Digital Publishing and the Position of Libraries in South-East Europe: A Case Study of Serbia

In loser Folge publizieren wir bis zum Beginn von #RKB15 eine Serie von Statements der Redner und Diskutanten. Wir bieten Ihnen damit die Gelegenheit, sich schon einmal warmzudiskutieren – entweder im stillen Selbstgespräch oder hier in den Kommentaren.

von Bogdan Trifunović

I would like to address the issue of panel 1 with an analysis of the past development of digitization initiatives in South-East Europe, particularly Serbia. In my opinion, the overall situation since the beginning of the century in South-East Europe shows a slow and uneven development of digital publishing in the region, with an effort of focusing on the preservation of cultural heritage through digitization rather than the creation of content in electronic form (digital-born), which suggests that a “retro” approach is the leading one in digital publishing. Numerous factors influence such a situation: a relatively small market, unattractive revenues for publishers, user habits, and software piracy – to name the most significant. Furthermore, the lack of support for private entrepreneurship went hand in hand with the increasing interest of governments in financing projects of digitization and digital preservation of valuable (national) cultural heritage, which in South-East Europe is almost always a part of initiatives run by big national institutions in cultural and educational sectors that are dependent on state budgets. Naturally, those institutions were not considering economical aspects of digitization, so there was small interest in profitable projects or digital publishing that eventually could make some money. Individual publishers of all sizes also contributed to this trend, reluctantly providing digital/electronic copies of the publications, titles, or authors most sought for, claiming that in the unregulated region of the Balkans it would be economical suicide for them to provide digital publications, even under very attractive conditions and prices. So in 2015, there are a handful of publishers in countries like Serbia who regularly provide both print and digital copies of their publications for end-users.

Another important aspect which must be taken into account is the library sector, with its slow transformation from a traditional collection-based institution for preservation of cultural heritage to an evolving ecosystem focused on user needs. It must be said that, at least in Serbia, an almost non-existent market of electronic publications significantly prevents libraries from investing in electronic publications or electronic media, but that should not be an excuse for their slow introduction of new services based on information technologies. For instance, the national repository of electronic deposit copies in Serbia, maintained by the National Library of Serbia, allows publishers to deposit publications under an open access policy. Strangely, links to these open access publications do not exist in the biggest Serbian union OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue), also maintained by the National Library of Serbia. Instead, the usual practice of librarians is to provide the link to a digitized copy of some publication inside the publication’s catalogue record, and these digitized copies are hosted in various electronic libraries, repositories or even online services for hosting digital material. So, librarians themselves are giving priority to digital material of questionable duration over the trusted national repository. Therefore, libraries in Serbia did not, until now, show enough initiative aimed in the right direction to support digital publishing or to achieve deeper cooperation with publishers on that matter, in an effort to bring electronic publications to users in a cost-effective manner. This contributed to the situation that a huge majority of e-books readers in Serbia does not recognize libraries as a source for desirable content. Instead, those people rely on the internet, scanned books or publications in foreign languages.

2 Gedanken zu „Digital Publishing and the Position of Libraries in South-East Europe: A Case Study of Serbia

  1. re “a huge majority of e-books readers in Serbia does not recognize libraries as a source for desirable content”, maybe the following might be an option: enhancing discoverability by adding links in Wikipedia articles to files held by – let me know if I can help, sve najbolje od Claudia

    • Dear Claudia, Thanks for the comment and for useful suggestion on the abovementioned issue. It certainly could help in visibility of those publications. Interestingly, the University Library in Belgrade for the past couple of years promoted cooperation between the Wikipedia Foundation and librarians in Serbia, so this could be one more field of work for improvements. I’m also open for all suggestions.

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