49. évfolyam, 2003. 1. szám


Computerisation of the National Library between 1969 and 2000


Könyvtári Figyelő (Library Review) New Series 13. (Vol.49.) 2003. No. 1. pp. 11–66.


The computerisation of the National Széchényi Library had been motivated by the revolution that took place in bibliographic control and computer technology in the 1970s, however, the direction, pace, and subsidisation of the transition were determined by the social, political and professional context existing under the communist regime.

The professional elite and the leaders of the national library, making decisions regarding it, did not have an ideal relationship, and those struggling for development could not express their interests effectively. The lack of capital, characteristic of the age, also made development more difficult (when at last the purchase of hardware and software could be considered at all). The fact that the specific needs of the national library could not be satisfied by commercially available integrated systems also hindered the computerisation of the national library. It meant that the softwares used had to be enhanced considerably (at the cost and efforts of the national library) in order to make them suitable for the special duties of the NSZL. This slowed the pace of the computerisation down, and in the long run made it more expensive than buying a more costly system that would have suited the tasks better, or if the library had decided to develop a software of its own.

In international comparison, the computerisation of the NSZL followed the developments of more privileged national libraries not only in time, but also in quality. According to the original ideas, processing (cataloguing and bibliographic activities) ought to have been computerised in the NSZL, but due to causes described in the article in detail, the decisions shifted towards making publications maintaining parallel processing in the catalogue of the national library and for the national bibliography.

Due to the lack of financial resources, the library did not have a computer lab (a computer) of its own, and had to use leased computers outside the library for the preparation of the bibliography and for data storage. Finally in 1989, the library managed to purchase an IBM mainframe computer and an integrated library system DOBIS/LIBIS from funds raised by applications, within the limitations of the COCOM embargo. This system was followed by AMICUS in 1998/99. The adaptation of DOBIS/LIBIS for the purposes of the national library was achieved for the most important duties, however, some subtasks were solved outside the integrated system by a MicroCDS/ISIS system. (The successful operation of individual developments suggest that computerisation could proceed in the direction of developing an integrated system from the libraries own resources.) AMICUS that followed DOBIS/LIBIS, incapable of managing relational databases, and having no web interface, is more suited for the establishment of a unified computerised system in the national library, for the integration of databases stored separately, for the computerisation of special collections, though it is still not able to solve all the computerised duties of the national library.

The study presents the phases of computerisation in a chronological order, using literary sources, archival materials, and interviews to reveal the background of decisions. It enumerates the persons and institutions involved in the project. The dedicated computerised system of some national libraries are summarised in a table, including the date of beginning automation, and the system used at present.

Országos Széchényi Könyvtár