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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 050-107-E
Division Number: V
Professional Group: Acquisition and Collection Development
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 107
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Exchange of publications in acquisition of the foreign literature in the National Library of Estonia - acquisition and promotion

René Tendermann
Department of Foreign Acquisition
National Library of Estonia


The social and political changes that began at the end of the 1980's, led to the regaining of independence of Estonia. That has also brought changes to all other fields of life including the librarianship.

The work of the National Library of Estonia changed remarkably in 1993 when the new building was opened and every citizen was granted a right to visit the library (before 1993 this right belonged only to the adults). "The Law of the National Library" (1994, 1998) fixed the library's basic functions - the function of a national library and the function of a parliamentary library, which brought several new tasks. As a national library, the National Library of Estonia has to complement and make available 1) publications that are published in Estonian, in Estonia, about Estonia or containing information on Estonia; 2) in the most universal way, publications that are necessary for the development of statehood, economy and culture; and 3) as a parliamentary library, legal, historical, politicological literature and legal acts. In five years, the National Library has developed into an important center of information and culture.

In the National Library of Estonia, two departments deal with acquisition - the National Bibliography Centre and the Department of Foreign Acquisition. The National Bibliography Centre deals with the complement of books and periodicals published in Estonia and publications in Estonian. The Department of Foreign Acquisition complements books and periodicals published abroad.

Changes in the society show extremely well in the work of the Department of Foreign Acquisition. The complementing of foreign literature during the Soviet time was very limited and under the severe control of the ideological institutions. By now, the complement of foreign books has increased year by year and complement of periodicals has increased four times.

Until 1979 the small unit of the Department of Acquisition was responsible of the acquisition of foreign publications. In 1979 the Department of Foreign Exchange was founded. At the end of 1980's, there were only 7 employees in the department, but accordingly to increase in the amount of work, today there is 25 librarians working in the department. In the 1980's and in the beginning of 1990's, the exchange between libraries was the only significant way of acquiring foreign literature. The possibility to buy foreign books was very small and the only way to buy foreign books was through a bookselling company Mezdunarodnaja Kniga in Moscow. The selection of foreign books was poor and the books were mainly published in other East-European socialist countries. The books published in other socialist countries was possible to purchase for rubles. The purchase of publications published in western countries was possible only for the hard currency. For example in 1987 there was 2000 hard currency roubles (1 USD = 0.7 Roubles) for purchase of foreign books, and it was mainly used for periodicals. All the books had to be convinient for the Soviet libraries. Exchange of publications was the only way to acquisite books from so called non-socialist countries. Before the books and periodicals reached the library, they were controlled by censors and books not convinient for Soviet library were forbidden and were included into so called restricted access collection, which was not shown in the catalogues. Unfortunately there have been cases, where publications sent for the National Library were confiscated already in Moscow as politically incorrect and very often the library never got information about this.

By today, the part of exchange has decreased as the increase of other ways of acquisition - purchase and gifts - is continuous, but it cannot be set aside for many reasons. Though the exchange has been stabile for the last 10 years (about 15-17% of purchased foreign titles), in 1995 - 1997 the amount of exchange has increased from 15,7% to 19,3%. At the same point, during the last ten years the attention has been put to quality, and not to quantity, as it was during the Soviet period.

In 1980-s and before the exchange partners were mainly from other socialist countries - libraries from East-Germany, Hungary, Poland and others. The books published in these countries were politically correct. In the mid-1980s, with the rise of perestroika and with the political and ideological changes in Estonia, the interest of the libraries of "capitalist" countries toward Estonia and other Baltic states and also toward the democratization process and transformation in the Soviet Union, rised and the number of exchange partners began to grow. In 1987 we had 179 exchange partners, now the number is 350 from circa 30 countries - all parts of the world are represented. After the interesting time - the period of transition, the number of partners has continuously decreased. Now, when Estonia is one among other independent "boringly democratic" countries, we are not so interesting anymore and exchange partners we are cooperating with today, are institutions, who research the problems of the transition process of the post-socialist countries or institutions, who have a deep interest toward Estonia. This is the main reason why the exchange with the English speaking countries is very small (in the United Kingdom there is only one partner left out of 13 - the British Library).

Vice versa with the English speaking countries - the United States and the United Kingdom, the exchange has been increasing in Germany, Finland and Sweden. . In Finland we have almost 100 exchange partners, in Sweden and Germany the number of exchange partners is smaller, but almost 100% of acquisition of publications published in Germany, Sweden and Finland have been acquired by exchange. Germany, Sweden and Finland are countries with whom Estonia have had a very connected history. In these countries the big part of Estonica is published every year. In the universities and other research institutions Estonian history, literature and economics are research subjects. The Baltic Germans, Swedes and Fins have been living in Estonia for centuries (until the Soviet occupation in 1940, when most of them left). In France we have a small number of exchange partners, but the acquisition of publications published in France, we receive on exchange.

