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Pushing the boundaries of accessibility – Governmental efforts on ensuring equal access to information to rural library users (1997–2007)

Máté Tóth
p. 85-110

Résumés

En 1997, une nouvelle loi culturelle est adoptée, incluant, entre autre, un accès public aux bibliothèques. Basé sur cette loi, le système documentaire hongrois a été développé à travers plusieurs plans stratégiques successifs. Ce projet a pour but de développer l’accessibilité et de faciliter l’avènement de la société de l’information. La période stratégique 2003-2007arrive à sa fin et nous sommes maintenant en mesure de passer en revue les tâches accomplies. Le propos de cet article est de présenter un panorama du développement stratégique des bibliothèques hongroises entre 1997 et 2007, et d’en dessiner les principes de base durant cette période.

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Texte intégral

The author wishes to thank prof. Ragnar Audunson of Oslo University College for his input on the previous draft of this paper, as well as the colleagues at Hungarian Library Institute for providing all the necessary data and Ilona Feketéné Birkus for peer-reviewing the paper’s English.

Introduction

1Public libraries are the core institutions of the information society. According to the IFLA/FAIFE (International Federation of Library Association and Institutions / Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression) Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom librarians believe that human beings have a fundamental right to access to expressions of knowledge, creative thought and intellectual activity and to express their views publicly. Librarians also believe that commitment to intellectual freedom is a core responsibility for the library and information profession. (FAIFE, 1999)

2The public library system provides all users with the widest variety of information and knowledge at all places where human beings live. Every word of this statement has great importance.

  • Public libraries provide people with information that means that their responsibility is not just to acquire, preserve and make content available. They have to offer these contents to people through maintaining relevant services. However in today’s digital environment it means ensuring access to both the material and to the technical facilities that allows reading and creating content. (e. g. computers, CD/DVD players, microfilm readers etc.) Public libraries must also ensure trained staff that are ready to identify and satisfy the local users’ information needs.

  • The system serves every user. “The services of the public library are provided on the basis of equality of access for all, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, nationality, language or social status.” (UNESCO, 1994)

  • According to the mission of public libraries they shall acquire, preserve and make available the widest variety of materials, reflecting the plurality and diversity of society. (FAIFE, 1999) “Collections and services should not be subject to any form of ideological, political or religious censorship, nor commercial pressures.” (UNESCO, 1994) It is only the public library system that is able to handle all kinds of information containers (both digital and paper, online and offline, audio-visual or written etc. material).

  • The public library serves as the local gateway to knowledge. People must be provided with services at their local community. That’s why public library services have to be physically available to all members of the community, so they should be located at the nearest possible place to the users’ homes.

The last statement contains one of the biggest challenges in the Hungarian public library system. The smaller the population of a village, the more difficult it is to ensure equal access to all kinds of publicly available information. Rural inhabitants must be able to access the same documents and information services as the citizens of towns. Bridging the gap between the rural and municipal library services has been in the lime-light of the strategic development of the Hungarian library system for almost 10 years. This study is intended to review the Hungarian governmental efforts on ensuring equal access to information for all citizens regardless of where they live. Although the project aimed at directly addressing this issue was launched in 2003, for better understanding the study also introduces those developments of the library system that cleared the ground for the realisation of the project.

3As the project targeted the geographically disadvantaged regions, the results can be assessed only in a geographical context. We assumed that the project influenced mainly the regions where geographical constraints tied the development of library supply. These are the regions where the percentage of smaller villages is higher. We aimed to explore if there was direct connection between the geographically disadvantaged regions and the spreading of the system introduced by the presented project. (The meaning of “disadvantaged” in the context of the village library supply is different from a definition used to describe the main socio-cultural patterns.)

4Both from historical and socio-cultural aspects a lot of similarities can be found with other Central and Eastern European countries, and in particular the Visegrad states (Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic). There have been similar debates and strategies in these countries around the same issues of providing access therefore the results can be interpreted in a wider context.

5For the basic figures I extracted data from two statistical databases. The basic problems of the village library supply and the results of the project were described using the Hungarian Library Statistics and the Ministry of Home Affairs’ database on local municipalities. The socio-cultural context was drawn up with the use of Caidi’s publications (2003, 2005) based on in-depth interviews conducted with Central and Eastern European library policy-makers. For the conclusions I used interviews with 26 village decision-makers in 6 small regions conducted by the colleagues of the Hungarian Library Institute between October 2006 and July 2007.

