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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

The new economic situation and its impact on the acquisition policy and methods in Russian libraries

Tatiana V. Ershova
Deputy Director, Russian State Library, Moscow, Russia


The paper presents the collapse picture of the supercentralized system of documents and information delivery in the former Soviet Union. It describes dramatic changes in the national library collection caused by the absence of a full value legal deposit law, the disintegration of the central book collectors network, the lack of traditional hard currency allocations for the acquisition of the most important foreign publications, the unreliability of the new market mechanism, the fading of the national and international book exchange. The report also provides statistical data on and qualitative analysis of the current and retrospective collection development activities in the major Russian research and public libraries.


Disintegration of the centralized documents and information delivery system

The collapse of the Soviet Union caused a dramatic dissolution of the large single information area which had operated like everything else at that time according to the principle of overall centralization. This automatically entailed the explosion of the state publishing, book distribution and delivery system: the "Goskomizdat" (State Publishing Committee) who controlled the publishing policy, t he "Soiuzkniga" ("Union Book") who executed the wholesale book trade and transportation, the "Soiuzpechat" ("Union Press")

Along with 2000 existing state publishing houses about 5000 private, cooperative and joint structures emerged on the book market. Very many of them either did not know about the Union legal deposit law or just ignored it as there was no USSR any more and accordingly,no penalty. The new regulation namely the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation on free and priced obligatory copie s of publications confirmed on 3 June 1993 was actually a surrogate of a full value law and after the dismissal of the Parliament in October 1993 considerably lost in power. The project of a new legal deposit law was submitted to the old Parliament in 1993 and passed the first reading, but now it has to be forwarded anew. As a result the Russian Book Chamber (RBC, the successor of the All-Union B ook Chamber) performing the role of the state printing archive and issuing the Russian national bibliography "Knizhnaia letopis" ("Book Chronicle") covers by far not everything published in the country. Thus in 1992 93 over 12000 so called "undeclared gaps" were discovered which made near 12 per cent of Russia's book production of this period. Those were publications sent directly to the largest libraries leaving aside the RBC. On the opposite, there were publishers who sent one single copy of their output to the RBC only, avoiding the libraries. The quantity of these "declared gaps" increased eight times through 1990 93. A comparative analysis of indirect data gathered by different institutions allows to suppose that the general number of gaps in the national legal deposit runs up to 3 0 (according to RBC information)

Ä 50 (the Russian National library's statistics) per cent. The situation with information on recent and forthcoming publications can be evaluated as critical: the weekly "Knizhnoie Obozrenie" ("Book Review") announcing newly printed books does not claim comprehensiveness and contents itself with a well made selection of potential (not only commercially) bestsellers; the subscription catalogue issued by "Rospechat" ("Russian Press", the successor of "Soiu zpechat") remains incomplete; the annotated export bulletin of forthcoming books "Novyie Knigi SSSR" ("New Books of the USSR") ceased to exist; the publishers practically do not distribute, if any, their thematic plans and advertisements.

The decades long ties between libraries and information agencies on the territory of the former Soviet Union broke off what did not fail to result in informational isolation of the new independent states. The union catalogue of the Russian State Library which embraced thousands of libraries in the USSR and helped to prevent excessive duplication shrank very noticeably. A broad and once very effic ient interlending network considerably reduced and slowed down its activities because of financial problems.

In such a way the country has faced a paradoxical and by no means consolatory fact that in the course of reforms there has been undermined their very basis the access to and exchange of information.

Russian book market and libraries in the new economic environment

The mine laid for the information system worked immediately: the elemental publishing market oriented first of all on a quick money turnover is not at all preoccupied with production quality. The number of research publications, textbooks, manuals and reference editions decreased catastrophically. You can hardly find books on medicine, agriculture, arts and humanities, works of national and forei gn classics, contemporary Russian and CIS literature whereas the market is overflowed with "mass culture" and pseudoscientific editions, dime novels, low quality translations, etc. There is no coordination of the publishing programmes, so one can often see thesame titles printed by different publishers and sometimes even translated by different translators.

