Providing access and improving national cooperation: contemporary libraries and librarianship in Switzerland
Nestled in the center of Europe between France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Austria is Switzerland, a country with well-developed library systems and a commitment to providing access to information. Swiss libraries, librarianship and library systems reflect the country's cultural, political, and economic situation in the face of domestic and universal challenges. This paper focuses on contemporary Swiss librarianship and information culture. It gives an overview of libraries and librarianship in the country, then describes current issues, trends, and challenges most relevant to Swiss librarianship today in light of the country's economic, political, and cultural situation.
As of July 2007, 7,554,661 people live in Switzerland, although approximately 20% lack Swiss citizenship. About 60% speak German, 20% speak French, 0.08% speak Italian, and less than 1% speak Romansh, the last of the four national languages (Switzerland, 2007). Ninety-nine percent of the total population over the age of 15 can read and write. Switzerland shares national languages with its neighboring European countries, but retains its independence and neutrality. Switzerland has avoided joining the European Union, although its librarians tend to work well with other European countries. The country is a direct democracy, sometimes described as a federation of cantons. The independence of the 26 cantons sometimes hinders cooperation in the Library and Information Science field on a national level. For example, Switzerland has no mandatory federal deposit laws, but "some cantons have separate legal deposit legislation, generally covering only print material" (Caslon analytics, 2005). Switzerland has a strong economy. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Switzerland has a low unemployment rate, about 3.3%, and a per capita GDP of $34,000 (Ibid). In comparison, the United States has an unemployment rate of 4.8% and a gross domestic productGDP per capita rate of $43,800. Switzerland's neighbor Italy has a per capita GDP $30,200 and 7% unemployment rate. Even though Switzerland has abstained from inclusion in the European Union, it participates in the European Free Trade Association. Switzerland's economic prosperity, political stability, and location have helped its library systems succeed despite cultural and political divisions within the country.
There are several types of libraries in Switzerland, including: national, academic, public, and special libraries, although some libraries cross the boundaries between these categories. These overlapping, or dual-use libraries usually combine aspects of academic and public libraries. For example, the University of Basel Library is both a canton and an academic library. This contrasts with Haycock's finding that the "most common dual libraries are combined public school libraries and public libraries, usually in smaller communities" (2006, p. 489). Libraries of many flavors abound in Switzerland, serving its residents and citizens around the world.
Within the Federal Office of Cultural Affairs, the Swiss National Library collects, describes, conserves, and makes Helvetica available to its users. Helvetica consists of "any literature produced in Switzerland, written by Swiss authors, or published about Switzerland" (Jauslin, 1996, p. 113). It includes materials produced outside of Switzerland if they pertain to the country. The national library now maintains non-print Helvetica, such as CD-ROM, electronic publications, and DVDs. Their plans for the future involve "adapting the services to target specific user groups, improving paper conservation efforts, and building up the electronic Helvetica collection" in the Swiss National Library (Swiss National Library strategy and objectives 2007-2011, 2006, October 10).
Switzerland has two types of academic libraries that reflect the country's two-tiered higher education system. University libraries, such as the University of Basel Library, serve the university students and the public. The National Consortium of Swiss Academic Libraries includes 19 Cantonal University libraries; 7 Universities of Applied Sciences, or technical universities; and the Swiss National Library. This consortium coordinates training and lowers the costs of electronic resources for member libraries. Switzerland has 12 universities, but some of these schools have more than one library. Six of the twelve universities exist in predominately German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and belong to the information network called Informationsverbund Deutschschweiz. The university in the Italian-speaking sector of Switzerland and the five francophone universities participate in a network called the Réseau Romand (RERO), the library network of Western Switzerland. Students at these universities can browse the holdings of the libraries at their home libraries and other university libraries across the country. Cooperative borrowing agreements among networks ensure student access to a wealth of resources.
The Swiss Public Library System includes city and canton libraries. These directories reveal that the public library system reflects the political geography. The Internet Clearinghouse Schweiz and other directories list Swiss libraries according to various methods of categorization. Examples of public libraries include La bibliothèque municipale Forum Meyrin (The Public Library Meyrin) and the Uster Stadt-und Regionalbibliothek in Uster (City and Regional Library of Uster). The public library Web sites and catalogs tend to reflect the major languages of the users they serve, rather than the national languages used in all of Switzerland.