The transition of the Hungarian library system (1997)

6In 1997 a new Cultural Act was enacted which included, among other things, public library provision. It is often referred to as the transition of the library system. The first Hungarian law concerning the mission and services of libraries, museums and archives was passed in 1929 and during the socialist era the organisation and operation of the library network was further regulated. By the early 1990s it was clear that library legislation required a complete overhaul. Act CXL of 1997 set the legal framework for the new library system, incorporating the following concepts:

  • libraries are the core institutions of the information society;

  • the library system is a prerequisite for the free flow of information;

  • all citizens have the right to access services provided by the libraries which are “open to all users”;

  • the development of the library system and national library services must be financed by the state. (Hegyközi, 2006)

Prior to this act libraries were regarded much more as vehicles of culture, while due to the needs of a socialist regime there was less emphasis on mediation of information and on helping people to access all kinds of material they needed to be well informed.

7The 1997 CXL Act stated that the provision of local and county library services was a compulsory task of the local authorities. This task can be carried out:

  • by maintaining a public library by the municipality (village, town or town with county rights), or

  • by maintaining a public library in association with other municipalities, or

  • by ordering a public library service (Act, 1997).

8The Act introduced the term “libraries open to all users”, encompassing various types of libraries whose services can be accessed and used by every citizen, and set out the criteria required for a library to be included in this category. These criteria emphasise focusing on the services provided to users; libraries that are registered as “open to all users” benefit from additional state funding for development (including collection development), ICT infrastructure and the continuous training of librarians. The Act also includes provisions for the national document delivery system and other central services and sets out the organisation and financing of the entire library system. (Hegyközi, 2006)

The geographical challenge for public library supply

9After the transition local municipalities were formed. Getting back the independence, the autonomy, and the right that elected governing bodies may decide on the village-related issues led to a lot of undersized municipalities. In 2007 the population of Hungary was approximately 10.2 million inhabitants of which more than 3.3 million people lived in villages. The total number of local municipalities is 3.152, of which 2.854 settlements are villages. The average population-size of villages is 1.166. However, mere numbers do not reflect the real diversity. In fact the smallest Hungarian municipality has only 14(!) residents, and there are 109 villages where the total number of population does not exceed 100. There are 1024 Hungarian villages where less then 500 inhabitants live and we have altogether 1703 settlements with less than 1000 residents. Moreover the smallest town is as small as an average village: Pálháza has only 1.178 inhabitants.

10This unbalanced distribution of inhabitants originates from two factors :

1. Different settlement types vary according to the main features of the landscape. While bigger settlements are typical of the Great Hungarian Plain, the smallest villages and towns are prevalent in the hilly Transdanubia and North-East Hungary.

2. After the years of “artificial” – and top-down controlled – cooperation the villages wanted to get more independence. In the years of transition all local communities endeavoured to form a municipality. It seems that they were not fully aware of it being less efficient. That’s why nearly all settlements of Hungary are municipalities as well. Therefore, we can find unbelievably small independent local municipalities. Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the regional differences of average population sizes of villages (towns, cities and the capital are not included).

11The average population size of the settlements is even lower in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic. (These countries also faced the need for establishing small independent local governments in the transition period, while the landscape lacks a great plain where bigger settlements could have been formed.)

Figure 1

Region

County

Average population size of villages

Western Transdanubia

Győr-Moson-Sopron

1017

648

Vas

515

Zala

508

Southern Transdanubia

Baranya

510

696

Somogy

729

Tolna

1150

Central Transdanubia

Fejér

2019

1245

Komárom-Esztergom

1685

Veszprém

739

Central Region

Pest

3071

3071

Northern Hungary

Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén

960

1096

Heves

1603

Nógrád

1006

Northern Great Plain

Hajdú-Bihar

1885

1642

Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok

2234

Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg

1396

Southern Great Plain

Bács-Kiskun

1927

2006

Békés

1972

Csongrád

2194

Figure 2: Average population size of villages in 2007 (number of village inhabitants / number of villages)

Figure 2: Average population size of villages in 2007 (number of village inhabitants / number of villages)

12The challenge is to make library provision more effective while the local municipalities’ autonomy must not be narrowed, regardless of the size of the villages. The environment suggests that the best solution is a strong centralization of resources and a widespread decentralization of services that could guarantee access to publicly available information to everyone. It is clear that the smallest villages are unable to maintain their own public libraries on an acceptable level. The only way is cooperation based on autonomous decisions of the governing bodies of the villages. They should be offered a stimulating environment that ends up in decisions on jointly run public libraries and ordering information services from other libraries.

13The task of decentralisation of public library services can be accomplished through making settlements interested in cooperation and in the development of public library services along common goals. On the other hand, centralized services must also be introduced to make all relevant resources available to the use of public libraries. The first two strategic periods after the 1997 library act addressed mainly these issues. In the next few pages I introduce some projects that addressed the elaboration, or, in some cases, the reconsideration of the national library infrastructure based on the legal framework of Act CXL of 1997.