Diverting from tne qualitative side of the book market, we should demonstrate the book publishing dynamics through 1986 92 (titles)*:

Thus together with a substantial deterioration of contents a considerable repertory reduction is to be stated on the Russian book market. Besides the prices which could seem low as compared with the world average are in fact rather high for an ordinary citizen of Russia: a piece of good literature costs about one third of the minimum salary.

Under the circumstances when prevention of a spiritual degradation must become the major priority for the society it is crucial to support libraries. The today's statistics** however do not inspire with optimism:

In absolute figures the number of public and universal libraries reduced through 1986 92 by 5 289, the joint library stock by almost 95 million items. The number of entries decreased by 10 75 per cent depending on the type of library, its location, subordination and staff inventiveness. For instance some libraries within the central libraries system in Riazan have diminished their current acqui sitions by 3 4 times, but the Regional library only by 0.1. The Regional universal research library in Belgorod purchased in 1993 60 per cent less than in 1992, the similar libraries in Murmansk, Penza, Perm 50 per cent, in Tiumen 30 per cent, in Kemerovo 20 per cent, in Nizhnii Novgorod 15 per cent less. The Russian State Library the largest in the country lowered the volume of new a cquisitions by 2.1 per cent in 1990, 10.6 in 1991, 28.4 in 1992, and 4.0 1993 as compared with each previous year. The picture does not differ very much in other Russian libraries with only few exceptions. The main reasons for such a change for the worse in library acquisition are supposed to be as follows:

  1. Unstable and insufficient financing.

  2. Poor quality and discoordinated internal book market.

  3. Absence of a weighty legal deposit law, non fulfilment of the current regulations.

  4. High book production and delivery costs.

  5. Critical shortage of information on recent and forthcoming publications.

  6. Departmental disconnection of institutions involved in production and dissemination of information.

  7. Breach of traditional ties between libraries and publishers, libraries and booksellers, libraries and libraries as well as other information agencies.

  8. Lack of efficient automation and networking.

  9. Stoppage of internal and fading of international exchange.

  10. Inertia of librarians' thinking and behaviour caused by convenient supercentralization of the Soviet era.

Acquisition methods, policy and trends

The new situation highlighted the main difference between normal and distorted economy in application to the book market: the tight mutual dependence between producers and users in the first case and a one sided publishers' dictate in the second case. The Russian publishers do not seem to realize that the libraries are the most reliable and perspective sales market. They rely in overwhelming majo rity on momentary demand and do not use the libraries' invaluable experience in forecasting users' needs. The librarians in their turn seem to subdue and only few of them try to destroy the vicious tradition and to exert an active influence on the publishing policy. As a rule this influence has indirect forms. For example, some libraries coexist with small and very mobile commercial mediators whi ch sometimes act as moderately paid acquisition services (as in the Volgograd regional universal research library), some of them initiate municipal support to publishers who willingly cooperate with libraries (the programme "Reading Petersburg" secured in 1993 a 20 per cent increase in libraries acquisition in Saint Petersburg), some of them work with consolidated suppliers (like joint stock comp any "Interrost Dialog" and Book Distributors Association in Saint Petersburg, Siberian Literature Agency in Omsk, Trade Society "Fogot" in Moscow and others.

Striving for a good quality collection and an acceptable level of acquisition some libraries resort to foreign companies ("Faxon", "Lange und Springer", "Collets", "Nijhoff", ''Swets'l, etc.), some of them apply to organizations distributing books on a non commercial basis (like Association "Book. Education. Charity" and Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow), some of them join charity program mes (like Soros Foundation programme for support of fundamental science, the East and Central Europe Journal Donation Project, subscription programme of the American Psychological Association, French "Voltaire" programme etc.), some of them organize exhibitions advertising foreign publishers' production and get free sample copies, some of them exercise sophisticated barter relations with publishe rs and dealers. All this demonstrates professionals' initiative and effort aimed at holding out severe environment and doing their duty.

