National Digital Library project under heavy fire

Culture Minister asks National Library head to halt approval of the Czech digital library until all reservations are addressed

Kateřina Menzelová | 06.01.2012

Two days after Alena Hanáková (TOP 09-STAN) took over the reins of the Ministry of Culture from Jiří Besser, she wrote to Tomáš Böhm, director of the National Library, asking him to postpone signing the acceptance protocol of the National Digital Library implementation project. If Böhm signed the document, the National Library would de facto be approving the digitalization solution designed by Logica. Critics of the system, which has never been tested under similar conditions, are relying on the fact that if the protocol is not accepted there is still hope, albeit small, that the contact with the local firm Logica could be cancelled.

The largest Czech libraries, the National Library and the Moravian Library in Brno, are cooperating on the National Digital Library project, which will cost a total of Kč 300 million. Most of the cost, Kč 255 million, is being funded from the European Union Integrated Operational Programme, with the remainder, Kč 45 million, being borne by the Ministry of Culture.

Critics of the as yet untested solution for the preservation of documents still believe that notice could be served on the contract with Logica

At the beginning of July 2011 the National Library announced a tender for a system integrator. The winner of the tender would be required to oversee the creation of a technical infrastructure, undertake the mass digitalization of documents, arrange for their permanent storage, and make them accessible. The tender was won by Logica, which based its project on cooperation with its Beroun-based subsidiary Albertina icome Praha (AiP), which is to oversee the long-term protection of digital documents. It was the involvement of AiP and its solution, which has no references whatsoever for the application being requested, which caused eyebrows to be raised in specialist circles.

Radical response

The contract with Logica was signed on Oct. 26. The reaction of librarians was not slow in coming once they had had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with documents long deemed classified. The reaction of many was radical and culminated with the virtual dissolution of the team which has been responsible for the National Digital Library for several years. However, reservations were heard not only within the institution but outside. Alena Hanáková, the new ministry of culture, joined the chorus of those protesting.   

In a letter of Dec. 22 addressed to Böhm, which Czech Position has at its disposal, Hanáková writes that she has familiarized herself with the current state of the project and with “certain problems” associated with it. “Without wishing to burden this request with details, I must state that I too have certain doubts regarding the full functionality of the solution in accordance with the implementation plans. For this reason I would request that you refrain from signing the acceptance protocol for the implementation project until all the issues surrounding the project have been resolved,” Hanáková writes.

Digitalization is now some two years behind schedule

The management of the National Library reacted to the letter sent by Hanáková by putting out a press release. “Aware of the importance of the National Digital Library project for Czech librarianship the minister of culture’s interest in the project was welcomed by the managing director of the National Library, as was the consensus of both sides not to approve the implementation project until such time as all comments relating thereto have been resolved. Like the minister of culture, the managing director of the National Library is mindful of the need to use resources from the state budget or EU funds effectively and economically,” the press release says.

If this did not involve a project worth more than a quarter of billion crowns, one might say that the management of the National Library had displayed a sense of black humor. The digitalization project is now approximately two years behind schedule and resolution of the suggestions submitted has put back its start even further. According to the timetable published on the internet at the start of this year, the project was supposed to have progressed from the preparatory and investment stage to the semi-operational phase, including trial operations, at the beginning of this year. This has not taken place and the question is when it will.

Criticism, criticism...

As Czech Position previously reported, the Central Library Council already discussed the system integrator of the National Digital Library on Dec. 7 and expressed its strong dissatisfaction regarding the resignation of top, internationally renowned specialists from the National Digital Library. The council also expressed doubts regarding the solution chosen for the project.

The Library Council and the Supervisory Board of the Library of the Academy of Sciences have expressed similar doubts. In a joint letter sent to Minister Hanáková on Dec. 19 they wrote: “The Library Council and Supervisory Board are gravely concerned that the solution prepared will not be able to meet the anticipated parameters and will thus put at threat the quality of care of the digital contents delivered not only by the National Library but by the entire system of libraries.” They also express their dissatisfaction at the departure of a substantial part of the team which “prepared the project very responsibly over many years.”

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