The strategic development of the library system (1997–2003)

14In 1997, based on the new Library Act, the development of the Hungarian library system started. Since then hasty decisions have been replaced by well-considered ones and the consecutive strategic plans addressed all fields that could serve as basis for a newly formed library system. (Skaliczki, 1999) During the period 1997–2003, the following strategic objectives were accomplished:

  • the establishment of the National Document Delivery System,

  • the elaboration of a set of criteria for the assessment of public libraries,

  • the acceleration of library automation,

  • the development of the Hungarian National Shared Catalogue,

  • the reintroduction of the system of continuous training of librarians,

  • the establishment of the Hungarian Library Institute (Though, this institute had a predecessor in title with more or less the same responsibilities),

  • the modernisation of the organisational structure and services of the National Széchényi Library. (Hegyközi, 2006, Skaliczki, 2003)

15Some of these issues are direct developments of the Hungarian library system infrastructure (e. g. shared cataloguing, National Document Delivery System); others much more serve as the growth of professionalism and as assurance of the long-term sustainability of the system (e. g. continuous training system, establishment of the Hungarian Library Institute).

Centralization of resources

16The major libraries in Hungary have traditionally been the major content providers in the countries and have paved the way for automation and provision of services and access. (Caidi, 2003) The following few projects will represent governmental efforts on creating a national library infrastructure in the library field based on the major libraries.

National Shared Catalogue

17One of the first steps toward nation-wide resource sharing and interlibrary cooperation was the creation of a national shared catalogue. The MOKKA (Magyar Országos Közös Katalógus = Hungarian National Shared Catalogue www.mokka.hu) project makes the fifteen largest library collections visible and searchable on the World Wide Web through a common interface. The project involves the collections of the National Széchényi Library, the Ervin Szabó Municipal Library of Budapest, the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the largest Hungarian university and public libraries. These collections can represent the wealth of the Hungarian library system. The catalogue makes nearly all documents searchable that have been published in Hungary or have been acquired by one of the major Hungarian libraries. The project also helps avoiding parallel work. The catalogue – covering almost 100% of the holdings in the country – also serves as the basis for the National Document Delivery System.

18In 2003, the Hungarian shared cataloguing project reached the stage that libraries and their users could begin to use its services. At that time, the main database included over 1,8 million records, after checking the duplicate records in the database. The central database has been updated regularly as the material is exported by the member libraries. It means both uploading metadata of newly acquired documents and retrospective data input. (Bakonyi, 2003)

National Document Delivery System

19While the national shared catalogue ensures extended access to the bibliographic records of the largest Hungarian Libraries’ holdings, the ODR (Országos Dokumentumellátó Rendszer = National Document Delivery System) provides the users with the full-text material in printed or electronic form (<http://odr.lib.klte.hu/​>). The system was intended to ensure access to all publicly available documents of every library in the country. The National Document Delivery System was established in 1998. It is based on the collections of 54 member libraries including the national library, the major special libraries, state-funded academic libraries, and county libraries. (Hegyközi, 2006) As in the case of the national shared catalogue this system also satisfies users’ demands from different sources. (Kürti, 2002). Member libraries receive additional funding for acquisitions, technical and technological tools, and postal fees for document delivery. The system encourages libraries to avoid parallel acquisitions and rely on the documents accumulated in the system.

Creating digital content

20Shared catalogues and the interlibrary document delivery system ensure the visibility and provide effective distribution of library material. Today’s digital era necessitates a huge mass of directly accessible digital content. “The mass of information accessible via the Web conceals the fact that the presence of Hungarian culture is insignificant.” (Skaliczki, 1999) That’s why creating content is also necessary to be able to provide users with relevant information. The following few projects are the main stakeholders in creating and providing digital content.

21MEK (Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár = Hungarian Electronic Library, <http://mek.oszk.hu>) started as a civil initiative in 1994. Later it became a project of the National Information Infrastructure Development Programme and received state funding for further implementation. Since 1999, the Hungarian Electronic Library has been hosted by the National Széchényi Library and constitutes one of its departments. The Hungarian Electronic Library aims to collect and preserve freely available electronic documents related to Hungary and Central Europe in the fields of culture, education and academic research. Documents are collected from a variety of sources: from the World Wide Web, the publishers, and the authors themselves. The Hungarian Electronic Library also coordinates a large-scale digitisation project, the Digital Library of Hungarian Studies, which will make thousands of books and reference works related to Hungarian studies available online. (Hegyközi, 2006)

22The John von Neumann Multimedia Centre and Digital Library (<http://www.neumann-haz.hu/​>) was set up in 1997 as a state-funded, non-profit institute for carrying out various projects in the field of digitisation of cultural heritage. It also produces various virtual collections supporting e-learning, and also runs the Digital Literary Academy, a collection of contemporary Hungarian literary works in full text. (Hegyközi, 2006) In 2007 the National Széchényi Library became the host institution of this project.

