The Castle of Light: A Beehive

Posted by jlubans on November 18, 2018

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Caption: Dace Melbārde, Latvia’s Minister for Culture with Andris Vilks, Director of the National Library at the Inauguration of Latvia’s Online Encyclopedia special print edition, October 18, 2018. National Library of Latvia. Kristians Luhaers 2018

Today (November 18) marks Latvia’s 100th year, a monumental achievement for any democratic country. One of the icons of the new Latvia is its National Library. I interviewed the Library’s leader – Andris Vilks - in 2016 not long after the opening of the architecturally striking building on the bank of the Daugava River across from Old Riga*.
Baptised the “Castle of Light”, it was many years in the making, all under Andris’ leadership. A colleague of his stated that this new building was the equivalent of his earning a PhD and then some.
So in 2016, when I asked Andris if his job was done, he surprised me a bit: He told me there was much, much more. The building is only the “skin”. Now the focus is on what goes on inside the building. His Herculean “to do” list included:
Creating a digital library
Producing an online Latvian encyclopedia
Linking the building and the collections to conferences and other events inside the building; and,
Increasing research staffing to study and promote the library services and collections.
I asked him in October of this year about progress toward these ambitious goals and he sent me a four page single space response.
The library indeed is now a beehive of activity.
I want to use his progress report as another way to illustrate his leadership.
Under “Creating a digital library” he describes his role as one of “solving strategic problems. These problems are not as much of technological nature, as the choice of direction and decision-making.”
Almost 6 million digitized pages have been created, including “pictures, photos, sound recordings, manuscripts, etc.”
As leader, he sees the importance of setting priorities since
“it is not possible to preserve information on ‘everything about everything’ – there’s not enough “human capacity” - it is necessary to determine priorities specific to Latvia.
The online Latvian encyclopedia is to be launched on
December 18 and will be available worldwide.
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Caption: Happy customer. The 3000 volume special print run sold out in a week. National Library of Latvia. Kristians Luhaers 2018
Seeing the encyclopedia to completion took planning and collaborating with many people over many years. “More than 50 subject committees were formed, where almost every leading Latvian scientist and specialist was involved.” Over 250 authors are writing on behalf of the encyclopedia.
To celebrate Latvia’s 100 years, a cumulative encyclopedia “Latvia” was turned into a sold-out print publication. More are on the way.
The goal of linking the building and the collections to conferences inside the building:
In the four years since the new building, it has “hosted several thousand events.” These events include conferences e. g. One
conference was dedicated to the founder of the Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts and book-publishing history in Latvia, Aleksejs Apīnis, Andris' mentor.
Also, conferences have been a way to create cooperation and partnerships (synergy!) with others interested in Latvia’s intellectual heritage, such as the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art of the University of Latvia.
Then there are Exhibitions. NLL can provide space for 10 simultaneous exhibitions. Exhibitions are often paired with conferences, seminars and lectures.
Library as publisher: “Since 2014 the NLL has exceeded expectations for well-researched publications.” It has received “two awards in the Latvian annual competition of book art “Zelta ābele” (Golden Apple-Tree).
And annual events help link the library to the general community. “One of the most notable … is “Children’s Jury”. Every year around 20,000 Latvian children vote for the books they value the most.”
And, Art is used to please the eye and to entertain the mind inside the building and out. Recently, two sculptural compositions have been mounted outside.
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Caption: “Barefoot Rainis” (my title). Jānis Rainis is of Olympic stature among Latvia’s literary figures. His partner and muse, Aspazija, would have told him a thing or two about going barefoot in winter. Photo by Viktorija Moskina 2018.

Finally, working from inside to reach out, the library is ramping up its commitment to research staffing. It is on track to achieve research institutional status so that collections can be studied and made more accessible.
In the last three years “holders of a doctoral degree (at the time 15) and postgraduate students are getting involved in collection analysis, book publishing and other related field researches.” This has required creating ratios of research to librarianship, e.g. 25%:75% or 50%:50%. “Librarians participate in conferences, publish their findings, and organize exhibitions. Like researchers, they engage in scientific processing of digital collections, in other words in text contextualization.”

*My essay on Andris Vilks is in three phases: Formation, Application, and Future.
Part 1 was about the shaping of his leadership and focused on influences from childhood to young adulthood.
Part 2, was about how those early influences have shaped his leadership; in brief, how he leads.

You’ve just read part 3.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

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