Examples of Swiss special libraries include the Documentation Centre of the Swiss Federal Assembly and The Abbey Library of St. Gallen. Each year The Abbey Library of St. Gallen draws about 100,000 visitors from around the world for its architecture and collection, as the oldest library in Switzerland ("Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen," 2007). This library has painted ceilings, astounding architecture, stucco, and a Greek inscription above the entrance reading "Pharmacy for the Soul." Boundaries between church and state in Switzerland differ from those in the United States. The Catholic Administration of the St. Gallen Canton currently owns The Abbey Library. The Swiss Federal Assembly Documentation Center serves as a cataloging center and a research service for parliament members and parliamentary parties. Its role resembles that of the Congressional Research Service in the United States. However, the Documentation Center staff does not analyze the data or write summaries. The Documentation Center has only three full-time employees conducting research, cataloging, lending, and archiving documents, and eight employees working exclusively for the Research Service. The Center's indexing service maintains the "CuriaVista database" with a thesaurus based on the European Parliament and the Office of Official Publications of the European Union's thesaurus, EUROVOC. Another special library reflects Switzerland's position as a global player and its commitment to governmental transparency. The International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre (CIS) in Geneva, Switzerland, serves as central information center for the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Social Security Association (ISSA), the European Coal and Steel Community and the occupational safety and health authorities of over 100 European countries (International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre, 2007). The number and variety of libraries in Switzerland reflect the country's economic health, cultural diversity, and support for easy access to information. Libraries of different regions house linguistically diverse collections with the local flavor of their geographic area. Libraries such as the Abbey Library of St. Gallen attract tourists from around the world. The number of academic libraries in comparison to the small size of the country, and the fact that some academic libraries also serve as public libraries, provides Swiss citizens with a plethora of access points for information.
The Swiss Library Association, BBS (Der Verband der Bibliotheken und der Bibliothekarinnen/Bibliothekare der Schweiz) is the professional association for Swiss librarians and information professionals. It is the fourth oldest library association, after the United States, Great Britain, and Austria. The Swiss Library Association, known from 1897 until 1992 as the Vereinigung Schweizerischer Bibliothekare (VSB), was one of the founding members of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) in 1927. Approximately 300 institutions and 1450 individuals belong to the BBS. Institutional members include national, canton, university, organizational, business, and special libraries. The BBS exists as a member of larger international organizations, such as the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), the European Bureau of Library, Information, and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) and the umbrella organization for copyright and neighboring users (DUN). Like the American Library Association (ALA), the BBS allows members to form interest groups and committees focusing on specific goals and issues. Examples include the committee (Arbeitsgruppen) on copyright, and interest groups for international endeavors, school librarians, and regional sections. Overall, Switzerland demonstrates a strong desire to cooperate with librarians and libraries of other countries and to participate in international library endeavors through professional organizations.
Switzerland frequently offers aid and assistance to other countries in library, education, and information-related pursuits. Recently, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss Federal Archives have worked together to help modernize Albania's State Archives (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2007). Switzerland strives to protect the right of access to information, as a component of the fundamental human right to freedom of expression and opinion listed in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The SDC gives approximately 30 million Swiss Francs per year for projects related to improving access to information around the world (Ibid.). Switzerland also works with private, international, and nongovernmental organizations, such as IFLA and UNESCO, to help bring technology and monetary aid to developing countries. As a member of UNESCO, an organization devoted to promoting "the free exchange of ideas and knowledge," Geneva hosted the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 (UNESCO, 2007). Switzerland also serves as the "home base of the International Bureau of Education (IBE), which is part of UNESCO's Education Sector and gives it considerable financial support." (Ibid.). Switzerland actively participates as an individual nation and a partner in the global world of library and information science.
Education for librarians in Switzerland differs from that in the United States and other European countries. There are graduate programs for librarians and information specialists, but libraries, especially academic libraries, often look to other countries to find qualified staff. According to Wolfram Neubauer, director of the main library of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH-Zürich, "6-7 years ago, a system of Universities of Applied Sciences was established and there are two of them, which offer regular education programs for librarians or information specialists" (Personal communication, October 8, 2007). He also describes a "post-graduate course for academics, held by the University of Zurich and organized by the Zentralbibliothek Zurich, which is also a very big science library." The Bureau of Information and Documentation (I + D) and the BBS provide courses of study and other opportunities for the continuing education of Swiss librarians. The SDC provides internships for students who meet all other requirements for admission into the I + D Studies programs at Switzerland's Universities' of Applied Sciences. Swiss librarians can also participate in educational programs with libraries from other countries. Since 1999, ALA's International Relations Office and the BBS have supported a Swiss-U.S. Librarian Exchange-program.