23The Hungarian Information Society Strategy was published in 2003. It promoted coordinated and standardised ways of making digital content available. The National Digital Data Archive (<http://www.nda.hu>), created in 2003, aims to fulfil this coordinating role for the digitisation projects of libraries, museums, archives and other public institutions. NAVA (National Audiovisual Archive <http://www.nava.hu>) is the digital legal deposit archive for locally-produced programmes of Hungarian television channels and radio stations. The project was launched in 2005. The records of the database are freely accessible on the Internet via a dedicated service network (so called “NAVA workstations”) operating at libraries, museums, audiovisual archives and educational institutions. (Hegyközi, 2006)

Online Reference Desk

24LIBINFO (<http://libinfo.oszk.hu/​index.php>) is the “Ask a librarian” service of Hungarian libraries, hosted and coordinated by the National Széchényi Library and operated by a large consortium of libraries, academic and research institutes. Questions can be submitted via an online request form and they will be answered within 48 hours by the reference librarians participating in the service. (Hegyközi, 2006) The service was launched in 2001, the newest version was introduced in 2003. (Iványi–Tóth, 2004) The project made reference service a “public good” as it became equally available to everyone without geographic constraints, although in an international comparison the service seems to be in need of modernization.

Development of the local gateways to knowledge

25The projects presented above aimed to create a national infrastructure for disseminating knowledge by providing users with digital availability of resources like a shared catalogue, a national document delivery service, huge mass of digital content and online reference service.

26On a national level similar solutions have emerged in other Central and Eastern European Countries. Borgman (1996) reports that “in the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe most information technology was unavailable, unaffordable or discouraged for forty years. These countries realised that they must improve their internal infrastructures if they are to become integral parts of the global information infrastructure.”

27Through these projects, the centralization of resources began to be realised. For the sake of decentralization of services, local service points must become stronger both organisationally and technically.

Technical background

28On the settlements’ side small public libraries have to have adequate technical equipment to access digital resources, and to be able to contribute to information supply on a local level. Ensuring the technical background was the responsibility of the NIIF Project (Nemzeti Informatikai Infrastruktúra Fejlesztés = National Information Infrastructure Development <http://www.niif.hu/​>). It has established and developed continually the computer network infrastructure and services of academic and library communities in Hungary. (Bakonyi, 1998) Although there still are small settlements without access to the Internet, the NIIF program enabled a lot of villages to join to the library network as a local service point.

Criteria for public libraries

29The Cultural Law introduced the concept of “open libraries” and the main requirements for obtaining this status. After the law coming into effect a more detailed accreditation system had to be elaborated for the assessment of public libraries. The law itself defines the following set of criteria.

“The basic requirements for the public library:

  • it must be usable by and accessible for all,

  • it employs a professional librarian,

  • it has a room used exclusively for the purposes of library services,

  • it is open regularly, at a time suitable for the majority of users,

  • the basic services provided on the spot are free of charge,

  • it supplies statistical data,

  • it carries out the basic tasks listed in § 55 (1).” (Act, 1997)

The following basic tasks are defined in § 55 (1).

  • “It shall publish a declaration of its main aims in the statute issued by the maintaining body and in its rules of organisation and operation,

  • it shall continuously develop, provide access to, preserve, care for and make available its collection,

  • it shall provide information on the materials and services of the library and the public library system,

  • it shall ensure access to the holdings and services of other libraries,

  • it shall participate in the interlibrary exchange of documents and information. ” (Act, 1997)

If a local municipality decides to maintain a public library (on its own or in association with another municipality) and not order service from another settlement, it will have to fulfil these requirements. Professional supervision was re-introduced in 2002. Since then, inspections in more than 2000 village libraries have been conducted and their performance was assessed in the light of the public library criteria since 2002.

30Although an adequate organisational framework was created that could enable villages to receive the centrally organised services, this aim wasn’t fully accomplished. Local policy-makers insisted on their local public libraries regardless of how small their settlements are. These small institutions couldn’t meet the requirements of public libraries set up in the library act in 1997. The lack of willingness to cooperation led to a situation in which the smallest local points of the system weren’t integrated to the national library infrastructure and didn’t serve as local gateways to knowledge. The socio-cultural issues that led to the lack of willingness to cooperation will be discussed later. In the next few pages I present statistical data that demonstrate the state of village library provision in 2003 just before the introduction of the new strategic goals.

The state of village library supply in 2003

31In this section I chose 4 statistically measurable criteria set up in library act and I present the reasons why village libraries did not function adequately as service points of the national library infrastructure. For this section I used Hungarian Library Statistics 2003 that is based on the reports libraries must send in to the Hungarian Library Institute each year. (Somogyi, 2006)

Inappropriate rooms for library purpose

32While the library law requires that public libraries should operate in an appropriate room used exclusively for library purposes, Figure 3 and Figure 4 show that most village libraries had only a very small place where a professionally and organisationally independent institution can not be run. Although the size of village libraries varies on a very large scale most inappropriate library buildings are located in those regions and counties where the average population of villages is lower (Northern Hungary, Southern and Western Transdanubia).

