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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 017-157(WS)-E
Division Number: II
Professional Group: Art Libraries: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 157
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No


Museo del Prado - Servicio de Informática


Museo Arqueológico Nacional - Biblioteca


The world of museums is changing. For some time now, museums have left being simple exhibitors of antiques to become centres of research and means of publishing culture. Naturally, museum staffs have being the most shaken by the changed, although not the only ones. The situation has drawn new expectations for researches, academics, technicians, and, of course, librarians. These ones faced the change while having to cope with the management of increasing documentary mass and a demand for the most accurate information. The traditional problems related to selection, supplies acquirement, quick obsolescence of information, space limitations and scarce resources have not disappeared but increased.

The introduction of the last technologies in the museums dramatically alters the situation and presents new solutions for old problems. The present documentary technologies and those for communications, not only give answers to the questions that museums have being seeking for ages: in fact, it seems they have been designed for this purpose. Motion images, restoration without touching the pieces, handling of three-dimensional objects, remote access to database, virtual visits, fragile specimens moving, multilingual guides, text, imagine and sound management, in others words, virtual reality of a museum with no bounds whatsoever is already possible.

Although everything can be done, not all is equally simple. The use of techniques different from the traditional ones brings forth the need for considering some other matters. The professionals of information become now media communication ones, originating a scope of work that crosses over the library area to go outside; the concept of being the owners of the information vanishes and the patrimonial concept of culture is over. Society demands the change, but what does it happen when the library is tightened by its integration in a hierarchical structure which does not show any sensitiveness for the changes?



It is clear enough that museum libraries are not an exception within the world of libraries. None of them can, on their own, face so many needs brought forth, neither can they elude the demand to integrate not only new records but new types of information as well. Often having scarce resources, being pressed by reality and limited by their conditions, libraries must choose either to a radical renovation or disappearing, if they are unable to adapt to an adequate extent.

Experience and common sense have taught that the most effective solution for this type of problems are in working together. Communicating for sharing seems to be the magic recipe to find the resources that a priori cannot be reached by most libraries; being also the only way for those having added difficulties.

Museum libraries stand in advantage position for setting up co-operative networks. Most of them are of medium or small size, very specialised, with well sharp functions, often complementary holdings, and sharing similar problems and needs, generally, with identical administrative situation and so on. Quite often they are located in the same town, since museum is more urban than rural organism, and their resources are quite similar. Most of the museum libraries are specialised in Humanities and therefore their holdings have rather similar characteristics, and the terminology and headings are identical. In fact many of these libraries already carry out informal collaborations among themselves, such as interlibrary exchanges and loans; frequently they look for mutual support when need to solve problems connected with the documentary process.

However, these libraries have to face difficult, when not adverse, circumstances at setting up co-operative networks. Although organically integrated in museums they depend administratively on an institutional labyrinth, they lack in technical personnel, have scarce resources, inherited malfunctioning habits that have been maintained for decades, and do not have enough autonomy. Nevertheless, the worst problems are those derived from the museums lack of standard methods and the patrimonial sense still surviving in most of them.

In spite of these difficulties, or just because of them, the museum libraries ought to consider the need to be included into co-operative networks. If they do not want to disappear owed to inanition or else to become mere appendixes of the museum with no other function than that of being simple books stores, they have to change. In a competitive society, where the key word is "profit", to maintain a string of small libraries to serve exclusively to a small group of professionals is not certainly a good inversion. To keep a library is nothing cheap: their usefulness will be soon questionable.

Communications technology offers the possibility of setting networks up without big technical or economic troubles. But, to achieve a proper co-operative system it is necessary that it works with sufficient agility; that every participant library, together with its staff -which may not always have the same level of qualifications and disposal- be equally integrated; that it has a highly qualified professional team, able to conduct and control how it runs; that it has the adequate basic equipment. And, naturally, that support and collaboration from the museums will be assured.

Alternative technologies for setting networks up can be evaluated (with regards to an easy study) in INTERNET2 vs. INTERNET, and INTERNET vs. INTRANET. Museum libraries networks will be able to use one of the two "internets" at work nowadays: the well known Internet, and Internet2, product of the effort carried out by universities and public organisms in order to recover an investigative network. Election will be based on the disposal of each one of these networks within the territory, more than on the involved libraries desire.

On the other hand, the choice INTERNET vs. INTRANET brings forth the development pattern required for our system. Based on INTERNET, the pattern is open, every community of cybernauts being able to have access to the network and its services. Likewise, one INTRANET based on Internet, giving only access to the users of the library network, means a more closed pattern, having professional advantages with regard to privacy.

Finally: shared resources, specialisation, accurate services, major diffusion, easier access to information, more profit, co-operative work and a common policy for holdings acquirement obviously lead to libraries networks. The question is how to carry it out.


1. Museum libraries duties. Which are the specific functions of museum libraries? Spreading or searching? Could be both simultaneous functions? How the holdings technical treatment would be influenced by this measure? And how the library facilities? Can researches and the general public coexist in the same area?

2. Characteristics of library museums networks. Which should be the primary points in the network structure? Would it be advisable setting them up by specialities, joining those libraries of different administrative condition (i.e. departmental libraries, research centres within private institutions)? Could it be more workable to gather libraries according to their bureaucratic or hierarchic characteristics? And in this case, what happens when the museum libraries belong to private organisms or foundations?

3. Definition of the network. Which type of network is the most suitable for this group of libraries? Should we choose advanced technological alternatives requiring an effort to update the existing structures, or else we shall try to make the investments of the last decade redeemable? Should we be in favour of an open model "facing the public" or of a close one for professional use? Is there the possibility of intermediate patterns? Can the search engines be shared (one sear engine -many databases) or specific (one search engine-one database)? Only one merged database or up date current databases in order to get one unique access interface.

4. The role of the libraries integrated in network. Which is the role to be played by the libraries that integrate in network? Specialisation will be required although it might lead to fragmentation? If choice for specialisation is made, should this be thematic or would be advisable to develop a functional specialisation as well? Should one of the libraries be granted the leadership or the participation of all of them would be better, even if they are not equally qualified?

5. Corporate image. Which should be the external image of the network? Will be better having a corporate image or the addition of individuals ones? In the first case, thematic specialisation might be ruined; in the second, the goals of the firm may be distorted. The corporate presence of one network of museum libraries, might it be judged like a menace to the presence of museums in themselves?

6. Standards. Libraries integrated in a network have to be very careful with regards to every feature related to standardisation. What will happen if they interfere in the norms of the museums? Museums are not so advanced in what refers to standards as libraries are. Should the libraries give up the results attained so far in favour of a better integration in their own museums? Is it better to defend the library own standards even is risking getting in trouble with the museums to which it belongs? What happens, for instance, when facing the problems derived from the use of different terminological systems? How these conflicts should be approached?


In order to discuss these items, the use of the Philips 6:6 technique is suggested: groups of six people discuss the issues for six minutes. It is possible to focus on one item, on a part of it, or on many. It is also possible -and even advisable- that the same matter is debated by more than one group; to compare the different results achieved will be highly interesting.

After six minutes of discussion, the results are displayed and they are talked about in common. Once they are assayed, a conclusion summary is drawn on which the final document will be based upon.


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