COBISS.Net - Support to knowledge and intercultural dialogue

Libraries in the information society

Knowledge is the driving force of development. For the knowledge-based information society, library information systems and current research information systems are an essential infrastructure, indispensable in advanced education and research, as well as in cultural, technological and economical development. However, libraries cannot take on their role, if their work is not supported by modern information communication technology. Moreover, they are unable to efficiently function as isolated islands, so they must link with each other and provide conditions for dialogue and collaboration, which further provides the basis for the development of each individual country and the international community as a whole.

So far, only a few countries have succeeded in establishing a national library information system wuth the shared cataloguing system. In most cases, the establishment of such a system is made impossible not only due to the uncoordinated automation of individual libraries using different types of library software, but also due to the fact that libraries fall under different ministries that fail to collaborate in the library development planning stage.

 

From the mere concept of the COBISS system to a regional library network

COBISS (Co-operative Online Bibliographic Systems and Services) is a reference model of a system representing the platform for the national library information systems of Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which are interconnected in the COBISS.Net regional network. Bulgaria, Albania and Kosovo are preparing for the implementation of the COBISS system.

The concept of the COBISS system was introduced 20 years ago. In December 1987, the then Association of the Yugoslav National Libraries adopted a shared cataloguing system as a common ground for the national library information system and the system of scientific and technological information of Yugoslavia. The role of the information and bibliographic service, as well as that of the organisational solutions and software developer was taken over by the Institute of Information Science (IZUM) from Maribor, Slovenia. Due to extensive financial support of the then federal ministry for science and technology, a computer and library network was created, which, by 1991, the time of the collapse of Yugoslavia, connected 55 libraries from all its republics and regions.

At that time, libraries located outside Slovenia withdrew from the shared cataloguing system. Later, however, almost all of them gradually renewed the collaboration with IZUM. Today, IZUM collaborates with the participating countries through their national libraries. The exceptions are the libraries of the Republic of Croatia, which followed a different path, set by their state institutions. In 2003, an Agreement was signed on the establishment of the COBISS.Net network and the free exchange of bibliographic records, that are created within the autonomous library information systems of the participating countries. So far, over 200,000 bibliographic records have been exchanged by the systems, which, undoubtedly, saved a great deal of time and money.

COBISS.Net is an information network ensuring transparency of intellectual production in environments, in which, until recently, deeply conflicting concepts were created. Looking at it from this perspective, the interlinking and exchange of information represents an important step towards resolving conflicts and strengthening peace within the region. The expansion of the COBISS.Net network also represents an effective form of support to the intercultural dialog, and, as a result, a better understanding and more efficient cooperation in the region of the Western Balkans.

 

Goals of the COBISS.Net Project: Phase 2

In March 2006, the directors of the National libraries of Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as well as the director of IZUM adopted Phase 2 of the COBISS.Net project entitled "Support to Knowledge and Intercultural Dialogue", which has the following goals:

  • To enhance the automation and inclusion of libraries of already participating countries in the national library information systems and in the COBISS.Net network.
  • To attract the interest of the libraries in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Kosovo to take the opportunity to evolve more rapidly by becoming part of the COBISS.Net network.
  • To harmonise cataloguing rules with international recommendations and standards.
  • To set up compatible research information systems (databases on researchers, research organisations and research projects).
  • To encourage the competent ministries and universities of the participating countries to accept the concept of managing researchers' bibliographies within the national library systems and ensure the transparency of the research results.
  • To increase the use of research results in order to stimulate innovation processes and economic and social development in the region.

 

What does IZUM offer the libraries within COBISS.Net?

IZUM is a non-profit organisation, a public institution with 110 employees, which has never pursued commercial interests neither in Slovenia nor abroad. For almost two decades, IZUM has been present in a wider region with its professional and innovative initiatives, and over this period it has won the trust of the public. Today, IZUM is a well-recognised regional centre for the development of library information systems and systems for the monitoring and evaluation of research results. Within the COBISS.Net network, IZUM can provide libraries with:

  • Proven organisational solutions and COBISS software support for the automation of library functions with shared cataloguing within the COBISS.Net network;
  • Proven methodology and software to manage researchers' bibliographies within the COBISS system, and the application for setting up a national research information system (SICRIS, E-CRIS);
  • A variety of training programmes for librarians and IT professionals;
  • Annual international COBISS conferences and the organization of specialist workshops.

The software, developed and maintained by IZUM, supports different library functions and provides user interfaces in several languages (Slovenian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Serbian and English). A Bulgarian and Albanian translation is underway.

For over 15 years, the annual COBISS conferences have been a place of gathering for librarians and IT professionals within the region. In certain periods, they were also the only place where people kept in touch despite the dramatic conflicts between the countries within the region.

 

International support to development

Over the past fifteen years, the Slovenian Government has enabled the cooperating countries to start setting up their own co-operative library systems and research information systems by providing various forms of assistance (direct funding, equipment, staff training, etc.). In the past few years, individual development-related activities have also been supported by the Austrian OOSI, the British Council, the Open Society Institute, EU – Tempus, CEI and UNESCO-ROSTE.

So far, our efforts to persuade the European Commission to include the funding for the development of the information infrastructure COBISS.Net in the development support programmes for the Western Balkan countries were in vain. At the COBISS 2006 conference, among other things, the COBISS.Net Panel entitled "Development Assistance Programmes for South Eastern European Countries for Information Infrastructures of Science, Education and Culture" was organised with representatives of DG Research, DG Education and Culture, representatives of the competent ministries of the participating countries and some international organisations. The project was highly praised, however, none of the participants could answer the question on how to secure EU funding for such a project.

We hope that the belief will prevail that a modern library information network can contribute towards the stabilisation of conditions, intercultural dialogue and faster development. If the European Union is serious about "filling the void" between Slovenia and Greece as soon as possible, then library information networks within the region must be included in the crucial preconditions within the development programmes. The current analyses and research should be followed by tangible support to develop a library information infrastructure.

 

Conclusion

COBISS.Net is a joint project of the institutions in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which have taken on the responsibility for developing national library information systems and current research information systems. The linking between both systems is especially important to manage researchers' bibliographies and when evaluating research results. Hitherto collaboration has yielded positive results and we trust that the importance and future prospects of COBISS.Net are essential, both for the development of the region and for its successful integration into the EU.