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Head of AphroditeStrengthening Modern Greek Collections

Conference HOME - Agenda - Participants - Presentations - Working Groups - Conference Report

Report on the Conference at the Library of Congress,
April 29-30, 19991

Beau David Case and Artemis Leontis2

This paper is the work of two authors, the one a librarian of a modern Greek collection in the US, the other a user of that collection. A timely conference, "Strengthening Modern Greek Collections: Building US-Greek Library Partnerships," cosponsored by the Library of Congress (LC) and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), with additional financial support provided by the publisher Chadwyck-Healey Ltd and the Embassy of Greece, allowed us to reflect on the state of modern Greek collections in the US, and libraries and archives in Greece. We are submitting this report to inform readers of the MGSA Bulletin about the conference proceedings and to describe the first steps taken to improve access to modern Greek materials.

Conference Purpose and Background

In his letter of invitation to the conference, John Van Oudenaren, Chief of the European Division at LC, wrote: "At a time when interest in Modern Greek is growing in the United States, American research libraries have very incomplete holdings of materials that are needed by US-based scholars working on the history, literature, and culture of Greece after 1400. At the same time, many Greek libraries face difficulties as they seek to preserve, restore, catalog, and provide access to their own rich holdings of Greek materials. There is thus a strong case for closer cooperation between Greek and American libraries. In particular, there should be ways in which American libraries can augment their research holdings by working with Greek libraries in microfilming, digital access, and other projects."

Eutychia Moschouti-Lowenkopf, an independent scholar and regular user of LC's Greek collection, described her investment in the conference in personal terms. A user of Greek and American libraries, she experienced firsthand poor library conditions in Greece and meager collections in the US. Nearly two decades ago she began prodding the LC to organize a conference that would promote American and Greek collaborations to improve Greek collections.

The first promotion of modern Greek in American libraries was undertaken in 1997 at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association under the direction of Beau David Case. A panel of speakers provided helpful information to American librarians who are responsible in some way for Greek (e.g. acquisitions, reference), but who do not know Greek. The success of the event, and its unexpectedly large attendance, ultimately led to this most recent event at LC.

Conference Program: Greek and American Perspectives

The first two sessions offered professional assessments of the holdings, as well as the needs and priorities of, first, Greek libraries and archives, and, second, modern Greek collections in the US3. Both groups profiled their libraries and collections, their particular needs, and national collaboration efforts. Because conference papers soon will be posted on LC European Division website, we will not duplicate the, albeit, very useful descriptions of the various Greek collections, but instead will concentrate on recurring themes and specific proposals for collaboration.

Session I: Chair, Moschouti-Lowenkopf. Presentations by Evridiki Abadjis-Skassis (Library of Parliament), Ioanna Dimopoulou (Director, National Library of Greece), Ifigenia Dionissiadou (Documentation and Systems Department, Benaki Museum), Harris Kalligas (Director, Gennadius Library), Nikos Pantelakis (Chief of the Historical Archives, National Bank of Greece), Agamemnon Tselikas (Director, Center for History and Paleography, National Bank Cultural Foundation), Michael Tzekakis (Director, University of Crete Library), and Myrsini Zorba (Director, National Book Centre of Greece).

Representatives of Greek libraries and archives described a situation where libraries are rich in materials but poor in funding. A first step to bringing these resources to the attention of users is to inform them about collections and archives: what there is, where it is, and how to obtain access. In order to make the most of existing materials, Greek and American libraries must establish formal exchanges. Toward this effort, the National Book Centre of Greece offered to establish a clearinghouse for acquisitions. The following additional projects would require financial support: the creation of a database of periodicals and books in print; the digitizing and microfilming of endangered brittle materials; and the publication of bibliographies in electronic form. Participants also spoke of the need to solve cataloging and automation problems, including international standards for library automation and transliteration systems, and creation of authority lists and bilingual information screens, and to train Greek librarians in library science. Finally, it was reported that university libraries are currently seeking to create acquisitions and document delivery schemes.

Session II: Presentations by Beau David Case (Head, Western European and Linguistics Collections, Ohio State University Library), Evangelie Flessas (Modern Greek Team Leader, Harvard University Library), Dimitris Gondicas (Executive Director, Program in Hellenic Studies, Princeton University), Joan Grant (Director of Collection Services, New York University Library), Denise Hibay (Assistant Chief Librarian for Collection Development, General Research Division, New York Public Library), Harold Leich (Area Specialist, European Division, LC), Artemis Leontis (MGSA), Theofanis G. Stavrou (Department of History, University of Minnesota), Karin Trainer (Director, Princeton University Library), and Jean Wellington (Head, Classics Library, University of Cincinnati Library).

There are about a dozen public and university libraries with good, active modern Greek collections. Collectively this assessment looks good; but each individual library faces several serious problems. First is overall collection weakness, meaning a lack of books in the Greek language in a variety of subjects, and incomplete periodicals holdings. This is compounded by, second, difficulty in finding reliable distributors of Greek books and periodicals, or unfamiliarity with the Greek publishing industry. Yet even those American libraries which do manage to acquire an adequate number of Greek materials, there is the third problem of cataloging. There are too few professional librarian catalogers in the US who know the Greek language--even at the American libraries with major Greek collections. Libraries that cannot catalog their Greek books make one of two decisions: create a backlog of uncataloged material, or outsource the work to other libraries or cataloging agencies. Each option has its high price. In the former, the user pays an intellectual price because uncataloged books are as good as unacquired books--the user does not know of their existence at the library. In the latter option, the library pays--the average price of a Greek book is under fifteen dollars, but the library will pay more than twice that amount to have the book cataloged. Archives face a similar cataloging problem. There are Greek-American archives around the country, but they are unknown to the world. The cataloging of archives is an extremely labor-intensive task, as each item in an archive must be individually described and cataloged (take, for example, a box of letters). The fourth major problem concerns American library users. Modern Greek collections are scattered across the continent, and each library has entirely different holdings, many of local interest. Knowledge of these individual collections is not well known (for example, it came as a great surprise to conference attendees that the Cleveland Public Library has a strong Greek literature collection).

