolved concerned how our country could participate in the different projects proposed. In the field of libraries, the Swiss National Library was designated 'Focal Point' with the mandate to follow activities in this field very closely. However, even if theoretically there is a great interest in these projects, in practice one must note that the practical steps are currently very restricted.

Remaining within the field of electronic publications, it is clear that the production of information using these has multiplied especially in the private sphere, thanks to tools such as the World Wide Web (WWW). As yet however no-one is responsible for ensuring the durability of this information even though some of it certainly deserves to be preserved more or less long term as a reflection of our current preoccupations.

As we have seen, the Swiss National Library has not been able to move rapidly into this field since it has been too pre-occupied by reorganising its own traditional tasks and activities. No national policy has as yet been defined in this field.

Information data bases

The new law about the SNL indicates that it should compile a catalogue of the information data bases produced in the country, but until now the library has not been able to undertake this task. It is interesting to see that most commercial information providers are very reticent about this even though one might imagine that they would find it useful to be officially listed. Fears of unfair trading allied with mistrust of the authorities are more influential than the thought of the publicity provided by such an index.

5. A federal model for storage

It is clear that only a model in which responsibility is shared can be suggested in a country with such a federal character as Switzerland. If we manage to convince the politicians that expert management of information is one of the next century's strategic challenges, we could envisage an information management system with the following structure:

In the first place, it will be necessary to mandate a specific institution with the task of national co-ordination. The SNL could take on this role if it receives the appropriate resources. However, contrary to the situation in other countries, the SNL cannot be the only institution responsible for preserving and making available to the public all types of media. The SNL's role would be limited to co-ordinating activities in the country and to commissioning specific institutions to conserve different media. These institutions would be responsible for defining standards in their specialised fields, in co-operation with international organisations and standards. Other institutions in the country could then consult the current standards either via the SNL or via the institution responsible for managing the particular medium in question. The SNL would also be responsible for checking that all media be covered by this structure. This model clearly requires a great deal of co-ordination. We would need to convince a wide variety of authorities before defining areas of activity and identifying the appropriate institutions. Such a model will never see the light of day unless the Swiss political authorities at all levels are convinced by its validity and support it wholeheartedly. We hope that people at a national level will become aware of the fact that information is as critical resource as money.

6. Conclusion

Switzerland is very behind in the field of management of electronic information and publications. Until now no measures have been taken to preserve information stored on new media and make it available. The involvement of information professionals and information producers will not be sufficient to set up co-ordinated management of the new media. Swiss political authorities at all levels need to become aware of the necessity to set up a distributed model adapted to the decentralised structure of this country. One institution, e.g. the Swiss National Library, could nonetheless be responsible for co-ordinating these activities.

Sekretariat der Bibliothek der Universität Bielefeld