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FCIL Newsletter

volume 14, number 2


Report from Budapest
Mirela Roznovschi
New York University Law Library

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 Russian
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 and Albania).

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 to English.

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 develop
tremendously. They want to be our partners and colleagues. Time is on our side. I have great expectations for the future.


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