It is not a logical mistake to put methods before policy in the title of this chapter. This reflects the today's reality the Russian librarians have to regard. The possibility to acquire materials becomes the central point in determining the library strategy, in setting immediate and long term objectives. The libraries much earlier than the publishers recognized the necessity of cooperation in th e periods of tight budgets. The inevitability of participation in the upbuilding of the national shared library collection more and more penetrates into librarians' consciousness changing step by step its conservative nature. No cooperation is possible without implementation of efficient communication and networking means. These are acquisition librarians who first bring new kinds of materials an d information carriers into the library pushing progress in service and operation. Revising its collection development policy each library endeavours to find its niche in the entire national library system in order to provide unique service to users'. It also specifies more carefully its present and future users' community, pays more attention to investigation of satisfied and unsatisfied demand. It puts more value into the word combination "collection development" which implies thoughtful analysis of the accummulated wealth before taking any kind of decision, be it acquiring, retaining or weeding. It looks forward to getting into strategic alliances with congeneric and adjacent organizations to achieve better results, taking into account the experience of the most successfully working i nstitutions one can formulate three major trends in the Russian libraries acquisition work: specialization, cooperation, search for one reliable supplier or a very limited number of mediators.

Suggestions and solutions

In spite of individual differences the problems the acquisition librarians face nowadays remain basically the same. This was convincingly demonstrated at the Round Table on Book Supply to Libraries held in Riazan on 1 2 March, 1994. The discussions resulted in some concrete suggestions concerning the main issues of concern. In order to protect libraries from financial instability a proposal was made to create a kind of mutual aid fund uniting libraries only or libraries and publishers. Another idea was to establish a special federal insurance fund for redemption of necessary publications. It can function as a commercial enterprise lending money to libraries when they have financial problems. It was also suggested to introduce a special local library tax, the size of which would be regulated in each region by its population. As a strategic solution an increase of budget allocations for culture was regarded. Now they make 2 per cent on the federal and 6 per cent on the regional level. An extremely important task is to accelerate the confirmation of the legal deposit law providing beside a certain number of free and priced obligatory copies of national publications also exchange of legal deposit between Russia and CIS countries.

To solve the problem of informing on newly published materials RBC offers its CD ROM bibliography. Its first version contains some mistakes, and RBC is planning to prepare the second, improved edition. It also has an agreement with "Relcom" network which is ready to cooperate with libraries on a commercial basis and guarantees information delivery within 5 20 minutes. Moreover it is also necessar y to establish a cataloguing in publication (CIP) system for example as a special series within the national bibliography or as a commercial bibliographic edition. To make it worthwhile for publishers to issue thematic plans the libraries should prepay their production in form of subscription. They could pay for publishers' advertisements, too. To give information on forthcoming publications the national annotated bulletin like the ceased "Novyie Knigi SSSR" should be revived as soon as possible.

The libraries obviously prefer to work with large suppliers, that is why it is necessary to support central book collectors and wholesale structures embracing the whole national market (like "Soiuzkniga" who also used to solve delivery problems very successfully). As for book collectors, they should function under the authority of the Ministry of Culture and not the Committee of the Russian Feder ation for Printing. Using e mail and other modern communication means they can accumulate libraries' orders and inform publishers who will feel more sure knowring the potential customers. There is one more suggestion to broaden the regional book supply centres network as an alternative for collectors. There is an idea to elaborate a federal programme for support of book publishing aimed specifically at libraries. But as a radical solution the creation of a State corporation for the Russian libraries collection development was proposed. Its major responsibility could be purchase of literature for libraries and implementation of a modern information network. It could be established on the basis of RBC, "Knizhnaia Palata" ("Book Chamber") publishing house, Central collector for research libraries, local and regional library collectors, Central book stock at the Russian State Youth Library, Computer centre of the Ministry of Culture.

It is undoubtedly important to reanimate the intranational (on the basis of the Central exchange stock of the Russian State Library) and international exchange of publications resting on the delivery of free and priced obligatory copies especially for exchange purposes. Of course there is no universal solution to all problems arising before acquisition librarians in constantly changing economic situation. The main solution is the common effort and persistence of librarians, all interested institutions and individuals.