Maria Sliwinska
University Library, Torun (Poland)

New Services at Polish and East European Libraries

Before starting this presentation I would like to thank the organisers-the University Library in Bielefeld, the British Council and Monika Segbert of the European Commission-who invited me to this prestigious conference. I feel very honoured to be asked to represent Central and Eastern European countries. I hope my knowledge about library services in this region is not already outdated. As you know better than I, the situation is changing constantly and extremely rapidly, so news even a few weeks old may already have been dated. I have the privilege of being the first speaker in this session and will avoid the potential of boring you by repeating what my colleagues from more advanced libraries may have reported.

Many new services in our libraries are currently based on electronic resources. But this is not exclusively true, as I believe that traditional, paper-based information sources will continue to exist and will continue to be used for a very long time, in parallel to the new digital ones.
What are the differences between our services and those in the West? Briefly speaking, we are following your lead, but are still a distance away from achieving the same kind of integration as has been worked on in the West. Our libraries have been forced to work-at least for the last fifty years-in an inefficient political and economic climate. Libraries and information centres depend on sufficient resources to reach the proper development required for the Information Age. The difficulty of resources is compounded-using only Polish statistics as an example-by the fact that the number of viable libraries is actually decreasing, as you can see in table 1.
In general, significant progress can be observed in the rate of technological implementation. As illustrated in table 2, there is an amazing growth in library automation and technical development within our libraries. Now let us ask, from the librarians' point of view: "What new services can we point out at our libraries?"

Traditional Services / Much Improved

Let me start by describing some very well known traditional services, which have nevertheless been significantly improved. We still collect printed books that are requested by our readers. What is new is that-after the 1989 revolution-there is no longer restrictions to obtain such titles like "Open Society" by Carl Popper, or "1984" by George Orwell. Any book published clandestinely abroad or known as an underground "samizdat" title (that used to be published in the 70's and 80's in the country) can also be purchased. Our only restriction is a financial one; …and space. But there is no a single library in the world capable of buying every published title. And our collections development and book selection is only restricted by budgets and handling capabilities, no others.

Vendors and Agents

We subscribe to variety journals according to readers' demands (and, again, our financial possibilities). What is new in serials acquisition, is that we have started purchasing through foreign, long well-known in the West, intermediating vendors like Swets, EBSCO, or Langer und Springer, in addition to domestic vendors (who have, themselves, significantly changed their level of service.) Today, journals are delivered to our readers more rapidly than before and the runs are rather complete. Vendors are selected because of the price they offer as well as for their value-added services, which are increasingly important.

What are these value added services? There can be:

- electronic copies of journals to which we subscribe. (These are offered by Swets, Lange und Springer, and EBSCO; but also by smaller publishers like The Institute of Physics Publishing.)

- document delivery services. (These are, for the time being, not heavily used in our countries, primarily because of the price. To our way of thinking, we still feel more secure with the accession of full titles, "just in case," rather than relying exclusively on providing access to individual paper "just in time". But, clearly, JIT services are thought to be increasingly attractive and are seriously considered by our universities.)
In Poland, the Committee of Scientific Research (KBN) in Poland is where financial budgetary decisions are made. The KBN has prepared a report, sponsored by the EC, "Background Study for the Planned Governmental Program: Development of the document Delivery Systems for Science and Education". This has determined some funding directions that affect our libraries.

- Databases are available at our libraries mainly on CD-ROMs. CD-ROM networks are, however, becoming increasingly popular. The availability of CD-ROMs networks will allow our users to reach databases from their own work-stations. Less popular in our countries are the on-line services. (The reason for this is probably attributable to price, still not entirely reliable network connectivity, and problems using foreign databases efficiently and economically from a distance.) Only MEDLINE has been used regularly and for many years. It, recently has been offered to our countries on a gratis basis. This is not only greatly appreciated, but allows us to channel the saved subscription fees into other important purchase needs for our libraries. Libraries are providing access to some popular databases like First Search from OCLC. This service was tested among Polish libraries last year. (But because of the significant amount of money necessary to subscribe to this service at the national level, funds were not approved by the KBN.)

There are also trials for using some important databases like INSPEC on a national level, to take advantage of the reduced price than can be obtained by any individual library.

Our users are also interested in the American JSTOR project, recently offered to a limited number of our libraries.

Some libraries like The Estonian National Library are not able to deliver all the required specialised services for their clients, so such libraries have opted to lease library space to western organisations like CESIN (the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network) who provide access to databases, instead.

Catalog and Classification Systems

Very important services are based on library catalogues, where users can find information about what is available in the library. Traditional card catalogues still predominate, although several libraries are in the process of installing electronic card catalog systems. It was the custom in Polish libraries-as in Germany-to use our own classification systems, based on philosophical knowledge classification schema. This is the reason that there is no single classification system as there is in American or English libraries, where typically, the Dewey or the Library of Congress classifications were used. UDC classification was the system most popular in our countries. But the bigger research libraries often used and developed their own classification schemes. In the era of computerised catalogues this is a real disaster. But progress can be seen.

