Librarianship in Romania & Other Things
This is going to be my first column written from abroad. In the three months since my last column, I have gotten married, driven across the country, gone to ALA, attended Summer classes, gone on leave, and moved to Romania, in that order. This column is only going to be about a few of those activities, namely a little bit about ALA and a lot about the university library in Romania.
A few words about my other activities... the marriage was at a drive-up window in Las Vegas ["press bell for service", no joke!], the country is wide and beautiful and filled with $2.99 all-you-can-eat lunch specials. Summer classes ranged from glorious to sucky and made me miss my professors, and my husband got a job teaching political science at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania where I am now writing this. Email me for more details, if you wish.
Here is the brief paragraph about ALA Miami. This was my first conference and, as such, I viewed it as a training session for 'real' conferences where I would be able to get from one place to another in under an hour, would have a room free of ants and rain [at the University of Miami dorms, if you turned off the air conditioner, it would rain in your room] and could sleep past 6:30 without worrying about catching the last shuttle bus to the convention center [I am sure that my housing application specifically said that transportation would be provided -- what it did not say was that the transportation would be provided at 7 am and again at 8 am, ONLY [any time you want, as long as it's early!], this kinda sucks if you have a 2:30 meeting, and taxis are a bit out of this student's budget]. I did get to attend a lot of meetings, meet some of my national counterparts and eat even more free food than I did at WLA [free pens, too!]. All in all, it was enjoyable albeit logistically wonky and the niftiness of the Internet Room all but made up for the shuttle bus debacles. Two and a half months later, I was on a plane to Romania...
One of the first things I did in Cluj, after working like a fiend to get an email account established, was to visit the Central University Library where I met [quite by accident, I was floundering around in the huge card catalog room and a woman who noticed that I was speaking English started talking to me and wound up introducing me to...] Ana Maria Capalneanu who is a head honcho in the library automation project. She has spent a lot of time showing me around the library, explaining the circulation procedures and the status of the automation project they are working on.
Of course, my first question was "Where are the books?" since every long hallway I went down ended up at a closed door or another massive wall of card catalogs. Apparently the library still has closed stacks, due to lack of a security system and a collection that spans back nearly 400 years. To take out a book, you must fill out a slip with the title, author, volume and call number of the book as well as your own name, address and occupation -- more information than I put on my marriage license [though the library doesn't care what my mother's maiden name is]. Then you put the slip in a box. Then you wait. An hour or so later, your book is ready for you to take home. Reading books in the library is much simpler. All you have to do is fill out a form with the pertinent book information and your location in the library and the book will be brought to you within ten minutes. There are other perks to reading books in the library -- many of the books in the collection are non-circulating. The only open stack area in the library is the reference area. This is a small room behind the card catalogs which has reference books in many languages [I noticed Who's Who in Science as well as a few copies of The World Almanac in English] and a self-serve PC with a CD-ROM drive which has Compton's and Grolier's encyclopedias as well as MEDLINE and an Intro to Dialog disk.
The library uses UDC and has many helpful lists explaining what numbers your subject is likely to be under. The total collection is about 3.5 million volumes which are split between 18 branches. Each branch has its own card catalog and the main library houses the complete card catalog. I was unprepared for the sight of a card catalog holding over three million cards -- I can only imagine what the catalog at the University of Washington [an uncannily similar library w/ regards to collection size and number of branches...] must have looked like in full use before the high-tech OPAC.
With the help of support from the European Community and the SOROS Foundation [who has also graciously lent me an email account] the library is proceeding with their automation project. Eventually [six months to two years] they expect to have most of their catalog on line with terminals in the main library and the branch libraries running a VOBIS system linked with ProCite using BiblioLink. Training on these systems for faculty and students is beginning in the next few weeks. Students and faculty will also have access to terminals where they can use the CD-ROM reference tools from any of the branch libraries. As far as Internet access goes, Cluj currently has no Internet server, as near as I can tell. While there is a large movement afoot to get people email and Internet literate [there is currently a project running giving email accounts to high school students so that they can communicate with students at other high schools], there is only so much you can do without a server. Estimates of when full Internet access will come to Cluj range from a few weeks to six months. Currently, email sent from Cluj must get routed through a server in Bucharest, and there is no access to telnet, ftp or gopher. This will change, hopefully while I am still here. The SOROS Foundation is very interested in funding library projects in Romania [wrangling for a grant, anyone?] including Internet projects, so it is only a matter of time.
The last interesting tidbit from the library is a set of card drawers in the card catalog room labeled SECRET. They appear to be open to the public and so I was curious how secret they could possibly be and what the explanation was [I had examined a few of these drawers -- no one told me not to -- and found them mostly filled with what I perceived to be prosaic political texts mainly from the 40's and 50's]. When I asked Ana about them, she said they were the cards for books that had not been available to the public during the reign of Ceaucescu and were now being restored to public use yet still remaining in their SECRET drawers as a chilling note about access to information and how easily [and covertly] it can be compromised.
In short, while I had heard [probably apocryphal] horror stories about the lack of access to technology in foreign libraries, I found that while the university library has not yet completely realized the automation of their library catalog, they are well on their way.