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The Transformation of Libraries after the Social Changes in November 1989

Before 1989, Czech librarianship could be proud - and rightfully so - of the extensive network of both public and special libraries. Even in 1990, the Czech Republic - at that time within Czechoslovakia - had a total of 8,364 public libraries and their branches. This meant that there was a public library in practically every locality. There were 1,239 inhabitants per library and 5.7 books per inhabitant. In that year, the total number of books in public libraries was almost 60 million. By the end of 2004, 6,826 public libraries and their branches were recorded.

Since 1990, Czech librarianship has gone through many significant changes. Public libraries have largely come under local administration. In the early 1990s the establishment and financing of public libraries was put under the "voluntary care" of local government (pursuant to law No. 367/1990 Coll.). The still existing 1959 act on the unified system of libraries ceased to operate, though still officially valid. The hierarchically organised network of public libraries under this law ceased to exist. In 1991, the division of the country into regions was done away with along with the regional libraries. Until 2001, they as the "state scientific libraries" have been managed and financed by the Ministry of Culture. District libraries were being gradually dissolved and transferred under local administration or amalgamated with other district facilities. This lead to the gradual disintegration of the system of co-operation among libraries - district and central systems in which libraries with professional librarians had provided highly professional assistance and specific services to small libraries that had been managed by volunteer librarians, thereby guaranteeing high quality library and information services to the public.

Since 1993, a transformation managed by no one was taking place, dependent only on the understanding and "enlightenment" of district offices (which continued in effect until the end of 2001) and their officers, to see if any of the former district libraries and to what extent could fulfil their regional and supra-local functions. It was also evident that simultaneously the number of library workers as well as the budgets of these "transformed" libraries continued to decrease. The problem was not successfully solved until the new Library Act of 2001, which has the subsidization of regional functions and services by the state.

In 1990 the Czech Republic had, in addition to public libraries, more than 4,600 libraries of other kinds - school, university, medical, technical, and academic libraries. The transformation process has negatively impacted on some of these libraries, although in the case of university libraries, the influence on development has been quite positive. The worst situation has come about in technical libraries which since the privatisation of industrial concerns have mostly been abolished. Despite these problems, the development of libraries in the Czech Republic has not been standing still. Many libraries now being administered by local offices have gained in far better conditions for their readers and activities than ever before. Today, new or reconstructed buildings are not an exception as are other forms of financial and material subsidy to cities and other localities.

A new situation came about at the beginning of 2001 with the implementation of state administration and local government reform that had been long in the planning. The Czech Republic was divided into 14 regions - an act of decentralisation, granting important powers to them. The state scientific libraries were transferred under the regional administrations, while in those regions where such libraries did not exist, new regional libraries were established. At the beginning of 2002, the new Library Act was passed, helping to solve many of the above issues.

Nov 09, 2014