Just a few years ago, (since 1992) The Mellon Foundation awarded important grants to over one hundred libraries in Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and Poland. With these grants, libraries began purchasing and installing integrated library software. Last year two Baltic countries (Latvia and Estonia) were also awarded grants by the Mellon Foundation. Lithuania, who didn't succeed in qualifying for a Mellon grant, this year decided to invest on its own. Governmental resources have been budgeted for the modernization of sixteen Lithuanian libraries.

This brings us to a sort of parity with the West. CEE libraries are dealing with the same automation vendors as are common in the West: Aleph, VTLS, Innopac, Tinlib, Horizon, Voyager. And we have the same problems with system vendors as Western libraries do. Libraries that purchased integrated automated systems primarily decided to adopt and customize the Library of Congress Subject Headings (sometimes through the French RAMEAU-Poland facility). A user can now have the same retrieval structure at all libraries in the country. Unfortunately there are still not enough records in our catalogues to make a serious critical mass. Individual Libraries try to improve the situation in variety ways.

The National Library in Prague scanned millions of catalogue cards, and is busy creating proper records from them. Polish libraries started by creating Authority Files. And those who purchased VTLS have started co-operating in the cataloging effort, gradually joining other libraries with different systems (Horizon, Innopac). This is not easy because of differences in format and inconsistent interfaces, to say nothing of simply erradicating input and typing mistakes. Buying systems that are oriented for American market also takes some localization. But the cataloging situation is also improving. A central union catalogue for all of Poland is being planned. We hope that-thanks to these kinds of efforts-our readers will receive the same excellent quality catalogue services, locally, in a near future, that is available internationally.


Prepared bibliographies are also a service provided by our libraries. Some of these are already accessible on Internet. Just at my library at Nicholas Copernicus University, we exclusively prepare a few important bibliographies such as an international "Polish-German Cultural Relations" bibliography or the bibliography of "The History of Pomeranian and Baltic Countries."


Another area of new services is in promoting exhibits and instructional displays. Our libraries have traditionally taken this to be a task of some importance, and have consistently mounted numerous and interesting exhibits. In the past, such exhibits had to be approved by a censor. In the new and open climate, we organise any exhibition we find interesting for our users. The only justification is one of merit, not politics. Some exhibits are obtained from other countries or libraries in the region, and beyond, and we often send ours in exchange.

Additionally, there are exhibits of books to accompany lectures or meetings organised at our libraries by publishing houses. These are primarily aimed at book promotion, but can be interesting in their own right. Some years ago, it was difficult to easily buy a book. Now, when restrictions about purchasing no longer exist, even a good book needs promotion.


After our political changes and the introduction of a free-market economy, special services are required. One of the most important, these days, is business information. Dedicated business resources are developing slowly. We still can't yet dream about the kinds of services I saw at the new business branch of the New York Public Library, where local business people can use hundreds of computers to search for information, have available dozens of seminar rooms in which to organise small meetings, or have available qualified library consultants and specialists in case of need. But, again, slow progress can be visible in our region. Libraries are beginning by using all the available forms of delivering information to business patrons.

In Poland the most advanced business center is in the Public Library in Szczecin, where local business is very active and interested in international co-operation with Germany, England, and other countries. In such an environment, unique information is required, and a unique demand on timeliness and research is made on the library. Unfortunately, relatively few businessmen yet recognize the potential value libraries have for their success. But we know that such specialized services are gradually becoming more and more important. After the first years of being preoccupied with the startup phase of a business, business executives are beginning to realize it's time to develop it and make it more competitive. To reach this higher level of development not only information, but also techniques of obtaining and managing such information, are required. This can be most easily found at libraries, since the professional "information broker" is not yet a career of choice within most of our countries.

Patent information is connected with, and is helpful for the business information centres. In Poland, patent information is treated as a special service provided by the Polish Patent Office, rather than integrated within normal library networks. Recently, however, in a joint project involving the Polish Patent Office and some libraries, Regional Patent Centres have been formed. Such centres collect patent information (Polish data in traditional, printed form; and foreign data on CD-ROMs). These regional centres also collect and make available a wide variety of standards, which are one of the most popular source of requests from users.


Another specialised service can be identified in "ecological information." This is particularly important for countries in which heavy industry has strongly-polluted the environment, as is often the case in CEE countries. The primary source for such services is The Regional Environmental Centre (REC) which is located near Budapest, Hungary. Co-operation on an international level is proceeding well, thanks to the formation of grassroots organizations like The International Organisation for Information Specialists, which came into existence in 1993. One of the first products of an international collaboration of IOIS "chapters" (or beginning chapters, since some countries are still experiencing difficulty legalizing and establishing organizations similar to "non-profit" organizations in the West) was the publication of an EcoDirectory, providing information about Environmental collections and libraries with significant environmental collections in seven CEE countries. This directory was published in traditional (printed) form, but also exists in an electronic version. An electronic IOIS discussion list was created to help solve problems in which easy communications could provide some solutions, as well as to facilitate an active flow of information. The REC is undertaking to expand and keep updated the digital version of the EcoDirectory, a task that seems well worth the effort. IOIS chapters were formed out of co-operation with Western experts, an US-AID grant, and the involvement of the World Wildlife Fund-US.