Figure 3

Region

County

The average size of village libraries m²  (aggregated room for library purpose / number of village libraries)

Western Transdanubia

Győr-Moson-Sopron

50

43

Vas

37

Zala

43

Southern Transdanubia

Baranya

39

48

Somogy

48

Tolna

68

Central Transdanubia

Fejér

77

59

Komárom-Esztergom

66

Veszprém

48

Central Region

Pest

92

92

Northern Hungary

Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén

58

62

Heves

78

Nógrád

55

Northern Great Plain

Hajdú-Bihar

86

79

Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok

113

Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg

65

Southern Great Plain

Bács-Kiskun

91

104

Békés

132

Csongrád

98

Figure 4: Average size (m²) of village library buildings (or rooms) in 2003

Figure 4: Average size (m²) of village library buildings (or rooms) in 2003

(For comparison according to IFLA Public Library Standards the minimum size for an independent library should not be less than 350 m², while in a multi-branch system, the branch should have not less than 230 m². Gill, 2000)

Insufficient number of librarians

33While the library law requires employing professional staff, most village libraries in the smallest settlements do not employ any person as a librarian. Figure 5 and Figure 6 show the average number of full- or part-time employees in village libraries in 2003.

Figure 5

Region

County

The average number of employees in village libraries  (aggregated number of full- or part-time village librarians / number of village libraries)

Western Transdanubia

Győr-Moson-Sopron

0,21

0,24

Vas

0,17

Zala

0,33

Southern Transdanubia

Baranya

0,19

0,25

Somogy

0,23

Tolna

0,4

Central Transdanubia

Fejér

0,68

0,43

Komárom-Esztergom

0,54

Veszprém

0,28

Central Region

Pest

1,06

1,06

Northern Hungary

Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén

0,4

0,46

Heves

0,7

Nógrád

0,35

Northern Great Plain

Hajdú-Bihar

0,82

0,84

Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok

1,22

Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg

0,73

Southern Great Plain

Bács-Kiskun

0,91

0,98

Békés

0,98

Csongrád

1,12

Figure 6: The average number of employees in village libraries (2003)

Figure 6: The average number of employees in village libraries (2003)

34The problem of insufficient number of staff was prevalent in the whole Transdanubia and in Northern Hungary, where more than 50% of the village libraries didn’t employ anybody as a librarian. In Southern and Western Transdanubia where most small settlements are located, libraries were mostly run by volunteers or people with engagement agreements.

Insufficient acquisitions

35The smallest villages couldn’t afford to purchase sufficient numbers of documents, and without cooperation most institutions couldn’t satisfy the needs of the rural population. In the case of annual additions it has to be mentioned that there were some initiatives among the smallest villages mainly in the Western Transdanubia to create so called “supply systems”. They aimed to concentrate local efforts to be able to purchase more books to small settlements and circulate them among the participating libraries. A study, that analyzed their working conditions, organisational structures and services in 2003, found that such forms of cooperation couldn’t equalize possibilities of access to information. While supply systems concentrated on more effective acquisition, they didn’t ensure access to the national library infrastructure. They didn’t provide for professional staff and appropriate buildings to library purposes either. (Tóth, 2004) In 2003 the supply system model was prevalent only in two counties (Vas and Zala). The extremely low numbers of acquisitions can be attributed to the influence of these local systems in the two counties. (Figure 7 and Figure 8)

Figure 7

Region

County

The average number of document acquisitions in village libraries  (aggregated number of annual additions / number of village libraries) in 2003

Western Transdanubia

Győr-Moson-Sopron

85

49

Vas

32

Zala

37

Southern Transdanubia

Baranya

79

115

Somogy

135

Tolna

145

Central Transdanubia

Fejér

197

154

Komárom-Esztergom

119

Veszprém

146

Central Region

Pest

358

358

Northern Hungary

Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén

232

195

Heves

164

Nógrád

154

Northern Great Plain

Hajdú-Bihar

201

267

Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok

373

Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg

253

Southern Great Plain

Bács-Kiskun

194

207

Békés

218

Csongrád

223

Figure 8: The average number of document acquisitions in village libraries (2003)

Figure 8: The average number of document acquisitions in village libraries (2003)

36According to IFLA Public Library Guidelines “all libraries require a certain minimum stock in order to provide a sufficient range of books from which users may make their selection.” (IFLA, 2000) The cited mean numbers – especially in the regions where small settlements are prevalent – suggest that these village library collections couldn’t meet the demands of users.

