Thursday, May 31, 2012

Academic Library of Tallinn University

It looks like there is a trend to combine the Academic Libraries that were established to support the Academy of Sciences research structure during the Soviet years, with university libraries. There is still an Estonian Academy of Sciences, but I will have to later read in depth and try to understand the complex history from 1938-now The Academic Library starts its history with 1946, when it was established for the support of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.  Over the years it acquired various older collections, such as the library from St. Olav’s church, which was founded in 1552 and the older collections from the Public Library in Tallinn, which had in turn gathered together various small old collections. In 1994 the Estonian Academic Library was no longer under the Estonian Academy of Sciences, but under the Ministry of Culture, then the Ministry of Education. In 2003 several institutions, including the Estonian Academic Library, came together to form Tallinn University basing it on Tallinn Pedagogical University and other smaller educational institutions. In 2005 the library became the Academic Library of Tallinn University.

The Academic Library of Tallinn University is one of the three or four largest libraries in Estonia, with the main collection housed at Ravala Ave. 10 and eight branches: Sports Library, Institute of Fine Arts, Estonian Institute of Humanities, Baltic Film and Media School (getting a new building), Tallinn University Law School, and two branches outside of Tallinn in Haapsalu and Rakvere. Remember that the main function of university libraries in the Baltics has been to hand out textbooks to students, and provide basic resources to support current studies, so they did not necessarily have deep historical collections. The textbooks from Tallinn (Pedagogical) University Library (founded 1919) came to the Ravala Ave. building, but when a couple of new buildings are completed on the campus this fall, the textbook distribution function will return to the campus.

The library is open to all users. Obviously the main users are students and researchers from the Institutes in the Academy, but visitors can purchase a one-day visitor card for a nominal fee. If a researcher is interested in a longer stay, they can purchase a library card and have to bring a valid ID and photo of themselves.

The two main collections that could be of interest to outside researchers are the Baltica and Rare Books Department and the Estonian Expatriate Literature Centre.

Baltica and Rare Books DepartmentThe Baltica and Rare Books Department has the oldest and rarest materials in the library, and largest collection of this nature in Tallinn. Their collection includes the St. Olav’s library, begun in 1552 as an urban public library, which was transferred to the General Estonian Public Library in 1831, and the Estonian Literary Society in 1842, which focused on Baltica, not only Estonia, but surrounding countries and books printed in the Baltic countries, in many languages including German, Russian, French and Swedish. It added the German Society in Estonia collection in 1914. Readers have told them that this is the best place to study Estonian history in a broad context. Obviously, knowledge of at least German is vital for the use of this collection.

This collection has a large collection of Baltic related materials from the 16th century until World War II. While Estonia was under Soviet power, they did not have access to publications about the Baltics outside of the Estonian publications, but are now again able to collect on Baltic themes. They receive deposit copies from Estonia (this should be explained in the National Library of Estonia entry) and purchase from outside of Estonia.

I think people in the United States can’t easily understand the concept of a national bibliography, as the U.S. is so overwhelmingly huge in the scope of its publications. But the Baltic countries are able to create close to complete bibliographies of books published in their countries and indexes to articles published in and about their countries. These tasks are usually distributed among various institutions. The Academic Library of Tallinn University is responsible for the retrospective national bibliography of Estonia. (The National Library of Estonia does the current one electronically.) They have completed entering all the books in Estonian, starting from 1525 into the National Bibliography. These national bibliographies have been published in books, ie. Estonian Book 1525-1850, ed E. Annus, Tallinn 2000. They are now working on Russian language publications 1800-1940 and other languages. They are also compiling Estica (foreign and foreign language publications about Estonia) for 1500-1940.

Katrin Kaugver & Carolina Schultz
This department is also responsible for two of the original databases out of Tallinn University. Ericus  is a database of historical Estonians going back to the 16th century. It includes birth and death dates, places, education, links to works, articles about the person and other references. Currently there are about 800 people in the database. There is not an English language interface, but this open access database is fairly straight forward – browse lists by name, institution, occupation, etc.

The second database is the Estonian Incanabula Catalogue, which described incunabula from eight collections (libraries, archives and private) in Estonia. The Baltic and Rare Book Department have 56 incunabula, the database lists over 160. All descriptions are in Estonian, but instead of searching, you can browse by author, title, publisher, binder, year of publication, etc.

About 40% of the books in the Baltic and Rare Book Department are in the union catalog ESTER. All the books in Estonian are in there, but they are working on all the other languages. These are all found in the card catalog in the reading room. They are a member of Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL), which is concerned with old materials. All of their cataloged materials are in CERL, but only full members can see the full record, open access is to the basic record.

If a researcher needs something from the collections, they will make copy for a fee, if the material lends itself to safe scanning. They have a big scanner, but that is mostly used for newspapers, not these books. They have a virtual exhibition – Center for Rare Books that has sample pages from rare books. They do have a digitization plan for what should be digitized first, but I did not get a clear sense if they have gotten very far with their list.

