volume 14, number 2
New York University
The Constitutional and Legal Policy Institute in Budapest, in cooperation
with the Open Society Institute, organized the Training for Law Librarians,"
an intensive course for law librarians in developing countries, from September
29-October 3, 1999. The training took place at the Central European University
Residence and Conference Center. The Central European University (CEU),
with teaching sites in Budapest and Warsaw, is an international institution
for post-graduate study and research, gathering students from more than
40 countries. The computer lab provided continuous access to the Internet
as well as permanent assistance during the sessions. The network functioned
perfectly; professor and students alike enjoyed unimpeded
access to all legal databases throughout the institute.
The class: 22 professors of law, law librarians, directors of law libraries
or legal centers from 16 countries (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,
Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia,
Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Yugoslavia). The participants were brought
to Budapest for a course related to building law collections and
conducting legal modern research. I was invited to design and teach
the training. My partner was Anne P. Pries Heijke of the Library of the
Institute of East European Law and Russian Studies, Leiden, the Netherlands.
She is a specialist in the field of collecting legal materials from the
countries of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. I
covered Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, Celex, as well as legal databases on international,
comparative, and foreign law. I presented also a short introduction on
designing libraries' home pages.
My background: I want to stress the importance of knowing French, Italian,
Russian, Albanian and Moldavian in such a multinational environment. The
fact that I can read and understand Russian was vital for building a bridge
with the Russian group. My knowledge of Italian and Albanian (I studied
Albanian one year in College) helped the librarian from Albania who
addressed me at the beginning in Italian and Albanian and then switched
to English. The librarian from Belgrade was fluent in both French and English.
Similarly, I was able to communicate with librarians from Ukraine and Belarus,
etc. My knowledge of Moldavian, which is actually Romanian, gave more confidence
to the librarians from Moldova to speak English.
Another factor is that I was born in a Communist country, so I knew
a lot about the Communist bureaucracy, post-Communist era and political
issues. This factor added credibility to my suggestions for improving the
libraries in the students' home countries.
Languages: The training was conducted in English. I expended much energy
explaining that they should view English as the language of computers,
international legal databases, international organizations (as well as
the language of Westlaw, Lexis, Celex, EU and EC legal databases), not
as an imperialist language. At the beginning, many participants preferred
to English, even though they had a passive knowledge of English. For
them, Russian was the universal language. The first day I told the organizers
that I did not want translators in the class. I matched better speaking
English librarians with the other students. The next day I was forced to
go back to translators but 12 participants did not use their services.
In the last teaching day only 4 or 5 out of 22 were using the English-Russian
translators. I had a problem with the two Mongolians speaking only Mongolian.
They did not even speak Russian, so they were lost during the training.
While teaching foreign law, my students saw me using legal dictionaries
to find equivalents for legal concepts in different languages and jurisdictions.
This was the case with searching in Dutch, French, and German legal databases.
These exercises, as well as the exercises on European Union and European
Council databases, gave the students a real feel for the real world
of foreign and international legal research.
Legal systems: Civil law countries with an interest in common law jurisdictions.
Civil law in an Islamic country (Tajikistan).
Religions: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Islamic, Buddhist. I tried to
be very careful with my human rights examples in order to avoid delicate
issues related to religious beliefs. Anyway, life is very unpredictable
so I was not able to keep up with the commitment to this end. On September
30, while I was teaching about the European Court of Human Rights, CNN
announced that the court from Strasbourg had decided the Case of Moore
and Gordon v. the United Kingdom and the Case of Smith and Ford v. the
United Kingdom (related to homosexuality in the U.K. army). In my class,
filled with people from very conservative countries (where homosexuality
is punished by religion) this provoked a big uproar. I explained that we
should view these developments as an opportunity to demonstrate how research
must be up to the minute and how fast cases are uploaded by international
courts' databases. The class was then able to look at the entire issue
in a more detached light.
Political sensitivities: There were unspoken tensions between representatives
from Azerbaijan and Armenia; the Baltic group and the Russian group; Yugoslavia
and Albania. The librarian from Yugoslavia saw me as an imperialist representative
of the USA and NATO when the Kosovo Tribunal popped up on the screen, etc.
To avoid damaging political sensitivities, my
examples in the class room were related to far away regions such as
Rwanda, South Africa, Chile and Pinochet, etc.
Regions: The concept of regional cooperative groups obtaining grants
(to develop home pages, online catalogs, etc) became more prominent especially
for the Russian Group, in the last teaching day. They were curious about
our Northeastern Cooperative Group. In the class, the following regional
groups were detectable: The Baltic group; the Russian and former Soviet
Union countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Azerbaijan);
the Far Asian group (Mongolia); and the Central European group (Yugoslavia
Training schedule: I taught an average of four hours a day plus an additional
two hours spent helping my class with the homework in the computer lab.
Homework: The homework was designed to practice skills and to reinforce
everything taught in class. I prepared assignments very carefully in accordance
with the Syllabus (distributed in advance). Students ran searches in parallel
databases and compared results. This enabled them to critically evaluate
and compare databases. The homework was prepared in English. This provided
another incentive for students to switch from Russian, Italian, and French
The result was positive. The students were able to complete their homework.
Many of them worked in groups. I encouraged team work because students
had the opportunity to learn not only from me but to share their experiences
with each other.
Analysis of discrepancies: There were big differences in the participants'
levels of understanding. The Baltic Group was the most advanced. The Russian
Group was very well represented by Russia (Moscow), while the other countries
were far behind Russian libraries.
Those from the Far East possessed less knowledge of technical support
in a modern library. The Armenian librarians were well trained because
they had benefitted from intensive training at New York University and
USAID training programs.
Conclusion: I felt like a probe heading for the far reaches of the solar
system, but I also felt that it was the time to share my expertise with
others. There are a large number of good law libraries, albeit in different
stages of development in Eastern and Central Europe, Russia and Far Asia.
In the coming years, many of these law libraries or legal centers will
tremendously. They want to be our partners and colleagues. Time is
on our side. I have great expectations for the future.
to the next article, ""Australian Law & Librarianship"
to the Table of Contents