Lack of access to the national library infrastructure

37According to the 1997 Library Act, public libraries on the one hand shall provide information on the materials and services of the library and the public library system. On the other hand they shall ensure access to the holdings and services of other libraries, and participate in the interlibrary exchange of documents and information. In 2003, in most village libraries users didn’t have access to the national (or to the global) knowledge networks. In the first part of the study I described national initiatives that aimed to set up a national library infrastructure. It would be able to serve users if the local public libraries could function as local agents that mediate central services to the end users. All of these national library projects require internet connections and local terminals from every unit of the system. Figure 9 and Figure 10 show the average number of local internet terminals in the village libraries of the different counties and regions.

Figure 9

Region

County

The average number of internet terminals in village libraries  (total number of internet terminal / number of village libraries) in 2003

Western Transdanubia

Győr-Moson-Sopron

0,17

0,29

Vas

0,21

Zala

0,45

Southern Transdanubia

Baranya

0,74

0,55

Somogy

0,22

Tolna

0,91

Central Transdanubia

Fejér

0,73

0,45

Komárom-Esztergom

0,42

Veszprém

0,34

Central Region

Pest

1,02

1,02

Northern Hungary

Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén

0,36

0,34

Heves

0,44

Nógrád

0,21

Northern Great Plain

Hajdú-Bihar

0,68

0,6

Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok

0,85

Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg

0,49

Southern Great Plain

Bács-Kiskun

0,62

0,65

Békés

0,67

Csongrád

0,69

Figure 10: Average number of internet terminals in village libraries in 2003

Figure 10: Average number of internet terminals in village libraries in 2003

38The average numbers vary on a very large scale. Again, it seems to be evident that the smaller settlements a county or region have, the more difficult it is to match all criteria of a public library. The most underserved regions in these aspects are Northern Hungary and Western Transdanubia. In these parts of the country most village libraries didn’t have access to the internet and therefore access to all facilities of the library infrastructure. In these villages people could not order documents through an interlibrary loan system, they could not use shared catalogues, they did not have access to the content provided by the digital library initiatives.

39It seemed that in 2003 the smallest villages need some more support and centrally directed encouragement to be able to serve their users on an acceptable level. What caused the lack of willingness to cooperation? The next section presents some socio-cultural motives that could provide answers to this question.

Lacking willingness to cooperate

40In 1999 Caidi (2003, 2005) conducted 49 face-to-face interviews with library leaders and policy-makers in the four Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia). From this research project the library-realted socio-cultural changes could be sketched, but here we concentrate on cooperation as this issue most influences rural library supply. Caidi (2003) tried to explore the role of libraries in the development of national information infrastructures. Cooperation was a key element in this context.

41Caidi (2003) identified four stages of cooperation from her respondents’ accounts across countries. (It can be regarded much more as a typology than four phases of development.) 1. Artificial cooperation; 2. Contested cooperation; 3. Directed cooperation; and 4. Voluntary cooperation. “Artificial” in her typology refers to a model that was prevalent during the socialist regime, while library law codified the library network as a centralised system consisting of public libraries under the jurisdiction of local and regional committees. In this period there was a clear difference between the cooperation modes prescribed by the law and the reality. After the transition the so called “contested” cooperation model has emerged. “There was a resistance from people to get involved in large-scale projects that would remind them too much of the centralized planning model.” (Caidi, 2003) Autonomy and independence to act on one’s own seemed to become the main values of the period after the transition, therefore individualistic considerations often overrode common goals. The forming of local municipalities confirmed the existence of this model. In the directed cooperation model some collective goals were identified, but the main incentive that led the participants to work together (or to show that they are working together) was still individualistic: funding or possibility for development. After the transition, with the free-market economy new constraints appeared: some external circumstances that pressed decision-makers to seek alliances. This model cannot be bound to a period as clearly as in the other two cases. Voluntary cooperation attaches to the long-term maintenance of cooperation that is led by common goals and is based on the internalisation of the rules of cooperation. (Caidi, 2003)

42The Hungarian Library Institute has recently conducted some in-depth interviews with village policy-makers. It showed that in the smallest villages local decision-makers collaborate with other parties only if they see a concrete result, a pragmatic outcome that can justify the loss of independence. They practise democracy on a local level, and have to convince their constituents with tangible developments on their own settlements. That’s why in the smallest settlements the shift from a materials-oriented to a user-oriented perspective and the emphasis on information access has not yet taken place. In this context ownership of library materials can be much more important than the ease of access or high quality of services. In the search for the causes of the lack of willingness to cooperation it became evident that small settlements must be offered a new stimulating environment in which they can keep their right to oversee the work of their own public library. They must be offered concrete results, pragmatic outcome, and tangible developments. We could make them our partners in the development of the library system in this way, which can be regarded as a kind of directed cooperation.

43When small settlements got the possibility to maintain public library jointly with other municipalities or order public library services they did not want to give up their autonomy as far as their local institutions are concerned. They did not realize that they might have common goals with the neighbouring villages in the provision of library services. In terms of Caidi’s typology a contested cooperation must be shifted with the directed one, because it did not work voluntarily. The new concept of rural public library supply had to deal with all the issues emerging in connection with the lack of willingness to cooperate. The concept of KSZR (Könyvtárellátási Szolgáltató Rendszer – Service System for Rural Areas) was introduced in 2004 as one of the most important nation-wide projects of the next strategic period. Considering the general decline in the quality of rural public library services, it aimed to involve all local public libraries in the library system to ensure access to all.

