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Economic integration through NAFTA, Mercosur and Apec regional treaties, encompassing the USA, the southern cone of Latin America and the Pacific Rim countries, are redefining the relationships within the region. The library and information environment is facing new challenges, new demands and the appearance of new competitors; countries are striving for the modernization of the State apparatus, repositioning and converting government organizations to meet these challenges.
Parliaments, political activities and representation are in a critical situation. Parliaments are considered expensive, and unable to solve problems with legislation. At best, they are seen as slow to react and as neither reflecting the changing times and the present pace of major competitive activities, nor acting on predominant concerns such as environmental issues. Yet parliaments within emerging democracies are recognized as a necessary evil, fundamental for democratic processes, better than a dictatorship, but not intrinsically good. Governments are reacting to this perception. There is a major tendency towards the modernization of parliaments and their information provision services, using technology to monitor constituency concerns, looking for more transparency in political action and promoting a clearer understanding of political issues.
The Chilean Library of Congress has just finished a major modernization project, with World Bank funds, aiming at a profound cultural change in the use of information and knowledge for laws and law-making. The project was multi-layered, including people, organizational structure, information resources, databases, products and services. The Library now offers a wide range of products and services not only within Congress walls but over the Internet, incorporating indexed access to the information offered. It has grasped the opportunities offered by the widespread use of technologies beyond a gradual automation of traditional library processes.
The Bolivian, the Peruvian and the Argentinian Libraries of Parliament are initiating their own odernization projects, ranging from traditional automation of library collections to top of the line technologies. These projects are being initiated in the Parliamentary Libraries because they are recognised as the major information and knowledge providers for Congress, possessing the necessary technical skills, and being apolitical. Democracy in the region is still a fragile infant, and one way to strengthen democratic efforts is by supporting the decision-making capabilities of national or regional parliaments. This has been widely recognized and international funds made available for several modernization projects. However, some countries like Paraguay do not have a workable parliamentary library to support parliamentary decision making.
National and Parliamentary Libraries in Latin America have carved themselves a niche within the cultural environment of their countries. In some cases they have been a leverage for change and growth within their countries, like Venezuela or Chile; in other cases they have maintained services and limited growth during troubled times; in still others libraries are trying hard to achieve a minimum level of quality services and activities. Some countries are in grave danger of losing their own artistic and intellectual production, while others are having to hold on very fast to their achievements.
Six years ago we presented a paper at the Cuba IFLA General Conference, describing our modernization project, with its major components, strengths, weaknesses and expected outcomes. After this period of time, we can describe our experience, the objectives that were met, the objectives that changed during the time of realization of the project, and the aspects we could not modify as rapidly as we wanted to.
The World Bank, the main financial source, was interested in contributing to the project, particularly in enhancing decision-making capabilities for a newly revived Congress, after 17 years of the Pinochet regime. The point of departure was to extend technologies and information resources, creating a knowledge-based, multiple source, structured and unstructured, formally and informally networked, information environment. It considered the integration of information technologies with information and knowledge, analytic and management capabilities.
Some of the main objectives of the project were:
The most important change has been the revolution in services provided. Whereas we were a mainly traditional library, waiting for the user to generate demands for services and products, we are now proactively offering our services to parliamentarians and users in general over the Congressional Intranet and over the Internet. The Chilean Library of Congress could be described as the coalescence of several libraries embraced by a single mission and common objectives.
One library is the traditional, upholstered, book and paper based library, with classical services such as reference, loans, bibliographies, searches and other services provided in an electronic, networked environment. Thus, we buy books, catalogue them (Marc, AACR-2) with rigorous authority control, and provide access and lending services. The system includes collection development, (acquisitions) management and multiple transactions, such as loans, reports and statistics. So, a part of the modernization project acknowledges the value of a traditional library and was aimed at providing more and better of the same.
Another, superimposed library is the electronic one, in which we provide electronic access to collections and extensive, full text databases, (our own and external), CD-ROMs, and the Internet, thus providing very rich informational resources. From our point of view, the electronic library is at the service of its users, the country, the region, and even the world, turned outwards through electronic media, such as the WWW, providing remote access to our own or external databases. The main difference is the attitude that permeates our services. They are no longer local, or passive, but pro-active, with an outreach concept; towards the user and not from the user, with rapid turnaround capabilities.
The third library is the virtual one, in which we are striving to enrich, and in some cases substitute, physical access to our building, providing value-added services and products over our Intranet. This third library provides a major change for the user; designing and providing highly specialized services and value-added products specially geared to the legislative process. The virtual library is being built slowly, and aims at providing more and more direct information and knowledge, less referential information; partly substituting the traditional library and building upon it at the same time. The library of the future is an attitude, a concept based upon the capability of being open to opportunities and turning into an outreaching enterprise.
The Library provides three levels of information services and products:
The main services and products that we offer within an electronic and virtual environment are:
All of these in-house Library-generated databases are updated daily. They require expensive, intellectual, multidisciplinary work, from sections such as our Parliamentary Research Group. We are also striving for a future integration of searches, so every database is using the same controlled vocabulary in the relevant bibliographic areas or fields for efficient retrieval of information.
The Library of Congress also provides services such as press clippings (on-going manual archive since 1948), research and reference on demand by a multidisciplinary team; publications, and others. For example, each month every parliamentarian receives a dossier with his or her own clippings, their activities, views and comments in the printed press.
One of the most difficult endeavours during these years has been to promote recognition of, and demand among parliamentarians, for the sophisticated services and products provided by the Library, which are an asset to them in their roles as representatives and legislators and in their fiscal duties. The process has been slow, involving years of public relations work, lobbying for the library, and striving to improve communications between parliamentarians, their staff and the library.
