Meet the National Libraries: Connecting librarians and scholars from around the world

ESS Newsletter

2023, Vol 3


Meet the National Libraries: Connecting librarians and scholars from around the world
Olga Makarova

The first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic showed library professionals’ great flexibility and creativity in meeting their patrons’ needs, as well as addressing challenges of isolation, uncertainty, and limitations. Services and sharing mechanisms were disturbed due to closures, restricted access, and lack of up-to-date information on operation capabilities at libraries around the world. As an attempt to bring together scholars, librarians, and the general public, the Slavic Reference Service at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, introduced an online series, Meet the National Libraries. The aim of the series is to feature one national library at a time and to provide a platform for national library representatives to share information on ongoing projects, updates, best practices, and policies at their respective institutions. The inaugural segment featured the Library of Congress. It took place in November 2020 and attracted a diverse audience of more than 100 students, scholars, librarians, and information professionals. Participants were greeted by J. Mark Sweeney (Principal Deputy Librarian of Congress), who provided a broad overview of the core functions, strategic plan, and organization structure of America’s de facto national library. Mr. Sweeney’s colleagues then talked about the Library’s digital collections, services, strategies, and future directions. The webinar concluded with a lively discussion and an opportunity to ask questions and converse with the Library of Congress specialists.

The next iteration of the series presented the National Library of Singapore in January 2021. Participants were able to learn about the Library, its history, current projects, including initiatives to document COVID-19 experiences, to nurture information literacy skills, and in reaching new digital audiences in Singapore and beyond. Since then, this series has featured the National Libraries of Poland, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Mexico, Serbia, Russian State Library, the British Library, the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia. At the time of writing, we are preparing for a discussion with the Royal Library of Belgium scheduled for mid-April 2023. A webinar would typically start with greetings from the library’s administration and an overview of the library, then the presentation will focus on collections, special services and projects, followed by a Q&A session. The series is promoted through major professional mailing lists and social media. The webinars are recorded and uploaded to the SRS YouTube Channel so that everyone can access the information about the national libraries at their convenience.

To conclude, national libraries play a crucial role in library and scholarly communities. Some of the words that can be applied to the work of national libraries are perseverance, determination, preservation. Through the Meet the National Libraries series, it is our hope to make them more accessible and recognized outside their home countries, bring spotlight on some of the search tools, services, digital collections, and portals developed at national libraries around the world, and to connect scholars, researchers, and librarians. 

Olga Makarova
Research Specialist
Slavic Reference Service
International and Area Studies Library
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign