National Digital Library: dissatisfied experts are deserting the ship

Kateřina Menzelová | 04.01.2012
Redundant after 30 years

Without doubt the biggest reaction was in response to news of the departure of Bohdana Stoklasová, not only from the design team, but also from the National Library, where she had worked since 1982. Her name is linked with the development of the standardization and automation of Czech libraries and with many large national and international projects. Stoklasová was the designer and for several years the coordinator of the National Digital Library project, for which she created a design team.

Bohdana Stoklasová, an expert in the standardization and automation of libraries, left not only the design team but the National Library. Her position was abolished.

Most recently, she held the post of Director of the Department of Modern Funds and Services of the National Library and was responsible for day-to-day operations and development projects. Stoklasová has published papers and given lectures relating to the issue of digitalization, long-term protection and the making accessible of digital documents, in the Czech Republic and abroad.

“After a year’s cooperation, the managing director and I discovered that our opinions regarding the future direction and method of managing the National Library were distinctly different in certain respects,” says Stoklasová diplomatically when questioned as to why she left the library. However, according to Czech Position sources the reason for her departure is an organizational change: her post was abolished, and after 30 years of work in the library this expert became redundant.

Stoklasová’s departure was also influenced by the stance taken by the Ministry of Culture. “As far as the relevant division, now a separate department, was concerned, support and cooperation was always excellent. The situation was worse as regards other departments of the Ministry of Culture, especially in relation to the National Digital Library project. The pressure from this side on the managing director [Tomáš Böhm] undoubtedly played an important role in my departure,” Stoklasová says

She does not hide the fact that she fundamentally disagrees with the National Digital Library project as set up at present. “From February 2011 I am no longer responsible for the project and I have only scant information. I am sharing my reservations at the appropriate specialist forums, not through the media,” Stoklasová says.

Jiří Vrbický, head of the IT group, is of a similar opinion. “I am leaving the National Library after almost five years because I disagree with the current course of the National Digital Library project. At present I am not satisfied with how the project is set up. I have submitted all of my reservations to my superiors,” he adds.

People being sought

At present applications are being taken for seven free positions, including three department managers, on the website which provides information regarding the National Digital Library project. At a time when digitalization itself is due to start, this represents a serious risk. “Although our advertisement has only been out a few days, we are receiving substantially more quality applications than we are able to accept,” says Tomáš Svoboda, the project coordinator.

The specialists in long-term protection from the National Library were amongst the top in the world

Svoboda is convinced that he will find adequate replacements for the departing experts. However, finding specialists in the sphere of long-term protection will not be easy. This is a new sphere and the number of specialists is limited even on an international scale. The experts at the National Library were amongst the best in the world. Despite this there was no interest in their experience during preparation of the public tender for systems integrator or during its evaluation.

The Central Library Council, which is the advisory, initiatory and cooperation body of the Ministry of Culture, discussed the selection of a systems integrator for the National Digital Library on 7 December. The minutes, which are available on the internet, include the following: “Members of the council expressed strong dissatisfaction with the departure of top-class, internationally renowned specialists from the National Digital Library project, which sends out a serious and disturbing signal.”

The council also expressed doubts regarding the solution selected for the project. However, in the opinion of Tomáš Böhm, director of the National Library and a member of the Central Library Council, the bid selected meets the requirements contained in the tender specifications. Böhm promised to publish all documents relating to the public tender. Some of the documents have made accessible on the project website at

Is everyone replaceable?

One of the critics of the current way the National Digital Library project is set up, above all the selection of systems integrator, is Martin Svoboda, director of the National Technical Library and member of the Central Library Council. Prior to joining the Technical Library he worked for ten years at the National Library. Svoboda is not qualified in librarianship but is a specialist in IT.

He divides digitalization of the library into three equally important parts: digitalization itself, long-term, reliable archiving of digitalised content, and the possibility of easy browsing. “The point of the National Digital Library project is not simply to fill up the library but above all to create a reliable repository,” Svoboda explains. “The digital library must be equipped in such a way that the details of every document are known and it is possible to recognise what format a document is in, when it dates back to and what version it is. This applies equally to tomorrow as to 50 or 100 years hence,” says the director of the National Technical Library.

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Still confused

There is a lot of information in this article, but the most important information is not there: Why did the small Beroun company win the tender? Is corruption a problem in this case? Will the system from the Beroun company work (this appears uncertain)? And is it too late to reverse course and use one of the more experienced companies?

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