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National library faces bleak future: British consultant deplores state of neglect, urges changes

ChilNet extract from El Mercurio
11 June 1997

A British library consultant concluding an inspection tour of the National Library last week urged the government to place the institution's revitalization higher on its priority list.

The primary objective of consultant Maurice Line's visit was to draft a plan to serve as a structural blueprint for future National Library directors on how to run the institution.

"In this world dominated by the market economy where everything has a price, national libraries are in crisis or else they have already died," he said.

Line's prognosis for Chile's National Library is no less dismal: its collection is in danger of "either rotting or crumbling to dust."

After several weeks inspecting the condition of the National Library, located in Santiago, Line found that there is a vast corps of underpaid staff engaged primarily in routine rather than creative work, and with no expectations of improved conditions in the future.

"If Chile wants to have a decent public service, the country will have to invest in it and re-think the library concept," Line said.

The process of turning the library system around, Line said, must begin with decent salaries and staff training along with the introduction of automation and computer technology.

Line describes the low salaries earned by library personnel as "de-motivating" factors. "I admire what these people are doing under such difficult conditions. Many are insecure in their work as a result of the lack of trust vested in them. If officials support them I am certain they will grow," he said.

The consultant said another of the institutions' weaknesses is that than no more than 60 percent of books printed in Chile reach the library and many books are in storage in deteriorating condition.

Line observed that high school and university students are the most frequent users, when they should be served by their own school libraries. The job of a national library, rather, should be to gather together all the country's knowledge, catalogue it, preserve these materials for posterity and make them available to scholars and researchers.

He said he hopes that the changes he proposed are implemented in the next couple years, a goal he said is feasible if the library receives the support it needs. *

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