Penn Library: A Visiting Fellows Program with Estonia

With support from the Mellon Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Library has established a Visiting Fellows Program with the University of Tartu Libraries and the Estonian Library Consortium. Beginning in March, Penn will host the first in a series of librarian exchanges with sister institutions in the Baltic republic. The goal is to hasten the Estonians' efforts at westernization and the implementation of advanced library operations and digital systems. In this first wave, librarians from Tartu University will travel to Philadelphia to share work experience with Penn's catalogers, web designers, systems specialists, collection management staff and library fundraisers.

Since independence, the Estonians have been making an optimistic but uneasy passage through economic and technological change, and looking to Mellon and other Western sources for material support and expertise. According to Toomas Liivamagi, deputy director of the Tartu University Library, the librarian exchange with Penn will "be a huge motivation to our staff to adopt new technologies. We hope it will make our transition to new work methods much less painful." That transition will be steep, since, until only recently, the technology available at the Tartu University Library was on a par with U.S. academic libraries of forty years ago. It is a transition complicated further by the need to reform Soviet-style administrative models, which are staff intensive and bureaucratic, and to reverse long-standing institutional traditions that have stymied resource sharing and other forms of library cooperation.

Librarians like Liivamagi are betting on new technologies such as the INNOPAC system now being implemented as a national utility in seven major Estonian research libraries to provide the means to restructure their organizations and increase inter-library collaboration. Exposure to U.S. academic libraries, with their experience in automation and consortial programs, could take years off the development trajectory for the Estonians. We have much to learn from them. The Estonians have valuable experience in the conservation and preservation of print collections that can aid our efforts in this vital area.

The Fellows Program will run four to five years, with at least two visits per year lasting for up to one month. Mellon has provided $75,000 in support of the program, and Penn hopes to draw on the great array of academic library resources in the eastern U.S. to enrich the experience of its Estonian partners.

--Paul Mosher, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 24, March 16, 1999