Libraries of Prague
Submitted by Julienne Grant, Loyola University School of Law Library, Chicago
Editor's note: To see pictures from Julienne's trip to Prague, check out The Final Pics at the end of the newsletter.
I am slowly making my way through my travel "wish list." I explored Dublin last summer, and I chose Prague for my 2006 spring break. Prague made my list because so many of my friends had recommended it as a travel destination.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is indeed an exceptionally beautiful city. Its well-preserved medieval architecture and art are stunning, and the city's main square is probably the most spectacular I have seen in Europe. The famous Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava River and is now pedestrianized, is simply breathtaking. The city is also full of fascinating churches, including St. Vitus' Cathedral, which dates from the 14th century, and the glorious Church of St. Nicholas, where Mozart once played the organ.
During my short stay in Prague, however, I did reserve some time away from the tourist sites, and the terrific shopping opportunities for garnet jewelry. I ventured "off the beaten track" a bit, and visited the three libraries that are discussed in detail below. My library visits were not only educational, but also personally rewarding, as the local librarians I met were extremely gracious and welcoming.
THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC
The National Library is part of the Clementinum complex, which was originally a Jesuit university built in the 16th century. The concept of a Czech National Library, however, began when its first director, Karel Rafael Ungar, succeeded in obtaining the first statute on legal deposit in 1781. Since that time, the National Library has had a variety of names, with the most recent coined in 1990 after the 1989 revolution. The position of the National Library as the center of the nation's public library system was defined in the Libraries Act of 2001, which also mandates that the Library retain two deposit copies of Czech publications.
The National Library's collection now numbers over six million items, including rare manuscripts and books, some of which date back to the 8th century. The National Library also houses the Slavonic Library, which contains a valuable collection of Slav and Slavonic studies literature. The National Library does circulate some of its materials, and the Library loaned out almost 650,000 items in 2004. In that same year, the National Library staff numbered 445, and the Library hosted over a half a million visitors.
With such impressive history and statistics, I was surprised that the Library's entrance was rather nondescript. I wasn't actually sure I was in the right place until I found myself at the information desk in the Library's main hall. There, I received permission to take a photo of the main hall with its massive card catalog. Although the Library has an online catalog, its contents include only post-1995 acquisitions. Pre-1995 holdings are listed on catalog cards which have been scanned and are also available online in separate "general" catalogs. The scanned cards cover items published between 1501 and 1995, and the oldest handwritten cards date back to the 18th century. Retrospective conversion is ongoing, but is slow due to inconsistent funding.
The librarian at the information desk also directed me to another desk where I purchased a reader's ticket for the Library's "General Reading Room." The General Reading Room is indeed quite spectacular, and reminded me of its counterpart in Ireland's National Library. Scholars sit in the center of the Room at desks, and the outer walls are filled with shelves of reference books. I walked all the way around the Reading Room's perimeter, and smiled as I saw some familiar English-language reference books mixed in with Czech titles that I could not decipher. The National Library also houses several subject specific reading rooms, although they were not open during the day of my visit.
LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE LIBRARY
The LIS Library is part of the National Library, and is tucked away in a room on the third floor of the same building. It was a bit of a challenge finding it, but I was rewarded for my efforts. I was truly amazed at the breadth of this collection, which targets local librarians, LIS faculty, and students.
The collection itself contains over 30,000 monographs and 200 serials in the LIS field, including numerous reference works in English. Patrons also have access to a variety of online databases and CD-ROM products, including LISA PLUS and Library Literature. The scope of the serials collection is impressive, and includes U.S. titles, such as Computers in Libraries, Journal of Academic Librarianship, and Public Services Quarterly. The LIS Library also subscribes to an array of library association publications from around the world. I saw materials, for example, from Australia, Canada, China, France, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, Russia, Serbia, the U.K., and the U.S.
The librarian on duty, Eva Mackova, could not have been kinder. Although I don't speak Czech, and her English was somewhat limited, we managed to communicate enough so that I was able to gain a basic understanding of library education, and the profession of librarianship in the Czech Republic. Eva also gave me a beautiful little book, Libraries and Librarianship in the Czech Republic. Published in 2005 in English, the book provides a complete overview of Czech libraries, including a discussion of the transformation of Czech libraries after the 1989 revolution. This title is not listed in WorldCat, so I feel extremely fortunate to have this copy.
According to this book, education for librarians in the Czech Republic is available at special secondary schools and universities, and degrees are available at the bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels. There are currently individual study programs at six schools, three of which are universities. Charles University in Prague also offers a two-year program for library professionals already working in the field. In 2004, 91% of library employees in the Czech Republic were women, and 9% were men. SKIP, the Association of Library and Information Professionals of the Czech Republic, has about 1,350 individual and institutional members, and publishes a quarterly bulletin.
BIBLIOTECA CARLOS FUENTES (CARLOS FUENTES LIBRARY)
The Biblioteca Carlos Fuentes is part of the newly opened Cervantes Institute in Prague. The Cervantes Institute is a global organization, founded by the Spanish government in 1991, to promote Hispanic culture and the Spanish language. These are currently over forty Institutes worldwide, and each has a library. I am a member of the Cervantes Institute in Chicago, and am a frequent patron of its library. I thought it would be fun to visit the Institute's library in Prague, so I contacted the head of the library, José Alberto Antolín Encinas, prior to my trip.
When I arrived at the Cervantes Institute, Alberto kindly gave me a tour of the spectacular new library facility, which is named after the well-known Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes. Located on the top floor of the Institute, the Library is bathed in natural light, and has lovely views of the surrounding neighborhood. Equipment is modern and sleek, and subject areas are clearly marked. The shelves are constructed from a beautiful light-colored wood, and rolling ladders are available to reach high shelves.
The collection itself, which currently totals upwards of 10,000 items, includes books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, maps, and even slides. The majority of the collection is in Spanish, although materials in Catalán, Gallegan, Basque, and Czech are also available. Subject emphasis is on the humanities and social sciences, but other disciplines are also represented, including law.
The Biblioteca Carlos Fuentes is open and free to the public, but a library card is required for borrowing and Internet access. Students of the Cervantes Institute receive the card for free, but members of the general public may purchase a card for a small fee. Given this library's beautiful and inviting space, I predict that it will become a popular spot for many residents of Prague.
NOTE: Further information on Czech Libraries is available at: http://www.knihovny.cz/en_index.php3
Instituto Cervantes, http://www.cervantes.es/portada_b.htm (last visited April 14, 2006)
National Library of the Czech Republic, http://www.nkp.cz/_en/index.php3 (last visited April 14, 2006)
National Library of the Czech Republic, Libraries and Librarianship in the Czech Republic (Prague: National Library, 2005).
Programa Cultural: Enero-Marzo. Prague: Instituto Cervantes Praga, 2006.
Vladimir Soukup, Eyewitness Travel Guides: Prague. (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005).
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