Today I conducted my last site visit at the Belgrade Municipal Court, and had the opportunity to visit with Biljana Kosanovic, the head of the IT department (or department of scientific information) at the Serbian National Library. The Municipal court visit went well, but was uneventful. The visit to the National Library was extremely interesting. Biljana comes across as an extremely capable individual who has managed to accomplish many things at the library in the face of severe staff and monetary shortages. Among other things, she manages Kobson, which is a consortia of academic libraries, and government organizations, organized to purchase scientific journals and academic databases. It was formed in 2001 and currently has 151 members. They created their own federated search at the title level, and are evaluating DBwiz for in depth federated search (it is a small world after all). One obstacle for their adoption of DBwiz at their library is a current lack of linux or unix expertise in their IT department. They also include Serbian published journals in their index, and are in the process of harvesting 500 Serbian journals.
In her opinion, most students and faculty members at Serbian academic institutions do not know how to use on-line resources effectively. She was heartened to hear that the NCSC is helping the law faculties to offer legal research and writing courses. The library has a lab of 20 computers for instruction, and have used this lab to help medical faculty learn about on-line journals and databases for their research. IP authentication used to restrict access to the journals and databases, so that anyone coming from a Serbian government IP address can used the journals and databases (anyone at a university or government office). If using the service from home, students can use their Library assigned user name and password to access resources through a proxy server (Easy Proxy). They are also looking at citation manager for possible use.
In the past the National Library had 12 librarians, but because of funding cutbacks they are now down to 3 librarians and 3 senior IT staff. This was a conscious decision made on their part, in the face of their cutbacks, to concentrate their management dollars on IT related positions, as in their calculation this would allow them to maximize the effectiveness of their institution in an increasingly digital world. The library has 206 other library staff, and 5 million monographs (or books for all non-library people out there).
Kobbis is their library automation system. It was developed in Slovenia, and was purchased by the government for all academic institutions on the country. Conversions are taking place at universities across the country to this new system. The migration is taking place slowly because of a general shortage of staff at all the universities. The Kobbis systems allows for a Union catalogue & OPAC for all involved.
One innovative way the National Library has found to combat staff shortages, has been for the head Librarian to request from the government young men who do not want to do their two years of national service in the military, to do that service in the library. They have requested technically minded (i.e. Computer literate) young men to work at the library, and it has been successful. The quality of work that the young men do is uneven, but overall it is very helpful. They do their best to hire the individuals that work out well, but are unfortunately not always successful.
The rest of the afternoon I spent working on a hardware and software purchase form for USAID, and worked on writing my final report. I’m coming down to the wire now, and hope to have the report substantially done before I get on the plane on Monday morning. I have a conference call with the purchasing specialist in Virginia tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll find out if the list of hardware and the specifications I’ve sent are acceptable for a purchasing perspective (for some reason USAID prefers to purchase from US Companies?).
After work I had dinner with the chief of mission, David Anderson. We went to a wonderful little Serbian restaurant. I ate a chicken dish, wrapped in bacon and filled with cheese. It tasted wonderful as you might have guessed, but was probably not the most healthy thing I could have eaten. Actually most of the Serbian dishes seem to score high in the taste department, but not so high if you’re looking for healthy food. Time to head to bed now.