European Documentation Centres

There also exist in several selected CEE libraries, what are called "European Documentation Centres." These Centres collect important materials about the EU: European Union legal acts, proceedings, etc. which are very important at this time when our countries are preparing for integration with European Union. More and more of them depend on access to the electronic discussion list "Euro-doc", where they can find help finding specific documents or information for their clients.

Network Access

Only a relatively few libraries in our region have been able to organise Internet access for their patrons with public-access Internet connections as a special service. Among these is my library at UMK. This network cluster is, in fact, one of the biggest in the country (with 12 work-stations). While it is primarily intended for accessing Internet information resources, the workstations are also equipped with Microsoft Office, giving users easy access to word processing or spread-sheet functions.)

This is not entirely a perfect solution, because there are always long queues of students waiting for available computers. If I were to compare our situation with the availability, per capita, of similar public-access computers in England we would compare very badly, indeed. But this is merely a money problem. Our libraries are not sufficiently wealthy to buy more computers for students. But since we must do our best, we are, instead, planning to provide a lot of plug-in capabilities in the Library extension building, to let users use their own lap-tops. If our Internet connectivity costs became prohibitive, we plan to change the small computer cluster into a pay-for-use "cyber-café".


The Library print-shop is another new service available. Our print shop was made possible by a TEMPUS grant, with which we were able to purchase two laser printers necessary to make on site printing services available for our users. We also purchased a scanner with the Library's own resources, to augment the flexibility of the service.

At the Pharmacological Library in Cluj-Napoca, in Romania, Sally Wood-Lamont proved that individual student use could justify a self-sustaining printing facility. It has now been functioning for several months as an entirely new service for users. Training and Education Since electronic information requires specific new skills, some patrons (especially those more comfortable with traditional research methods) feel understandably lost. For this reason, they tend not to use at all, or to use ineffectively available electronic resources. To remedy this situation libraries are delivering many educational courses and user-directed training. There are individual classes on how to best utilize CD-ROMs, how to search patents on-line, or even how to search online library catalogues efficiently.

Libraries also support and convene conferences. At one such, organised by my Library in 1993 around the topic of regional business, we invited not only business leaders, but also professors from the University. The topics of presentation ranged from providing advice about how to prepare a business plan to a lecturer from the UK explaining why European Documentation Centres were important.

The worldwide web

Another new service can be identified in the almost geometric growth of www home pages that have been created and mounted by individual libraries. Such Internet www sites are visited by many scholars and researchers from all over the world.
Sometimes the work is entirely oriented to scholarly pursuits; others for more private matters. A person from my Library has a particularly unique name. She was "found" by her long-lost family which had emigrated to the United Kingdom during the WWII, thanks to our home page. This is, perhaps, not an anticipated benefit of this new service but it is a useful one and points to both the community-building aspect of Internet communication and the knowledge we have to face that we don't actually know how, and in what ways, the services we are developing today will prove helpful to people within our communities.

I hope that in this rapid survey, I have presented a useful picture of the new services in which our libraries are engaged, as well as existing ones that have been significantly improved because of the greater degree of autonomy we experience, the local and international cooperation from which we benefit, and the extraordinary dedication of individuals who are able to see the promise of technology and education.

Economic Model

I should conclude by observing that the majority of library services is still free in our countries. In a free-market economy, our libraries have just started charging fee for some of them, as have our peer institutions in the West. In general, however, I hope we do not go too far down this road. For the patrons of our CEE libraries especially, the open and free access to information is what they most need, and greatly deserve. It would be a shame if the progress of technology and access to information became restricted again, this time for economic reasons that came as a part of the social, managerial, and political revolution we are undergoing.

Table 1

Type of library





- scientific libraries





- public libraries





-special libraries

· professional literature

  • leisure reading materials
  • professional/ leisure
  • prison libraries
















- scientific information centres





- school and pedagogical libraries





Table 2

Electronic publications development




First full database

« 1968

1976 »

Lenin’s text

Possible to search because of political reason only


« 1971

1990 »

First Polish Internet host


« 1972

1992 »

Experimental “Dialog”


« 1973

1992 »

Polish LEX


« 1985

1994 »

First Polish CD-ROM


« 1992

1993 »

First Polish home page “Institute of Physics, Warsaw University

Encyclopaedia multimedia

« 1994

1995 »

First Polish multimedia encyclopaedia

From that any product invented and advertised abroad is known and in use almost immediately e.g. Java.