Technology has been helpful; we have provided unusual services beyond traditional user training, that expand the Library's relevance. We personally teach users how to interrogate our databases from their offices, provide manuals, train secretaries, and trouble-shoot network or computer glitches beyond the call of service. We also offer group training sessions for parliamentarians, their staff, the political committees and legislative commissions.
For the first time, in March 1998, we conducted a well planned public-relations campaign for newly elected Representatives and Senators. The campaign included hand-outs, a video of the Library, user manuals, training offers, and personal contact with each individual office. As the Members have become acquainted with our services, and as younger people are elected to Congress, they have exponentially incremented the demand for services, products, and Intranet searches, and are beginning to more fully exploit the potential of the Library.
As part of the modernization project, we were successful in expanding the area of influence and general recognition of the Library's role within the Legislative process. We have made a significant impact with increased service, product demand, assistance requirements, and participation in orientation work-shops for new parliamentarians and their staff.
The projects were executed by public tender for systems, including training activities within the academic environment, looking for turn-key solutions, and outsourcing, thus avoiding impact on operational budgets and keeping down the number of library staff.
During the implementation of the original project, the widespread availability of the Internet and the emerging alternative of Intranet connectivity and access generated an enormous upheaval. Thus, we found ourselves in a very unstable technological environment which offered new and as yet unconsolidated opportunities, and new relationships with parliamentarians based upon technologies and project shifts geared beyond the Library walls. The Library embraced Internet and Intranet facilities to extend information resources, and to become part of the information world in this new marketplace. As to community work, during 1998, as a result of major educational modernization projects, all schools will have a technological platform with which to access the Internet, and will work within a shared and networked environment, with access to Library of Congress products especially designed for outreach purposes.
While some staff had difficulties with modernization activities and new technologies, others became champions of change. Some staff rejected, quite understandably, the Library Headquarters in Valparaíso: others embraced the opportunity to change cities. The new, functional, organizational structure generated some insecurities, with a degree of reluctance in accepting centralized processing and decentralized services. However, to counteract these disappointments, the users appreciated the benefits of these changes soon enough, having their requirements satisfied from a one-stop-information-shop library.
Technological glitches were also a major problem - not one of the new systems is fully consolidated and reliable. We have worked with major international and renowned hardware, communications, network and software providers, and have the ambivalent feeling that technological change and competitiveness is such that systems are offered in the market when they are still in their infancy and not completely tried and tested. When the core of our business and services relies on technology in a similar way to banks and financial operations, technology should be glitch-free, but we do not have the means to carry out in-house development or testing such as the financial world does. This fragility can be observed library-wide, and is an opinion shared with most colleagues, although not openly or frequently acknowledged. Systems and network administration have become complex operations with too many elements in play, resulting in rising operational costs beyond previous plans and estimates.
Management issues have also been a potential for trouble, as the resources, staff and multiple locations have made the Library into an increasingly complex institution from a management point of view. Most middle managers of the Library, even though receiving expensive and holistic training, have not become proactive, effective, and efficient enough to sustain this prolonged modernization effort. There is a duality between modernisation changes, and fear of them, and it can be extremely difficult to change mind-sets.
The Library is continually considering the next steps to develop, monitoring emerging technologies, listening to user demands, and watching where our competitors are going. Some of the clear-cut projects we are initiating are:
But, the most important is an attitude to embrace change, and to exploit technological opportunities that could emerge. Other challenges include more work with Congress people to evaluate impact of library services, and more focused products geared to particular needs. We have made the initial effort to catapult the Library into the 21st. Century while at the same time preserving the link with Alexandria and Babylon which is and will always be relevant. In libraries, changes have always been cumulative, complementing previous formats, services and traditions. The Alexandria library had a list of materials within each repository room, striving to hold all of the world's knowledge in its walls ; Otlet and LaFontaine integrated the list and considered this a major universal scale of organizing knowledge, therefore centralizing control and access. We can now have a universal library with both access and availability, superimposing the world's knowledge, and reinforcing the role of information brokers and organizers in an ever expanding world.
Cronin, Blaise (1996) Information and market integration in Latin America. In: Blaise Cronin, (ed). Information, Development and Social Intelligence. UK: Taylor Graham, pp 191-201.
Delano, Marialyse (1996) A socially intelligent Congress. In: Blaise Cronin, (ed). Information, Development and Social Intelligence. UK: Taylor Graham. pp. 182-190.
Delano, Marialyse (1999) Library and information: Latin America. In: Maurice Line, (ed). Librarianship and Information Work World Wide, 1999 .UK: Bowker Saur.
Feliu, Ximena and Delano, Marialyse (1994) User oriented services: a feedback strategy for gaining understanding and support for the Parliamentary Library. Paper presented at the meeting: 60th IFLA General Conference - Cuba, 1994.
Feliu, Ximena and Delano, Marialyse (1993) Rethinking a Library: Knowledge for legislators and the Library of Congress of Chile. Paper presented at the meeting: 59th IFLA General Conference - Barcelona, 1993.
Gazitua, Jose Miguel (1997) Gestores de informacion y el entorno: algunas referencias para la navegacion. In: Informacion y Desarrollo (8), feb. 1997, pp. 29-44.
Vigier, Pierre (1997) Sistemas de informacion y gestion de gobierno: enfoques, experiencias, restricciones y posibilidades. (Paper presented at the meeting: Reunion de expertos sobre tendencias y desafíos de la gestion de la informacion y las tecnologias de la informacion en America Latina y el Caribe, Santiago de Chile, November 26-28)
Vitro, Robert A. (1997) Americas 21: creando el futuro hoy. (Paper presented at the meeting: Reunion de expertos sobre tendencias y desafios de la gestion de la informacion y las tecnologias de la informacion en America Latina y el Caribe, Santiago de Chile, November 26-28)