Estonian Expatriate Literature Center
The Estonian Expatriate Literature Center has the most complete collection of Estonian exile literature in the world.  Its holdings amount to 37,000 volumes, including over 6300 titles of books and more than 600 titles of periodical publications issued abroad by Estonians. This is kind of a unique concept collection, and I will have to check to see if Latvia has one. I believe Lithuania does. So these are “our” books – those printed in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Sweden and elsewhere outside of Estonia by the Estonian émigré population. During the Soviet era these were kept in the “Spec fund” or special collection available only to a few with special permissions up to 1989. The books came to the Academic Library of Sciences from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and were often labeled with censorship marks (single and double for especially censored books, with inscriptions crossed out or torn out, etc.)  Though they believe they have the most complete collection, they know of over a 1000 books that were published, but they do not have. They keep five or more copies, one for archive purposes (covered in special archival paper), one back-up to archive, one for reading room. If there are more than three copies, readers are free to check them out. All the books are in ESTER. Anne Valmas , head of the Center, has published a two volume set on Estonian publications abroad from 1944-2000 (Eestlaste kirjatustegevus välismaal 1944-2000) – in Estonian with English summaries. They have also compiled books on Estonian scientists, engineers, a bibliography of literature written by Estonians in other languages, including translations, and a bibliography of memory books by Estonians abroad.

They receive 10 current Estonian newspapers from Australia, Canada (2), England, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and USA. Nine of the émigré newspapers are digitized from the very first number and they are working on the others. They index all the articles from current newspapers into ISE, so one has to do a search in ISE, and then can find the full text in the digitized section. The digitization of current newspapers occurs about once a year. They have indexed about 14 newspapers and journals from 1999 on into the VEART database - this does have an English language interface.

Aita Kraut & Eve Siirman
The Center has compiled a unique biographical database of outstanding Estonians outside of Estonia into the database VEPER.  This database was started from a card catalog that the Soviets kept on active exile individuals they found mentioned in newspapers, sometimes including the article about them. Now the Center looks through all the periodicals received and adds biographical and bibliographical facts of active Estonians, those that are specialists in their field  or outstanding in national activity.  Currently there are over 2500 entries, but they have material for about 10,000. Again the interfaces is in Estonian, but usable. Organizations and universities are named in the original language to avoid confusion. All references to articles and books link out to ISE and ESTER. They work in cooperation with the Estonian archives in Sweden, Canada and the United States. This is a great resource for genealogists, researches and compilers of reference publications.

Another database maintained by this Center is VEILU that lists fiction since 1944 in foreign languages by Estonian authors, including translations. Has English interface. What was especially pleasing was the fact that all of these databases are open access – available to researchers throughout the world.

My very helpful guides during this visit were:
Carolina Schultz, Subject Information Department - mathematics and natural sciences
Katrin Kaugver, Baltica and Rare Books Department
Aita Kraut, Chief bibliographer, Estonian Expatriate Literature Center
Eve Siirman- Maintains biographical database, Estonian Expatriate Literature Center

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Baltic Research Handbook Trip Summer 2012

I have been in Europe a week, but still haven’t started blogging. It has already managed to be a very busy time, and I held off because I was not sure exactly how to blog this experience. Either I divide the different aspects into my different blogs, or create one blog just for this trip. I think I will go with the existing blogs, with links to the others as needed. My last excuse is laziness, exhaustion, and the fact that I am still looking for a good working rhythm.

All I want to say in this introduction to my research trip, is I will have to warn all researchers, to contact the institutions they want to visit ahead of time, because, using that oft quoted phrase “the only constant in life is change,” I am finding major changes in the library world.  I thought that because I had three months in the Baltics, I was sure to be able to visit all the libraries in that time. Luckily I found out ahead of time that the National Library of Estonia was closing June-August for major repairs, so I was able to set up a visit in May, so that is why I am in Tallinn right now. During my first day in Latvia, a relative took me to see a friend that works in one of the University of Latvia branch libraries. Well, it turns out the main building of the University of Latvia (UL) is closed for extensive renovations, and will not be available during my stay. I also found out that the Latvian Academic Library has been incorporated into the UL library, and that they have closed their multi-story building on Lielvardes street, that housed the sciences. I will have to find out more about that. Tomorrow I am visiting the Academic Library of Tallinn University, which means the Estonian Academic Library has also been combined with a university library. The Academic Libraries are a big deal, as they supported the Academies of Sciences during the Soviet era and often had more substantial collections that the national libraries. Ialso heard one library in Tallinn was to get a new building, so the collection was dispersed, the building torn down, but money ran out and there is no new building. And this is just what I have found out in the first week. I will also have to remind readers in my handbook that Europeans take vacations seriously, and close libraries for a couple of weeks over the summer on a regular basis.

I am looking forward to an exciting summer – Tallinn & Tartu in Estonia, Helsinki, Stockholm, Marburg in Germany, Vilnius & Kaunas in Lithuania, and then as many institutions as I can possibly visit in Latvia. I figure if I learn about memory institutions* in Latvia in detail, in a language I can understand, I can ask better questions of the people I meet in the other countries. I don’t expect to ask all the right questions on these visits, but feel if I make contacts with these people, I will be able to turn to them later with questions.

I also want to apologize for not making entries for all the collections I have visited over the past year. I just haven't had time to sit down and write up even blog level overviews, plus I always like to combine them with photos. So I hope I will be more productive here and get information up on this blog about the collections I have been visiting.

*Memory institutions – new concept for me, but in encompasses libraries, archives and museums, and that seems to be the direction my research is taking me, though I am not sure how much I want to focus on museums.