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A change of concept with technological bases

Program has modernized the main libraries in the state

FAPESP’s Infrastructure Program has done much more than allowing a renovation of the main libraries in the state. It came at a moment when an actual revolution is taking place in the concept of how a public library should work. “There has been a fundamental change in the philosophy of what a library is”, says Rosaly Favero Krzyzanowski, who, as the coordinator of the libraries of the University of São Paulo (USP), follow a good deal of these changes and, today, has come out of retirement to work as the operational coordinator of FAPESP’s Electronic Library Program (ProBE). Without the Foundation’s support and investments, the public libraries of the state would hardly have been able to keep pace with these modifications.

To a large extent, this revolution is based on technology. For example, sliding archives allow many more documents to be kept in a much smaller space. There has been considerable progress in the techniques and processes for the restoration and conservation of books and other old documents. Computer networks, often operating through optic fibers, have opened up new perspectives for consultations. Today, the user can access the network of a library from his own laboratory or even from home, and get the information he needs from where he is. In the case of old publications and documents, this lessens their handling and, consequently, helps to preserve these works.

There are other advantages. With the formation of the network and the standardization of resources, a university can now centralize the purchase of books and magazines. That is, instead of buying one copy for each of its libraries, it can obtain one copy, put the publication into the network and so make it accessible to everyone. Administration, which covers the sectors of lending and circulation, has also been made easier. “We have cut out many unnecessary stages of work”, says the coordinator of the library system of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), Maria Alice Rebello Nascimento. With a single system, she records the purchase of a book, carries out the cataloging of the book with previously digitalized data when it arrives, and afterwards controls lending at all the 19 libraries of system.

This is extremely useful for systems that work in more than one city. Unicamp, for example, besides its 17 libraries in Campinas, has another two units, one in Limeira and the other in Piracicaba. But, in extension, nothing compares with the system of the State University of São Paulo (Unesp), which covers the state from one end to the other. Unesp has libraries in no less than 16 cities – Araçatuba, Araraquara, Assis, Bauru, Botucatu, Franca, Guaratinguetá, Ilha Solteira, Jaboticabal, Marília, Presidente Prudente, Rio Claro, São José dos Campos, São José do Rio Preto, São Paulo and São Vicente. The collection amounts to more than 800,000 items. Being far away, though, does not mean being distant from knowledge. All these libraries have access to electronic databases like Athena, ERL, ProBE and Web of Science.

This brings up an pleasant problem, but a problem nevertheless. There is too much data circulating through the network, and the user does not always have the time to hunt what he needs in long searches of the Internet. One of the new roles of the librarian then arises, cutting out stages and pointing out paths to richer veins of data. “The profile of the librarian has changed”, explains Rosaly. “The main function now is working with the researcher in the quest for information”, she says.

That is to say, the librarian is now a professional who is willing – and who has the competence – to take an active part in research, pointing out to the interested party places where the search is going to be more fruitful. To do so, there are constant courses to bring them up to date, something that the reforms carried out with FAPESP’s investments did not overlook. One positive point is that the overwhelming majority of the staff of the renewed libraries, even the most veteran, accepted and joined enthusiastically the new situation. Cases of not adapting were rare.

Manual of Standards
“The very rooms where the courses take place were made possible with investments by Fapesp”, Rosaly recalls. Not that they are enormous installations. With the problem identified, the so-called multiplying agents are formed, who take the course and receive a manual of standards, ready to serve as the basis for the following stage. “This is to train the reference librarians, the librarians in the front line, those who work with the user”, the professor says. They organize the training within their own units. There are also cases where courses are given for the users. These courses, almost always, serve to show the best way of using the databases.

Nor have the educational needs neglected the assistance personnel. The installation of electronic gates to control material being taken out, for example, raised the need for the counter personnel to learn to work with bar coded labels. Even the technique of taking the books off the shelves and putting them back is the object of courses for staff. They need to learn how to pick up the book by the middle of its spine, not by the top, in order better preserve the binding; to leave space between books, so improve ventilation and prevent the covers from sticking; and to handle the spatula, the special brush with which documents are cleaned, to avoid dust sticking to the books and magazines.

These simple precautions live side-by-side with high technology equipment. The wave of renovation and the funds made available by the Infrastructure Program have taken to the main libraries of São Paulo machines that look as if they have come out of space projects. In one of them, the book is placed on a special table, with a transparent cabinet, and cleaned with a kind of vacuum cleaner, handled by gloves that penetrate it. There is also the important impact of teaching staff tasks that used to be done off the premises. Several of them, for example, carry out small jobs of restoration on books and other documents, which saves the library time and money.

Information Technology
“A good librarian has to be a researcher as well” declares Unicamp’s coordinator, Maria Alice. Adapting to the changes in the routine at work has demanded, and continues to demand, great effort of the professionals. At Unicamp, all the members of staff of the libraries take part frequently in courses and workshops. The university has also put together training programs for the users, and with this objective created a special IT laboratory. That was not all. “The work carried out nowadays by the librarian calls for a higher degree of interaction”, points out Maria Alice. “Before, they would simply get the material ready, put it on the shelves, and wait for the public to appear. Today, he has to make decisions, many of them on complex matters.”

She comes up with an example. Often, the librarian has the last word on the purchase of a package of publications. It is not an easy choice. He or she has to take into account, for example, if the material is important for the lines of research pursued by the university and to think of the cost/benefit ratio, not only the cost of the acquisition. “To do a good job, the librarian today needs to know how science and technology are faring in Brazil” says Maria Alice. “He has to master the policy , to be in harmony with these surroundings”, she adds.