Librarians in Switzerland face a myriad of problems and opportunities both unique to their domestic situation and universal to libraries and librarianship around the world. According to Maria Luigia Stadler-Pagnotti, a librarian at the Swiss National Library, "the budget, new technologies, the electronic collections, and Google" present the greatest challenges to Swiss libraries today (Personal communication, October 8, 2007). Wolfram Neubauer describes having difficulty explaining the library's needs to the administration at his university. He bemoans the fact that university libraries cannot receive funding from national funding organizations, which means that he cannot ask organizations such as the Swiss Science Foundation for help with technological endeavors and projects related to electronic resources. In other countries, such as the United States, even publicly funded university libraries can receive private donations and grant funding. Instead, Neubauer must ask the university for money, even though they have less expertise with the library's particular needs and plans.
Switzerland's four official languages pose great problems for standardization among library systems and practices. Neubauer describes the language problem as a barrier to "nationwide information strategy" because it further reduces the pool of qualified staff for projects that demand technical as well as linguistic skills. Despite these challenges, Swiss librarians strive to unite and cooperate in order to advance the goals of their profession. National organizations like the Swiss Consortium of University Libraries and the IDS (Informationsverbund Deutschschweiz) both demonstrate this commitment. UNESCO describes the IDS as a "library consortium of the main research libraries of German-speaking Switzerland, including the university libraries of Zurich, Basle, Berne, Lucerne and St.Gall, as well as the ETH Libraries of Lausanne and Zurich" (UNESCO, 2007). Unfortunately, very few Swiss library Web sites or catalogs support all four official languages. Swiss libraries and librarians face challenges unique to their country and universal to almost all libraries. The country lacks a depository system sufficient for ensuring proper preservation of Helvetica, and individual libraries often have trouble providing materials and services in the four national languages. Financial problems limit the services of individual libraries to differing degrees, as does a shortage of professional librarians from Switzerland. Lobbying for changes to legislation might address some of the issues Swiss libraries face related to funding allocation guidelines, copyright, and depository laws. The problems of language and competition with search engines will likely persist for years to come.
In the past few years, Swiss libraries have made incredible progress by improving their electronic resources and services, especially in the academic libraries. Switzerland's central location, small size, advanced technological infrastructure, and linguistic diversity all contribute to its suitability for experimentation with efforts to create national information-sharing networks and electronic services. For example, ETH-Bibliothek in Zürich has worked to improve electronic access to their collections. They have made an "e-collection" of all university documents, such as dissertations and reports freely available. An image database for the general public, called project "E-pics" has now been available for over a year (ETH-Zürich, 2006). They have enabled university community members to use their electronic delivery service free of charge, and started a project called myETH (or "MyLibrary") that allows for customized access to all of the University's electronic information. Another project that demonstrates the commitment of Swiss libraries to national information is the proposed Swiss Electronic Library. "The vision of e-lib.ch is to set up a national academic portal with a central point of access for pan-Swiss research, reference and access to scientific information from and for the whole of Switzerland"(Neubauer, 2007). The Swiss University Conference (SUK/CUS) has allocated seven million Swiss francs for the entire project from 2008-2011 (Schweizerische Universitätskonferenz, 2007). The goals of the Swiss Electronic Library resemble those of the United States MEDLINE database. The United States National Library of Medicine produces MEDLINE, "NLM's premier bibliographic database that contains references to journal articles in the life sciences with a concentration on biomedicine," (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2007). This database allows the public to view citations, and also links to the full text of many research articles produced both within and outside of the United States through the PubMed Central Web site. The Swiss Electronic Library initiative has a smaller national body of literature to index, so it has the potential to provide more comprehensive coverage of its country's scientific research than the National Library Medicine has been able to achieve.