The “KSZR” Concept

44Hungarian librarianship set up the following strategic goals in 2003:

  1. Preparations for joining the European Union;

  2. Increasing access to information and documents through information technology and telecommunications development and by means of the National Document Supply System in order to realize the principles of democracy and equal opportunities;

  3. Regional library supply;

  4. Making the image of librarianship more attractive; (Skaliczki, 2003)

The development of regional library supply was given a high priority for 4 years. This period was dedicated to elaborate a feasible concept and to begin its realisation. In an environment described above, this concept had to serve as a kind of agreement between local decision-makers and the library system. So politicians were offered a model in which the village got high amounts of financial resources to develop their local library as a service point of the network,

  • if they give up the library’s organisational independency;

  • if they join to a local library network and order public library services from another public library;

  • if they cooperate with their small regions’ other decision-makers in organising library services;

Bigger libraries – usually in the biggest town of a small region – became suppliers, while the surrounding smaller settlements’ libraries became service receivers. The local municipalities could keep their library, but not as an autonomous institution. The concept takes into consideration the population size of the villages, and suggests the following ways of public library supply in the different levels:

  • maintaining an independent public library above 3000 inhabitants;

  • maintaining a service point and ordering services between 1000 and 3000 inhabitants;

  • maintaining a mobile library bus-stop and purchasing mobile library services. (Richlich, 2006)

Local municipalities still have responsibilities. They have to:

  • maintain an appropriate building, room for library purposes, or creating a mobile library bus stop where they can receive services;

  • provide technical facilities;

On the other hand they must give up their independence in professional decision-making and join to a local library network by contracting with another municipality that maintains a supplier library. The supplier library runs the services in every small settlement and regards the former independent libraries as local service points of the system. (See: Figure 11) If a small region can cooperate this way, the participating municipalities will receive additional state funding, that significantly exceed the one they got with having an independent library. The normative funding for independent libraries are counted by served population, while in the case of local library systems service points get equal amounts. In the contracts the municipalities agree on how many percent of this amount should be paid to the supplier’s parent municipality as a contribution to the services. Municipalities do not have to establish such a system. (Richlich, 2006)

Figure 11: Library system within a small region

Figure 11: Library system within a small region

Discussion and implications

45There are increasing number of settlements and small regions that have implemented the system, though the previously described socio-cultural constraints still have a very strong influence on its local interpretations and realisations. The main factor of its success is that the obtainable additional funds make the system very attractive to the smallest villages. All parties realised the possibilities that it contains. Local politicians got a chance to demonstrate their commitment to culture and knowledge. As the residents of the villages don’t perceive the organisational dependency of the library, just the spectacular development, politicians can pretend that it is their merit. From the additional fund they can also employ a librarian, refurbish the library building or room, purchase computers and enable young people to surf the web. These seemingly small developments are very notable in the smallest villages. In many settlements the library became the centre of civil life, a meeting point, just because there was no other place to meet before. In some villages there was not even a pub where men could sit around a table. Rural people had very positive reactions as well to the resurrection of their library.

46From a professional point of view the clearest advantage is that professionalism of the supplier library could appear in the smallest service points. The facilities of the national library system more or less reached the huge target group of rural inhabitants through these local networks. Librarians of the supplier libraries serve as contact persons if the village librarians have any problems. They also take visits and do the acquisition transactions according to the users’ demands. On the supplier libraries side, as their villages purchase services they also get a considerable amount of additional money that allows the development of human resource and technical facilities. Moreover it means a challenging work for the staff of the supplier libraries. The suppliers’ parent authorities become a kind of centre for the surrounding area with maintaining outreach services, and therefore perceive their increasing significance in the small region.

47Despite the clear guidance of the concept most local library networks rejected to launch mobile services. There are only three local networks all around Hungary where this model could gain a foothold, in two of them there were no any public library services previously in most of the villages. Most local municipalities still insist on the ownership of the buildings, the books and the computers. It seems that it takes more time to take a shift into a user-oriented thinking.

48While the national library infrastructure appeared on the rural areas, on the other hand the smallest villages also became visible for the system. A mostly unforeseeable advantage also became clear. The concept helped the emergence of a competitive market in the library field as far as the small towns’ institutions are concerned. In some areas more suppliers came up and offered library service provision; that had a very positive influence on the quality, and accelerated the learning of the rules of cooperation. The maintenance of the system is more expensive than it was previously, but the fact that these additional funds are spent on a much more effective way, raises hope. The well-established, visible and professionally operated small library networks guarantee that the money invested more or less will be returned in the end.

