COBISS.Net - Support to knowledge and intercultural dialogue
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 economic development. However, libraries cannot take on their role, if their work is not supported by modern information communication technology. Moreover, they are unable to function efficiently 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 country and the international community as a whole.
So far, only a few countries have succeeded in establishing a national library information system with the shared cataloguing system. In most cases, the establishment of such a system is made impossible not only because of the uncoordinated automation of individual libraries using different types of library software, but also because libraries fall under different ministries that fail to collaborate in the library development planning stage.
COBISS (Co-operative Online Bibliographic Systems and Services) is a reference model of a system representing the platform for the national library information systems and/or bibliographic systems for the evaluation of research results in Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Albania. All these systems are interconnected into the COBISS.Net regional network. While in Kosovo, they are preparing themselves for the implementation of the COBISS system, an open invitation for cooperation has been offered to libraries in Croatia.
The key features of the integrated management of library catalogues and researchers’ bibliographies are:
- Rationalization and added value,
- Advanced trainings of cataloguers,
- Higher quality of bibliographic records and multi-functionality,
- Transparency of research results.
The concept of the COBISS system was introduced 25 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. In 1991, at the time of the collapse of Yugoslavia, the COBISS system 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 as a rule, IZUM collaborates with the participating countries through their national libraries. 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 300,000 bibliographic records have been exchanged between the systems, which, undoubtedly, saved a great deal of time and money for over 700 participating libraries.
COBISS.Net is an information network ensuring transparency of intellectual production in environments, in which, until recently, deeply conflicting concepts were created. The interlinking and exchange of information, when looking at it from this perspective, represents a significant 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.
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". Bulgaria joined the project in November 2006; in December 2012, however, based on a special agreement, the library of the Academy of Sciences of Albania joined the project, as well.
- 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 libraries in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Kosovo to 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 (SICRIS/E-CRIS) in the participating countries (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 for the purpose of stimulating innovation processes and economic and social development in the region.
IZUM is a non-profit organisation, a public institution with 115 employees, which has never pursued commercial interests either in Slovenia or abroad. For almost a quarter of a century, 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.
IZUM is a well-recognised regional centre for the development of library information systems and research information systems. That was recognised, as well, by UNCESCO which, at its General Assembly in November 2011, awarded IZUM the status of the UNESCO Regional Centre.
Within the COBISS.Net network, IZUM offers libraries:
- Proven organisational solutions and COBISS software support for the automation of library functions with shared cataloguing within the COBISS.Net network, and access to the global catalogue WorldCat.
- Proven methodology and software to manage researchers' bibliographies within the COBISS system, applications for setting up a national research information system (SICRIS, E-CRIS), and evaluation of research results.
- A variety of training programmes (for librarians and IT professionals), the organisation of specialised workshops and international COBISS conferences.
- Server capacities for the COBISS and SICRIS/E-CRIS applications and services.
The software, developed and maintained by IZUM, supports different library functions and provides user interfaces in several languages (Slovenian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Albanian and English).
Closer cooperation plans with OCLC will give the libraries a better chance of meeting their needs and the needs of end users of information resources and services in an efficient manner.
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.
So far, efforts of IZUM to persuade the European Commission to include funding for the development of the information infrastructure COBISS.Net in the development support programmes for the Western Balkan countries have failed. At the COBISS 2006 conference, among other things, IZUM organised the COBISS.Net panel entitled "Development Assistance Programmes for South Eastern European Countries for Information Infrastructures of Science, Education and Culture", which was attended by the representatives of DG Research, DG Education and Culture, and the representatives of the competent ministries of the participating countries and some international organisations. The project was highly praised, but none of the participants could answer the question on how to secure EU funding for such a project.
In the belief that a modern library information network can contribute to the stabilisation of conditions, intercultural dialogue and faster development, and that the EU is serious about "filling the void" between Slovenia and Greece as soon as possible, then the EU must include the library information network in this region among support programmes and necessary conditions. Tangible support should follow logically from the up to date analyses and research to develop a library information infrastructure.
COBISS.Net, a regional network, is a joint project of institutions in Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Bulgaria, which have taken on the responsibility for developing national library information systems and current research information systems. Linking between the systems is crucial for managing researchers' bibliographies and evaluating research results. Previous collaboration has yielded positive results, and we trust that the importance and future prospects of COBISS.Net are essential not only for the development of the region but also for its successful integration into the EU.