Libraries and librarians from Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020
The British Library is very fortunate to have 12 library partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, where colleagues are always prepared to help us obtain material for our users. This is usually hard-to-find material: local, regional, small press or rare books. There’s no enquiry about this European region that our colleagues there have not been able to assist us with, their expertise or information adding value to our services to the public. Today we come together to celebrate our partnership and to share experiences of living and working in the pandemic.
Sofia University Library “St. Kliment Ohridski” is the biggest research library in Bulgaria. These days are hard for us. We closed in March and when we returned in May we celebrated a special day for Bulgarian librarians, which is also a national holiday. We commemorated the memory of the saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, our alphabet.
The cooperation between Sofia University Library and the British Library began in the early 20th century, only 20 years after the establishment of the first Bulgarian university – the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
Two series in particular represent our historic cooperation, the Godishnik – Sofiiski universitet (‘Yearbook of Sofia University’; Ac.1137.) and the journal Sapostavitelno ezikoznanie (‘Contrastive Linguistics’; ZA.9.a.3462.). We really appreciate the relationship between our libraries.
Bilyana Yavrukova, Deputy Director of Sofia University Library
Drawings by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia (‘A naval history’) (Varna, 2018) Facsimile edition of Variklechkov’s manuscript. ZF.9.b.2414
The partnership with the British Library, which began in 1961, has played a significant role in the development of our collections.
The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Sofia has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 challenge by adapting to new realities. The library has introduced a wide range of free online services on its website. Our cultural events are now virtual events and online exhibitions.
The Library hosted a national online forum, “COVID-19: the response of libraries”, with representatives of public libraries and affiliated institutions. We have widely shared experiences of working in a pandemic.
While working in an emergency, the National Library of Bulgaria was temporarily closed to reorganize our activities into teamwork on site and remotely. We used the time to complete the disinfection of the premises, public catalogues and storage areas in the library. We have adapted new areas for our users.
Mihail Valov, Librarian at the National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”
Pavle Mijović, Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore (‘Artistic treasure of Montenegro’) (Cetinje, 2018) LF.31.b.14221.
The National Library of Montenegro enjoys international partnerships with some 50 libraries with Slavonic collections. The British Library has been our most valuable partner since the 1970s, when we started supplying several long-running Montenegrin journals in exchange for English books and serials for our ‘Montenegrina’ collection.
Librarians are never bored; virtual collections are just a click away. Exchange is an area with vast possibilities and need not be confined to exchanging surplus titles twice a year.
Librarians are used to working from home. I have been doing that for decades. Time spent in isolation has been precious to me and made me contemplate what can be done to improve the service. Yet I am so happy to be back among ‘tangible’ books after several weeks of working online, gardening and dog-walking. Stay healthy and happy, librarians and library users!
Vesna Vučković, Acquisitions and Exchange Librarian at the National Library of Montenegro
Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung das Eisenten problem (‘Earth radiation canon and its application to the ice age problem’) (Belgrade, 1941). Ac.1131 This very rare book was printed in 500 copies of which a few were saved during the Wehrmacht bombing of Belgrade on 6 April 1941.
The Serbian Academy Library is closed to users, and staff are working from home on reduced hours. The librarians continue to correspond with foreign colleagues during the pandemic. We have evoked some memories from the past.
The Serbian Academy Library has a long-standing cooperation with the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library. Letters from the 1880s have been preserved in which the principal librarian of the British Museum, Edward Bond, thanked the secretary of the Serbian Learned Society for issues of Glasnik (‘Herald’).
After the Second World War, during the period of the systematic exchange of publications between our libraries, one of the first books sent to the British Museum Library in 1949 was the work of the great Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, which deals with palaeoclimatic problems.
As a result of this partnership, the British Library has full sets of the most important series of the Serbian Academy.
Sanja Stepanović Todorović, Exchange Librarian at the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Vesna Crnogorac, Javne biblioteke i demokratija (‘Public libraries and democracy’) (Belgrade, 2018). YF.2020.a.4038.
The National Library of Serbia cherishes its long-standing cooperation with the British Library for more than 50 years. This cooperation is based on good will, mutual support and understanding.
The National Library of Serbia has always been very grateful for many beautiful and useful titles, which have enriched our collections and provided our users with the opportunity to read English books and research without leaving the country.
In the pandemic our library was forced to close, but our services have been maintained remotely.
Faced with various obstacles and attitudes during the pandemic in relation to their work, the librarians have managed to provide support to their communities. We hope that we will remember only solidarity, commitment to work and to our institutions and readers, and the humour with which we encouraged and supported each other throughout this period.
Dragana Milunović, Deputy Director of the National Library of Serbia, and Magdalena Kostić, Acquisitions Librarian
Facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik (‘The Studenica Typikon’) (Studenica Monastery, 2018). Awaiting shelfmark. Acquired for the British Library thanks to The Matica srpska library.
The Matica srpska library in Novi Sad, Serbia is open again after several weeks of closure. Now most of the work is done from home: creating CIP records, answering enquiries, bibliographic and project work, preparing materials for press, editorial work for our annual yearbook, and so on.
For me personally, working from home is quite hard as I have always separated work from home, quite apart from the general anxiety caused by potential infection with the COVID-19 virus. The atmosphere of working in the library is something completely different from the home environment. However, we all try to give our best in these circumstances. Shipments have been suspended, and it is especially hard to be away from the collections.
In Serbia we are used to emergencies but it is fascinating that now practically the whole world is in eager anticipation for life to return to normality. Best regards to all colleagues and readers at the British Library!
Olivera Krivošić, Senior Acquisition and Exchange Librarian
A 1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
When we received the news that the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia was closing for two weeks, everyone took something to work on from home. In the end it turned out to be eight weeks working from home.
We never thought about how much work can be done from home, from processing books and editing bibliographic records to processing articles for the Slovenian National Bibliography to translating regulations and making new ones, having meetings, coordinating various projects, making CIP records for the publishers who worked tirelessly, and much more all online.
We really missed our users and they missed us even more, according to the web statistics.
The relationship with the British Library dates back to the time of the British Museum Library, and this continuity can be traced in two letters from 1958 and 1974 held in the National and University Library Archives.
A 1974 letter from Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia, to Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975.
We are especially happy that the British Library independently selects books from Slovenia, which reflects expert knowledge and a clear collection profile.
Vali Žagar, Librarian at the National and University Library in Ljubljana