49In 2007 more than half of Hungary’s small regions maintained library cooperation. All together 1332 villages in 82 small regions ordered library services from 72 service suppliers. In comparison with the previous years there seem to be a rapid growth. While in 2005 only 23 small regions maintained library cooperation, until 2006, this number rised to 42, and nearly duplicated in 2007. As Figure 12 shows most villages involved are from the regions where the average population-size of villages is smaller (Western Transdanubia, South Transdanubia, Northern Hungary). However relatively high number of settlements in 3 counties on the Great Plain (Bács-Kiskun, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg and Hajdú-Bihar) also joined to the local library networks.

Figure 12: Small regions with local library networks in Sept, 2007

Figure 12: Small regions with local library networks in Sept, 2007

Source: Hungarian Library Institute

Certainly it does not mean that every village is provided with library services in these marked small regions. Figure 13 and Figure 14 show the percentage of service receiver villages in the different counties and regions.

Figure 13: The percentage of service receivers in the different counties and regions in Sept, 2007

Region

County

The percentage of villages served by local library networks

Western Transdanubia

Győr-Moson-Sopron

55

71

Vas

92

Zala

65

Southern Transdanubia

Baranya

52

58

Somogy

58

Tolna

80

Central Transdanubia

Fejér

0

34

Komárom-Esztergom

43

Veszprém

48

Central Region

Pest

11

11

Northern Hungary

Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén

62

51

Heves

39

Nógrád

31

Northern Great Plain

Hajdú-Bihar

52

25

Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok

0

Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg

24

Southern Great Plain

Bács-Kiskun

23

11

Békés

0

Csongrád

0

Source: Hungarian Library Institute

Figure 14: The percentage of villages served by local library networks in 2007

Figure 14: The percentage of villages served by local library networks in 2007

Source: Hungarian Library Institute

50The highest percentage of villages served by local library networks is located at Transdanubia and Northern Hungary. The system was intended to help the smallest settlements in the development of library services, and the map shows that most of them were stimulated by the incentive environment.

While the system met with a warm response, some new challenges have emerged.

51While in the small villages the appearance of the supplier libraries’ higher level of professionalism always had a positive influence on the level of services, there are still large differences. The system has the very advantageous property that all the parties benefit from the cooperation. Therefore some suppliers appeared on the scene, that are not capable of ensuring the high quality service provision. In some cases the smallest towns with a few thousand inhabitants also contracted with the surrounding villages and started to serve them, though it was beyond their power. We can assume that money is the biggest drive in such cooperation. These emerging issues suggest that an evaluation system, and a more detailed set of criteria must be elaborated for both the suppliers’ and the service receivers’ side.

52Though similar problems and debates have emerged in other Central and Eastern European countries, it seems that only Hungary’s presented system could effectively handle them in this part of Europe. However a huge financial investment was needed that – we believe – would hopefully return.

53On the whole the system can effectively handle the problems created by the geographical constraints. It is confirmed by the geographical spread of the joining villages. Although in this phase of the project we can report an extensive growth as far as the spreading of the model is concerned, we can not foresee the long-term sustainability of the system. It very much depends on local decision-makers. While in this phase the main drive that led to cooperate with others is mainly the additional funding, hopefully there will be a clear shift to voluntary cooperation in which they will seek alliances to realise community goals.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 2: Average population size of villages in 2007 (number of village inhabitants / number of villages)
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 101k
Titre Figure 4: Average size (m²) of village library buildings (or rooms) in 2003
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 63k
Titre Figure 6: The average number of employees in village libraries (2003)
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 63k
Titre Figure 8: The average number of document acquisitions in village libraries (2003)
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 63k
Titre Figure 10: Average number of internet terminals in village libraries in 2003
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 63k
Titre Figure 11: Library system within a small region
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Figure 12: Small regions with local library networks in Sept, 2007
Crédits Source: Hungarian Library Institute
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 38k
Titre Figure 14: The percentage of villages served by local library networks in 2007
Crédits Source: Hungarian Library Institute
URL http://netcom.revues.org/docannexe/image/871/img-8.png
Fichier image/png, 63k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Máté Tóth, « Pushing the boundaries of accessibility – Governmental efforts on ensuring equal access to information to rural library users (1997–2007) », Netcom, 23-1/2 | 2009, 85-110.

Référence électronique

Máté Tóth, « Pushing the boundaries of accessibility – Governmental efforts on ensuring equal access to information to rural library users (1997–2007) », Netcom [En ligne], 23-1/2 | 2009, mis en ligne le 06 février 2014, consulté le 22 mai 2017. URL : http://netcom.revues.org/871 ; DOI : 10.4000/netcom.871

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Auteur

Máté Tóth

Hungarian Library Institute, thmate@oszk.hu

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Netcom – Réseaux, communication et territoires est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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