The exchange as a way of acquisition has some bad sides and some good sides.

During the last fifty years, while Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union, the libraries in Estonia (and in this case - in all republics of the Soviet Union) could not purchase literature, which was published in western countries. For this reason we have a big gap of literature in every field. The acquisition of the outstanding publications from this period is complicated. Most of the books published then are now out of print and the only way to acquisite these books is the exchange. Of course, the gifts from various institutions during the last ten years have been filling this gap, but not completely.

As a national library we have a very important function - we are a national archive of printed materials published in Estonia, but also publications about Estonia or obtaining information about Estonia or Estonians in one word - Estonica. During the 50 years behind the iron curtain we had no chance to purchase books publications about Estonia and there is still a big gap in our estonica collection. In foreign countries a large number of books is published, which are about Estonia and also books written by Estonians. We have to acquisite Estonica as exhaustively as possible and one good way to do it, is cooperation with our exchange partners. With many national libraries we have an agreement, that both sides send on exchange the national literature - translations, and also books about one country. Almost 50% of Estonica is published in Germany, Finland and Sweden. The problem is with English speaking countries, where we do not have such cooperation relations. And of course, there is a lack of information of Estonica published in Southern Europe and Latin America.

A good example about big gaps : in March this year we received from our partner in France five old books (published in the beginning of 19 century) to our rare books collection. And our surprise was big when we found out, that we are the first library in Estonia to have these books.

I would like to emphasize a good side of a exchange by following example : two libraries work together as partners, ordering publications on exchange as we order books from the vendors. In this case both sides are happy with the result. And that kind of a cooperation I believe is also the best way to cooperate.

In the acquisition of periodicals - journals and newspapers - exchange is absolutely indispensable. The ordering of periodicals from various agencies is very expensive, there is a number of periodicals only distributed locally and these periodicals are for us unobtainable. Exchange makes 1/3 in the acquisition of periodicals. And even though the newspapers reach our library about a week later, it is much cheaper. A good example : we receive from the National Library of Latvia on exchange among other periodicals Latvian biggest newspaper Diena; we send them our newspapers. Which makes the exchange equal. To order this newspaper through the agency, we would have to pay 20 times more than we pay for the annual subscription of a newspaper we are sending them. The periodicals make about a half what we send to our partners.

Though the exchange is much easier way of acquisition than purchase, because you do not pay for books, there are some minuses in the exchange. Exchange is much more expensive way to acquisite, because there is a lot of work witch is not straightly related to acquisition. In the National Library we have a collection of publication specially purchased for exchange. The reason we have to develop such collection, is the size of Estonian bookmarket - and it is small. Usually only 2000-3000 copies of a title is printed, and second print is not very common. To guarantee, that our partners get the books they are interested in, we develop the exchange collection. The development of this collection is difficult (even more difficult than development of the libraries collections, because in the development you have to know the interests of different exchange partner. Here we differ from many other libraries, who exchange only books from their duplicate collection. The development of the exchange collection is a work of one librarian, six librarians are involved in exchange process. And the work costs money.

Second minus side is the reciving of the publications. Many libraries exchange publications from their duplicate collection by sending out the lists of duplicates (or just exchange lists). In this case we can never be sure wether we get the book we ordered or not, because there is a rule, that the first gets all. Very often this is a case of the work and fastness of the post office.

As a National Library we believe a very important mission is to promote Estonian culture and literature. Estonia is a very small country, and the books and periodicals published in Estonia do not reach the international bookselling industry, mainly not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of information. One way to promote Estonian culture and literature is exchange programs with libraries all over the world. And here the case is not always to have a balanced exchange.

On exchange we try to send to our partners - usually national libraries or big university libraries, the outstanding examples of Estonian fiction, titles which have won prizes on the international level. Also we send to our partners informative materials about Estonia, its economy and culture. In cooperation with Estonian Institute we are sending to our partners free of charge a newspaper "Estonian Literature", which is in English and gives information about Estonian fiction and non-fiction. And also in cooperation with Estonian Institute we send to big art libraries and national libraries free of charge a journal "Estonian Art".

As a national library we feel it is our obligation to promote the culture of our country and we do look forward to any kind of cooperation in this matter. Exchange is giving this possibility to be another link between libraries, another possibility for cooperation.


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