“I am curious as to what happens elsewhere”– an interview with Agnes Hajdu Barat, the Vice President of the Association of Hungarian Librarians, responsible for Foreign Affairs. (Anita Pegán)
(Translated by Andrea Hagymási)
Agnes Hajdu Barat is the Vice President of the Association of Hungarian Librarians, responsible for Foreign Affairs. She has been a Standing Committe member of the Knowledge Management Section of IFLA since 2005, in which she also performed the tasks of Secretary between 2006 and 2009. In acknowledgement of her work and extended international relationships, in 2008 she was invited to the Program Organizing Committee of the Knowledge Management Section of the IFLA Conference in Milan, and in 2009 she was appointed to lead the Organizing Committee of the Knowledge Management Section of the 2010 IFLA Conference in Göteborg. At this year’s ISKO (International Society for Knowledge Organization) Conference she was elected into the Scientific Advisory Council. Also in 2010, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation asked her to contribute to the work of the foundation.
She is a college professor at the Department of Library and Museum Pedagogy, Institute of Adult Education, Gyula Juhász Faculty of Education, University of Szeged, and a guest lecturer at the Department of Library and Information Science, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. Nevertheless, we start our conversation talking about the past, not her current tasks.
- Your father, Géza Hajdu, the outstanding figure of the librarian profession, was the director of the Somogyi Library. Did it have a decisive impact on your career choice?
- By all means. Due to the consequences of war and difficulties in the family, my father graduated in Hungarian Language and Literature and Library Studies from the Distance Learning Department. At that time I was already of school age. I followed how he conducted his studies. We read a lot together, and he invented intellectual games for us. As he was reading his books, we were also reading part of them with him. Hódmezővásárhely, a city in Southeast Hungary, where I grew up, was a literary and art center with a special atmosphere. Figures like László Németh, Lajos Bibó, Miklós Galyasi, János Tornyai, Kálmán Csohány, Iván Szabó… (the list of writers and artists of Hódmezővásárhely cannot be complete) and their works determined the spirit of Hódmezővásárhely at the time, as they do today. My whole childhood was spent in this atmosphere. Through my father I got acquainted not only with literature and the reading club movement, but also with the librarian profession. After the years spent in Hódmezővásárhely, he was a Network and Supervisor Librarian in Szeged before he became the Assistant Director, then the Director of the Somogyi Library. In my opinion, being a network and supervisor librarian is the peak of the librarian profession. In that position one has to know everything. Help others and set directions. My father was very determined and goal-oriented, but very human at the same time. I think that in this respect I take after him. Nevertheless, in the fourth grade of grammar school I still did not decide that I would choose a career as a librarian. I thought that I would become an electrical engineer. I attended a highschool class specialized in physics. I had very good physics teachers. János Győri and Sándor Bodrogi provided me for life with wisdom and knowledge. They instilled in me the need to understand processes, the ability to divide complicated questions into components. However, when it was time to fill in the application form, it was obvious for me that next to Physics I will also write Library Studies as an academic specialization.
- I read about your father that challenges drove him ahead. Does this apply to you as well?
- By all means. I like being given tasks that are multi-layered and complex. Real challenges motivate me the most. Perhaps the fact that I picked Library Studies and Physics for subjects to major in also exemplifies that I do not like the traditional ways. For me this pairing was natural and logical as well. I was alone. Later, with the knowledge I acquired, a straight road was leading me to classification. Many people told me that I could be an excellent reference librarian but I did not become one. I have always been attracted to theoretical questions.
I do not feel inspired if I have have to concentrate only on one task. Of course, there are work phases when one has to focus on one thing for the sake of the appropriate result, but what I really like is if I can deal with several things at the same time. This was the case already during my university years. At the suggestion of Professor Fülöp, in parallel to studying, many of us familiarized ourselves with the ins and the outs of the operation of an association, the scientific study circle movement, and the topical issues of the profession. That was how I joined the Association of Hungarian Librarians (AHL). It is absolutely natural for me that in fact since I became conscious, since I attended university, I have been the member of the association! Years later, it was a great honour when I was elected into the leadership of the Association of Librarians inCsongrádCounty, then of AHL. These are very important things for me. Just as much as my foreign work and relations, and my “engagement” with UDC (Universal Decimal Classification) as well. It is good that I do not work only in one field. This way the challenge is also bigger and, besides, the experiences at one place can be well utilized at another.