Proposals for Improvements

There was a wonderful working atmosphere in Sessions III and IV of the conference, as participants sought to find manageable ways to take concrete steps. There were some important breakthroughs, too. Ioanna Dimopoulou announced that the National Library of Greece and LC would begin a program of materials exchange.

Alexis Dimaras put proposals on the table for discussion and implementation. The first step was to establish the "Modern Greek Collections Working Group," composed of those present at the conference and others who wish to take part in the group's efforts. Dimaras described this as an ad hoc group, since it happened that important groups were not represented at the conference. The second step was for Beau David Case to create a listserv (or e-mail discussion group) so that the Working Group could continue their discussions after the conclusion of the conference. Third was to create a website with working documents, papers presented at the conference, and links to related Internet sites such as the National Book Centre of Greece and MGSA.

Fourth, participants accepted Dimitris Gondicas's proposal to include a working session on libraries at the 1999 MGSA Symposium at Princeton University. The session will bring together scholars and librarians so that librarians can update scholars on collections and electronic access, scholars can update librarians on materials essential for collections, librarians can meet to discuss their own collaborations, and publishers and distributors of Greek books and librarians/scholars can interact.

Fifth, participants asked Artemis Leontis's to approach MGSA's Executive Board to ask that the Association begin to serve librarians and libraries as well as scholars of modern Greek, who depend on improved collections and access to materials. For many scholars, there is no issue more pressing than the weaknesses of modern Greek collections in North American libraries. The MGSA is uniquely positioned to link scholars and librarians, given its commitment to the biennial MGSA Symposium, its regular contact with scholars of both European and American institutions of learning. The Modern Greek Collections Working Group therefore asked that Leontis formally request the establishment of a MGSA Library Committee to bring librarians of modern Greek collections into the MGSA, and make library issues an integral part of the academic study of modern Greek. The committee could work on some of the following: (1) to provide information about places where librarians and other specialists can study Greek; (2) publish lists of: Greek periodicals held by American libraries; special collections of Greek or Greek American materials; librarians and curators of those collections; Greek libraries online; Greek publishers and distributors; sources for books and periodicals; a handbook of materials essential for a creating a new modern Greek collection; and of contacts to help in acquisitions; and (3) seek the collaboration of librarians who know how to create much-needed online resources, such as the digitization of MGSA's publications Greece in Modern Times: An Annotated Bibliography of Works Published in English in 22 Academic Disciplines in the 20th Century edited by Stratos Constantinidis (forthcoming 1999), Census of Modern Greek Literature in English Translation edited by Dia Philippidis, and Survey of Modern Greek Studies Programs and Faculty Members at Universities in North America.

Finally, attendees committed themselves to task forces that would tackle the specific projects listed below. Each group will analyze the existing problems and offer suggestions for improvement. Reports will be submitted in September 1999 to the listserv, and plans then will be made for a follow-up conference in Athens in 2000, where the reports will be discussed, and projects subsequently implemented.

Acquisitions: to create a list of Greek books and periodicals vendors used by American libraries or recommended by Greek libraries. Membership: Wellington.

Archives: to create a guide to existing archives. Membership: Leich and Pantelakis.

Cataloging: will study library catalog screens and their display of Greek-language and transliterated Greek, authority records; possibility for standardization of Greek automated systems; potential cooperative cataloging projects; and will study other existing problems. Membership: Janet Crayne (South Slavic Area Librarian, University of Michigan Library), Dimopoulou, Trainer, and Tzekakis.

Jefferson-Korais Correspondence: to bring together LC and Hios Library holdings, and to consider how, when, and where to exhibit materials. Membership: Moschouti-Lowenkopf, Tselikas, and Van Oudenaren.

Interlibrary Loan: to establish a consortium of American and Greek libraries that will lend and borrow Greek-language materials free of charge among themselves. Membership: Case.

Periodicals: to crate a union list of Greek-language periodicals, including data such as ISSN, price, and publisher; to document American holdings of these periodicals; and to strategize acquisition of missing issues. Membership: Case, June Pachuta Farris (Bibliographer for Slavic and East European Studies, University of Chicago Library), Flessas, and Zorba.

Greek-American Holdings: to create a guide to existing holdings and to assess cataloging and acquisition problems. Membership: Dionissiadou, Leontis, Stavrou, and a representative of ELEA to be named later.

1Beau David Case and Artemis Leontis. "Strengthening Modern Greek Collections: Building US-Greek Library Partnerships: Report on the Conference at the Library of Congress, April 29-30, 1999." Bulletin: Modern Greek Studies Association 31, no. 1 (Spring 1999): pp. 51-55. With permission.

2 Beau David Case is Assistant Professor and Head, Western European and Linguistics Collections, Ohio State University Libraries. Artemis Leontis is Adjunct Professor of Modern Greek, Ohio State University, and Secretary of the MGSA Executive Board.

3 The conference included attendees who did not present papers.

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