Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Swiss National Library and Its Environment

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Swiss National Library and Its Environment

Article excerpt


The International Relations Committee of the Library and Information Technology Association sponsored a program at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Chicago on June 24, 1995, on the theme "Libraries and Technology in the European Union." The three papers presented at that session provide different views of the role of technology in libraries in the European community, first from the perspective of the director of the Swiss National Library, who examines the environment in than country; second, from the director of the National Bibliographic Service of the British Library, who comments on networking and cooperation there; and third, from an ALA Libarary Fellow in Greece, who shares the trials and tribulations of the search for solutions to the mysteries of the online catalog in the shadows of the Acropolis.

The Swiss National Library, which dates from 1895, initially had the function of collecting Helvetica; later the construction of a union catalog and the creation of a central information service were added to its responsibilities. It achieved much success, but from the 1970s reduced funds and a lack of foresight severely eroded its outstanding role. Following the appointment of a new director in 1990, a team of experts in information and technology was formed, a general review of the library's strengths and weaknesses was carried out, and an automation program was begun. A new policy has had to be defined for the role of a national library in a federal state. It is proposed that the library's responsibilities should include all kinds of information resources and give equal attention to conservation and the provision of services, the latter particularly as an information center for material of Swiss interest. Greatly increased funds and staff are being sought. A new law relating to the National Library that defines its collection policy and prescribes its bibliographic services was passed by the Parliament in 1992. These developments should enable the library to regain a prominent position and lead to a national coordination plan for Swiss libraries. The National Library will seek solutions to the problems posed by multilingualism and national coordination. It will also look for cooperation with other national libraries in Europe and throughout the world.


The Swiss National Library was officially opened by the federal government in 1895. The library was entrusted with the responsibility (made law in 1911) of collecting Helvetica produced after 1848, the year of the country's last constitution, and making it available to the public. "Helvetica" refers to any literature produced in Switzerland, written by Swiss authors, or published about Switzerland. Before 1894, Swiss literature was collected by various establishments around the country. In 1928 the National Library was also assigned the responsibility of drawing up a union catalog, with the aim of creating a central information service to meet the exchange needs of libraries. It also meant that any foreign works in Switzerland's libraries could be rapidly located. With this sort of database, it was easy to set up an interlibrary lending system.

From the 1970s onwards, unfortunately, the precarious financial situation of the federal government, on which the library depended, forced it to cut back its services sharply. Drastic budget reductions, a strict freeze on personnel, an inefficient global strategy, and a total failure to anticipate the age of information technology led to a disastrous situation. The smooth and harmonious development previously enjoyed by the institution ground to a complete halt. As the National Library let itself fall further and further behind the other libraries in the country, its role as a leader rapidly eroded.

In 1989, during a period of comprehensive restructuring, the Federal Ministry of the Interior decided to merge its cultural offices. …

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