Nothing has changed the library more than automation, says Maria Alice. But the change has called for much more than simply mastering the tools of information technology. “In addition to knowing and being able to use the tools at his disposal, the librarian has been obliged to broaden his vision” the coordinator states. The librarian is not just dealing with the collection, the one physically available in the library, but with a much wider universe, spread out over the web. The librarian’s role includes knowing how to point out what is best for the user in this universe. This is impossible without constant updating, without knowing what is new on the web, and this, in turn, calls for a lot of research.

The changes have also brought new needs, among them, the need to improve the requalification of the professionals who already work in the area, and to form new members of staff. “The market today is short of the more qualified professionals, especially at the universities, which are the nucleus of the country’s scientific development” says Maria Alice. This does not apply only to short term issues. “We are dealing with a new universe, and there are several kinds of difficulties” she carries on. “They range from the new operational techniques in the area of information technology to a better understanding of the country’s policy for technology and how the library fits into this context.”

The use of information technology has also expanded contacts aimed at exchange of documents with libraries abroad. Maria Cristina Olaio Villela, the technical director of the library of USP’s Polytechnic School, tells how her institution takes part, through an agreement with the University of New Mexico, in the United States, in a consortium called Istec (Ibero-American Science e Technology Education Consortium). Another agreement links it to the British Library, which is regarded as a model of efficiency, since it attends to any request in less than 24 hours.

Different methods
Educated in the 60’s, Maria Cristina confirms that there has been a revolution in her area. “Almost everything I learned when I was a student is out of date” she says. “The processes for cataloging and classifying works are still the same, but the way the collection is made available tothe users is completely different” she adds.

The technical assistant of the General Coordination of Libraries of the State University of São Paulo (Unesp), Margarida Ferreira, graduated in 1983 and learned on her own accord all she knows about information technology. Even so, to help staff to work with the new programs, she translated into Portuguese the manual on the format of the electronic registration of the Library of Congress, Marc 21. This format, adopted by the main libraries in the world, standardized the language of the electronic catalogs. The translation was published by Unesp itself and is being adopted in other places.

“The universe of libraries has grown, and this calls for a change of attitude” says Margarida. Her works makes her keep in touch with the members of staff of all Unesp’s libraries, scattered over the state. “The accelerated pace of the development of information technology makes a novelty appear every day, something to be mastered” she says. “There are some that have not managed to realize that this commotion is part of the new dynamics of the profession. They sometimes ask me: when will everything return to normal? But the profession has changed, and there is no turning back.”

Limited number
The important thing is that these changes are within the reach of everybody, at least within the state. A frequent complaint, from researchers from outside the state of São Paulo, is that their libraries often have single-user equipment installed, working with CD-ROMs, or small networks on which the CD-ROMs are installed, or they are recorded on a main computer and the data is available on just a limited number of PCs. Besides obliging the researcher to go to the library to consult the information, this creates another problem: the user needs to book a visit in advance, to be sure of being able to access the data the moment they arrive on the premises.

In the reforms carried out in São Paulo, the material is accessible, even to undergraduates. “The student, within the university, accesses everything that is available”, says professor Rosaly. There is a firm intention to get the student used, right from the very beginning , to do research on the Internet, including for the work they do in their courses. “Our intention is to turn the student into a researcher”, she says. Rosaly explains that, in the beginning, there was a concern with the possibility that undergraduates might misuse their access to the Internet, and measures were even taken to monitor their navigation on the web.

Today, this concern has practically disappeared. “The undergraduates are very scrupulous”, the teacher says. “We can sense that their work is more and more conscious”. As to post-graduate work, there have never been any major problems. “Post-graduate studies are one of the great drains on all the products of the new library” she says. “The student needs to produce his monographs, and, as a future researcher, he or she tries to work efficiently on searches and research”, she adds. As to the researchers, there are some who still prefer going to the library to work. But the majority have added on-line access to their day-to-day work, and search for information from the PCs installed in their own laboratories.

Amongst the projects for the future, there is the digitalization of the theses directly on the network. The student working for his master’s or doctor’s degree would go about preparing the material on the network, and the moment the thesis is approved by the examining board, the text would immediately be accessible on the Internet. General indications for carrying out the work would be available on-line, and more detailed information, if necessary, could be obtained at the library. There would be special care to optimize the participation of the advisers.

There is an explanation for the concern over the theses. These are ranked amongst the most important documents of university libraries, and digitalizing them is one of the priorities of the new programs, now that the more urgent needs have been met. This work also involves a new philosophy. “It is a notion that involves standardization, which is a new attitude for libraries”, explains Rosaly. Previously, a magazine was just one more document, which could be consulted. Today, it has been transformed into the origin of complete texts, which act as sources of information and are put on the network in an independent way.

To get to this point, there had to be a complete change in the methods of work and in people’s heads. “One went from a more closed world, inside the unit, to the visualization of a wider context, of an international standard”, says Rosaly. The international standard is no exaggeration. The reforms of São Paulo’s libraries, archives and museums are an inspiration not only for other Brazilian institutions, but also for institutions in Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela. And they meet approval even in the world’s top spheres. The system for cataloging adopted by USP, for example, is not recognized just in Brazil. It is officially accepted by the Library of Congress itself, in Washington, one of the most important institutions in this field in the world.