Although the reference services in Europe have received less publicity than those in the United States, Switzerland is improving its reference service with the assistance of technology. "It is indeed easier to create virtual reference desks in a territory like Switzerland than in a country like the United States, an extreme example. In the United States, most virtual reference desks are within a state, and not at the level of all states. Switzerland is the country 'ideal' for the creation and development of such a tool, bringing within reach (and computers) important resource materials" (Accart, 2007, p. 2 [translated from the French]). Beginning in 2003, the Swiss National Library launched a virtual reference service called SwissInfoDesk that serves the general public of Switzerland and all other countries. Users may pose questions in German, French, Italian, English, or Spanish, and receive a reply in the same language. The SwissInfoDesk not only hosts e-mail reference service, but also contains a variety of research guides and pathfinders for a wide range of topics related to Switzerland. These categories include geography, history, economy, politics, law, culture and languages, education and research, the media, sports, portals, photos, address lists, and calendars (Accart, 2006, p. 231). The e-mail reference service staff uses the National Library's collection, specialists, the Swiss archives, the Internet, and other sources to provide high-quality answers to questions. I can attest to the quality of the service by reporting that I received responses to the questions I asked about libraries and librarianship within 2 days of each question. The answers included facts, referrals to other sources, and contact information for experts. In 2006, the SwissInfoDesk had only six staff members answering questions, but now subject specialists of librarians from as many as 20 libraries that partner with the Swiss National Library. The Swiss National Library Web site also indicates that it "co-operates with the Deutsche Internet Bibliothek project, and with a virtual reference project for French-speaking countries launched by the National Library of France and the Library for Public Information (BPI - Paris)" (Swiss National Library, 2007). Switzerland has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to improving and expanding its reference service through its SwissinfoDesk project and partnerships with organizations providing similar services.
Another recent project seeks to harmonize records management for users of the German Speaking Swiss libraries. Ulrich Niederer wrote about the Informationsverbund Deutschschweiz (IDS) and the newer Shared User File (SUF). As previously mentioned, the academic libraries in the German-speaking part of Switzerland share a library management system different from that used by the universities of the mostly francophone Library Network of Western Switzerland, but some librarians hope to unify their information networks. Just as successful consortia in the United States, such as OHIOLink, tend to unite libraries according to their location, so do the library networks of Switzerland correspond with regional divisions. The Ohio Library and Information Network, or OHIOLink, is a "consortium of 86 Ohio college and university libraries and the State Library of Ohio" (OHIOLink, 2007). In Switzerland's case, linguistic, rather than geographical differences pose a greater barrier to collaboration. The Shared User File initiative demonstrates a Swiss desire to increase national cooperation rather instead of reifying linguistic territories. The IDS synchronized the databases of the member universities so that they now all use the same library management system, have similar interfaces for their catalogs based on a single MARC format, and adhere to cataloging rules based on AACR2. The IDS will continue to adopt new technologies and systems as they serve to improve the network's ability to improve synergy among member libraries and to facilitate searching the libraries' collections. Users of these libraries can now borrow books at libraries other than the one that they use the most with minimal effort, due to a shared users database. They can also return books to any library in the system. A union catalog for the network and a collaborative collection management system remain dreams of the IDS. Lack of sufficient funding has hindered the IDS' ability to implement some of its ideas (Personal communication, October 8, 2007). Ulrich Niederer was able to overcome a problem other librarians mentioned. The IDF shared technology specialists from different libraries for their SUF project to aggregate a pool of qualified librarians with advanced technical skills. By expanding its efforts to improve electronic tools and collections, Swiss libraries are improving public access to information and developing cooperative networks that unite their diverse internal cultures. The SwissInfoDesk invokes the concept of popular electronic reference services in the United States, but has a uniquely national character. Efforts to consolidate library catalogs and circulation policies among academic libraries also contribute to national unification efforts, while projects like MyLibrary and the proposed Swiss electronic library reflect global endeavors to increase valuable electronic information.
Switzerland's cooperative spirit manifests itself in the small but diverse country's commitment to improving public access to information among other economic and social goals. Swiss librarians exemplify these commitments in their outreach to library and archival programs in other countries, and their participation in the international library-related associations. Although confronted with internal cultural divisions and expensive technological goals, Swiss librarians have the advantage of living in a country with a stable economy and enjoy government support for their mission. Ideally, the Swiss Library Association and related organizations will continue to import and export best practices and programs to advance the agenda of librarians worldwide.
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