How libraries choose their own development path and why there should be a lot of literature: a talk with the director of the National Library of Belarus, Roman Stepanovich Motulsky.
– Roman Stepanovich, how to deal with the fact that readers actively use the electronic resources of the library and stop visiting it?
– You don’t need to fight this, just as you don’t need to be captivated by technology and technological indicators. After all, the questions: “How many books do you have? How many readers do you have?” are from the past. The modern society does not need these numbers or ticks but a social effect. Firstly, a reader does not cease to be a reader whether he visits the library physically or stays at home, and secondly, you need to ask how it is more convenient for him. If we go back to the student with whom we started our conversation, then, with the shortage of time, he doesn’t have to spend hours on the road and waiting for the order, because he can get the necessary information instantly on an electronic gadget. Is this harm to society? Therefore, we don’t need to stick to the existing evaluation criteria, but change them in order to meet the requirements of society.
Is it necessary to attract people to libraries? Undoubtedly it is, and the work of a library must be structured so that readers want to go here. The library should be the center of communication. There is a huge lack of communication in modern society. The experience of high-tech countries says that libraries will live and will be visited: there is everything in order with the Internet, there are many gadgets, the information flow functions at the national level, and people go to libraries. The library is a place of communication.
The more the technique develops, the more lonely a person feels (this is confirmed by many studies), because society is moving from human-to-human to human-to-machine communication, and we all want personal contact.
– Does the lack of communication only lead a person to the library?
– Of course not. There are a few more reasons.
Do not forget, for example, that information is a product. Here we have to mention the issue of copyright and intellectual property. Libraries in many countries are overflowed because there is no certain information in the public domain. There is a conviction in Belarus that you can download everything from the Internet, and in Europe it can be a crime. Thus the library becomes a point of access to knowledge, both national and global. This mechanism has been working for thousands of years, and today it is used in accordance with modern technologies. It is necessary to understand: neither 100 nor 1000 years ago nobody could buy all the existing books. The library was created so that everyone could come to read a book bought with public funds. Now it’s the same, the only difference is that we have access to electronic information resources.
Another thing I want to mention is social protection and social lifts. Due to the fact that the level of social protection in our country is very high, this function is poorly demanded and we are so used to it that we do not notice it. In countries with a low level of social protection, and often a low level of economic development, a public library is the only way to escape poverty, the very tool that allows various social groups of the population to gain access to knowledge. Even large libraries are often visited by people who want to work on the Internet and gain access to legal bases.
Everyone lives in their own social environment, and the library fulfills its own mission. We are well protected in this regard, but, nevertheless, our activity is aimed at ensuring legal and free access to knowledge.
– Let's go back to literature. Do you often visit the exhibition of new acquisitions, and which of them you would like to read immediately? Do you have an e-book?
– I read from the screen (I have an e-book) and from paper.
A paper book is good for the soul or before going to bed, and if I am on a business trip I will choose an electronic book because of a small volume and light weight. I think the main thing is the content. The form of the book has always changed and will change.
As for the hall of new acquisitions of the National Library of Belarus, this is, of course, a part of my professional duties. I go to the exhibition regularly to see what and how we acquire and how the library collection is formed. I often reserve books to read when the exhibition ends. In fact, I not always have the time to read what I have selected, but at least I can look through it.
By the way, this is my old habit. One of my first jobs was the acquisition department. As an employee, I visited the library collector, and all the books that went there were passed from hand to hand. You could at least hold them while sitting next to colleagues. It was not possible to read them as a pile of other publications grew around you right away... This is a pleasant memory and a habit from those times: it’s impossible to read all the books, but you can have a look and hold them in your hands, and then select, depending on time allowance.
– What is the difference between modern Belarusian literature and what was written before?
– Literature is always different. Here, the time is the main judge, the filter and the criterion. The time is changing, and literature is changing too. Authors, genres and approaches are changing. There is something you read with pleasure, and there is something that surprises you. It often happens that those who used to be honored and loved by the public and whose books were published and republished on glossy paper are totally forgotten after a few centuries. And those who had not been very favored by their contemporaries become the most respected after some time. The time is the main judge here. But you can choose the best only when there is plenty to choose from. It should be a lot of literature, both fiction and non-fiction.
– The social and cultural activities of the library cover various areas. This includes conducting presentations, exhibitions, summits, renting premises and even advertising on the outdoor electronic light board. Do you think the library has to perform too many functions, while it is supposed to collect and store printed materials for public use?
– The National Library of Belarus was originally conceived not just as a traditional library. It was revolutionary, innovative and unusual; many did not believe that it could exist at all, from architecture to the content.
If we talk about the library as such, then everyone should live on their territory and fulfill their mission. In our case, the main mission of the library is to provide access to knowledge and information. If we talk about the public library, this is, of course, leisure, personal development, etc. And any structure that works for it is appropriate.
Each library at a particular time in a particular locality operates in a particular situation. It is clear that if there is a club across the road or in the same building, then it is absolutely pointless for the library to organize a singing class, for example. But if there is nothing like this, then why don’t you make it? If there is an art gallery next to the library, then there really is no point in competing in art exhibitions, especially in a small village. But if there is no gallery, then why don’t you organize an art exhibition in the library? Therefore, each library is looking for its niche and its own way. The modern world knows the most unbelievable forms of combining various social functions in a library. There was, for example, a period when libraries were video sharing centers, but the video on tapes has gone out of our lives very soon... The same can be said of modern café-libraries. Everything develops in due time, but it won’t work if it is alien to our cultural environment, our mentality, outlook and traditions. However, if we compare our libraries of the 80s or 90s with modern ones, they are very different, they have changed a lot. But if this is your job, it seems that nothing happens.
– An important part of the work of our institution is the interlibrary loan, methodological assistance to colleagues and joint projects to promote the book. What would you like to learn from the experience of others, especially foreign libraries, and what advantages does the National Library of Belarus over them?
– “Live and learn” is the eternal truth. When building the library, we worked together – architects, designers, builders, technologists and librarians, and we collected experience from around the world bit by bit. Now we are becoming an example. Have you seen how many professionals come to us to see how the library is organized? They come to congresses to see, learn, and take something for themselves. For this, international meetings, internships and exchange of experience are organized.
I want to see a huge public interest in libraries, when, even with the presence of gadgets, young people study in the reading room.
I also want our electronic segment, the electronic content, to become much richer. This is also noted in the concept of information security: we need to saturate electronic networks with national Belarusian content. There should be more public information about Belarus, not only for Belarusians, but for the whole world.
– How do you see the National Library of Belarus in the future?
– Still beautiful, but with even richer collections, good information resources and grateful readers.
the Public Relations Department
- Roman Motulsky: “It is impossible to imagine a pharmacist who gives same medicine to everyone. The same can be said of a librarian.”