Macedonia National and University Library’s Digital Revolution

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

A quiet revolution is happening in the National and University Library (NUL) in Skopje, in the tiny Republic of Macedonia. Increasingly and inexorably, it is augmenting its print collections with digital offerings, in line with international developments and practices. The wider public now has unprecedented access online to a wealth of bibliographic materials and primary sources. We met Žaklina Gjalevska, M.Sc., Senior Librarian – Head of Sector Virtual Library of Macedonia, Miodrag Dadasovic, M.Sc., Library Adviser – Head of the Referral Centre, and Aleksandar Stojanov, a system analyst/programmer.

Zaklina Gjalevska: During the 1970s and 1980s, NUL was involved in developing offline applications for cataloguing serial publications and for recording the data of Macedonian research institutions and the work of researchers. These proved highly successful. In late 1980s NUL and several other Macedonian institutions adopted the former Yugoslavia’s shared cataloguing system, which later evolve into the COBISS system. With the dissolution of Yugoslavia this system ceased operating, but in 1996 NUL and several libraries decided to implement COBISS again and use it locally for the automation of their work and building their online public access catalogues (OPACs). One of the reasons for choosing COBISS was its ability to support the Cyrillic script.

When MANU (the Macedonian Academy for Sciences and Arts) came on board, bibliographic databases of participating libraries were connected into a library system, later named COBISS.MK, and an online union bibliographic database COBIB.MK was launched. COBISS, as an organizational model for developing the national library information system with shared cataloguing as well as software application, is used in more than 40 Macedonian libraries and encompasses the holdings of mostly public libraries in Macedonia as well as NUL’s.

Regional integration with the systems of Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina – a total of 700 libraries – followed. Egged on by the Ministry of Culture, starting in 2007, specialized and academic libraries in Macedonia have begun to join the effort and current research is added daily. Budgetary constraints and a pervasive lack of staff are still holding back the majority of these institutions and several have left the system.

Users at home now have free access to and can search online library catalogues through COBISS/OPAC, renew the loan period of borrowed materials, reserve items, make interlibrary loan requests, and view their accounts. Libraries which joined the system saw a rise in both the number of users and in the level of user interest, rendering them information hubs.

Aleksandar Stojanov: The digitisation of medieval manuscripts in Macedonia dates back to 1999. More than 70 such illuminated treasures were captured on microfilm as well as digital artefacts. The project naturally evolved from in-house CDs to an online Website in cooperation with PMF. A mobile app is in the cards. New materials of a higher quality are now made available to the public via a digital library portal which boasts a customized Macedonian interface. Cutting edge scanning equipment now buttresses this 3-year program.

In a striking break with tradition, the programming code developed in NUL will be published as open source in order to allow programmers and developers from the public to modify and improve it, thereby alleviating the nagging staff shortage. Such community contributions are solicited in hackathons which will hopefully attract mainly students. There are also bilateral attempts, such as the digitisation and cataloguing on the NUL premises of 2700 Ottoman, Persian and Arab historic documents which will be shortly added online (as part of the Yunus Emre Institute’s Reconstruction of the Cultural Heritage of the Balkans project, initiated and financially supported by the Central Bank of Turkey). There is close cooperation with the National Library of Serbia, Europeana (the all-European online portal), World Digital Library, Wikimedia, OCLC, Internet Archive (whose software we use), and other national libraries, from Bavaria and Hungary to London. There are problems with the digitisation of Cyrillic script, though, and this temporary obstacle is holding back several initiatives.

Scholars and researchers now work with the digitised versions of manuscripts because they afford them higher resolution and the ability to zoom in. It’s a win-win situation: the originals are preserved even as the academic community – and all Internet users – are granted unlimited, around the clock access.

Miodrag Dadasovic: Online databases have been available in Macedonia on the premises of the NUL since 1987, with the introduction of the Dialog databases and databanks. Many other information services were accessible as well, including Science Citation Index and Journal Citation Reports (JCR) and several encyclopaedias on networked CD-ROMs.

In 2003, the Ministry of Culture established MeL (Macedonian eLibraries) with around 80 member libraries today. In collaboration with EiFL (Electronic Information for Libraries), a consortium that provides affordable access to commercial e-journals for academic and research libraries in developing countries, MeL secured access to the EBSCO databases. These are used by the entire academic community and several government Ministries and are available to all the member libraries and their patrons. The databases are accessible to users throughout the country in the various sites of the MeL member libraries, including many public libraries and NGOs, as they are IP-authenticated. But universities, members of faculty, librarians, and employees at the Ministries can access them from other locations with usernames and passwords. Home access to these databases is denied in line with the licensing terms of the providers.

Owing to budgetary constraints, databases from other providers – like Sage, Emerald, Cambridge and Oxford Journals, and SCOPUS – are no longer available. Various member-libraries in the consortium have access to HINARI, JSTOR, the World Bank eLibrary, Clinical Key, Elgar, New England Journal of Medicine, Oxford Textbook of Medicine and others priceless resources. Usage has increased dramatically over the last 13 years: from several thousand queries a year to hundreds of thousands of searches and tens of thousands of downloaded documents. In a country of 2 million inhabitants and several thousand users, these are impressive figures. I don’t have a demographic breakdown of the user community, but I believe that most of them are students and researchers. Users are kept informed of the databases and trained and skilled in their usage, including via dedicated and very popular Webinars, training sessions, librarian skilling, and on-demand visits and presentations. We rely on the local contact of MeL, usually a librarian, to disseminate this information, but we reach out to our users, mainly to students.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

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