This turns out to be a perfect day to blog as this trip winds down. Marcel Minutolo and I have spent the past two days in Martin, a city of about 60,000 people located approximately 225 kilometers northeast of Bratislava. It’s a beautiful area and before the revolution the main industry consisted of building military tanks for the Russian. Unemployment is rather high, however the area is home to agriculture, mining and industry including: lime and dolomit pits, production of iron ore and copper mining, engineering – TV set production; textile industry, wood and furniture industry, metallurgy, rubber industry, paper and pulp. There are several artificial dams, that provide water sport activities.
The National Library of Slovakia, which is located in Martin, presently employs about 220 people, 70% of whom are librarians. Opened in 1974, the facility houses over 4 million objects including books, manuscripts, photographs, and recordings. The National Library is a cutting edge leader in the area of digitization and has four high-end book scanners on which they are in the process of digitizing all the books in the collection. The Library has or is engaged in digitization projects with Stanford University, The Library of Congress and the European Union in addition to supporting the individual libraries of Slovakia. The Library reports to the Ministry of Culture, from whom they receive their funding, and will continue to do so until the year 2020, at which time I believe they will become an independent entity.
Yesterday we spent time with General Director, Dr. Dushan Katuscak, who provided us with an overview of the library, its funding and a summary of their various projects. We then toured the book conservation area where eight people repair and restore books from the collection. Each restoration takes approximately 100 man hours and each person sees the process through from beginning to end. It is amazing to watch these people perform absolute magic, with the before and after pictures being reminiscent of Houdini. It is indeed an art and a science. We then toured the photograph collection, which consists of approximately 250,000 items. It was quite impressive and overwhelming.
This morning we met with Jozef Dzivak, Director of Conservation and Digitisation Center. He also works at the Slovak Technical University and is a consultant as well. I guess with four children, one job just isn’t enough. A chemical engineer by profession, Jozef is responsible for much of the digitization processes that go on in the Library and is also responsible for improving work flows and efficiencies.
Bureaucracy is alive and well in Slovakia and I think it makes for some interesting challenges in relation to these cutting edge initiatives. The technology is available, but funding and innovation are constrained by laws and the lack of incentives. I believe this is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of their work.
A few parting observations as this will most likely be the last of my blogs. First, this has just been a wonderful experience for me and I am so glad I got to see the beauty that exists in this part of the world. While the USA is a great place to live, there are other equally great places to live and I believe this is one of them. It’s not unusual to see churches built in the twelfth century dotting the landscapes. The architecture pre- World War II is beautiful and I cannot count the times I thought we were on a movie set and not on the real street. Second, the people here look like the people at home. Third, there is an unusual amount of graffiti in both Bratislava and Martin. I don’t know if it exists all over the country, but I am surprised at how much of it there is. Fourth, I am also surprised by how little green spaces or parks there are. It was explained to me that people go to the forest, hence no real need for parks. Fifth, I’m not sure what the natives do for recreation. I think they bike and hike and a good number of them hop on trains over the weekend to areas outside the cities, but you don’t see people congregating in parks, or on ball fields, etc. Sixth, you don’t know how good we have it with CVS, Walgreens, etc. The drug stores or apothecaries are like fortresses and you literally cannot get anything off the shelf. Everything is locked up and you must be escorted to the shelves by an employee. That was an eye opener. And finally, soft drinks are warm, ice is hard to find, and air-conditioning is even more rare. I cannot wait to get home to air conditioning and Zoe, in that order!!