- How did your participation in international professional life begin and how has it developed?
- On the international level, I started to deal with UDC first: in the beginning, by building databases and by translating. Naturally, I also began to attend ISKO conferences. Then, later – a good many years ago – one night I received an email from Ia McIlwaine. He asked me to become a member of the UDC Consortium Advisory Board. I was so suprised and so happy about this request that I woke up my husband and shared the news with him right away. I can benefit even today from what I learned there. The people I got acquianted with a long time ago, like Ia McIlwaine, are still very significant relationships both in my life and in my work. Working together with Ia McIlwaine is a great honour indeed. The ability not to concentrate exclusively on one area is also a condition of cooperation with a person of such stature.
I consider it an honour as well that I had the opportunity to take a photograph in which Ingetraut Dahlberg (who was the founder of ISKO and President between 1989-1994), Ia McIlwaine (who was the President of ISKO between 2002-2006) and Joan Mitchell (who is one of the administrators of the Dewey Decimal Classification system at OCLC) are present at the same time. They are outstanding figures of three consequtive generations in classification theory. The photo depicts a historical moment (6th July 2006,Vienna) when the main class of religion in the Dewey Decimal Classification system adopted the division of religions that the UDC – the “smaller sibling“ with which it is in continuous rivalry – had developed a few years earlier. I am glad that I was a witness to this moment and with this picture I even won an international award.
- I believe that it was also an outstanding event in your life when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invited you to contribute to their work. Would you say a few words about it?
- Since I was made to sign a contract for secrecy, I cannot talk about it for the time being, but what I can tell you is that I received a request in the middle of January 2010 to take part in the work of an advisory body in connection with libraries. Then almost within a few days we signed the contract, received the programs whose evaluation lasted all through February. At the beginning of March, we spent three days inSeattle where the opinion of the committee members coming from almost every part of the world was maturing and forming in the course of personal debates, then the qualifying procedure was completed. Progressing in accordance with the predetermined viewpoints, it was especially interesting to see how different and – at the same time – how similar conclusions we arrived at, depending on where we came from. The organization of the event was remarkably professional. I learned several interesting and efficient management methods which I will definitely build into my classes. I can also promise you that as soon as the period of secrecy ends, I will give you a concrete account of my experiences. The staff of the foundation took care of connecting work with a visit to the Seattle Public Library. The 11-storey building designed by Rem Koolhaas was inaugurated in2004. In the 34,000-square-meter complex, everything is determined by function, the individual levels therefore can even be of different sizes. During the design of the glass building, which is impressive both inside and out, economical operation was also an important factor, this is how they picked the light blue, diagonally running, pergol-like cover as well as the combination of elavators and escalators.Seattle is a truely multicultural city, so is its library. In the “English as a Second Language” section, for example, they have a tutoring program, among others, with which they support the acquisition of citizenship among a significant number of immigrant users, but at this same department they also organize different readers’ programs, computer courses, or even dance events for those who speak the foreign language better. Naturally, the library stock here also has a very rich selection of languages. A plaque at the entrance of the library announces that information may be required in 12 languages in the library, from Amharic to Vietnamese.Seattle is the center of Microsoft, so it is no wonder that the level of computerization in the library is amazing, but this state-of-the-art infrastructure is not emphasized at all, nor is the 24-hour possibility of renewal and return, or long-distance use. The reading programs are much more so. We can find book recommendations targeting different user layers from several perspectives. The library is also a sight for tourists inSeattle. They admire the building, walk around freely, make phone calls, use the internet or request information. An interesting bright spot of the library is the fiction collection separated by a carpeted area that depicts a jungle scene, and another one is the “Dewey Ramp” where huge Dewey-numbers running along the floor help reader orientation. The aforementioned are only unorganised memory fragments, but they were definitely connected to the work done for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. No Hungarian contributor has ever taken part in this committee.
- It is uplifting to hear how many times you mention what a great honour it has been for you to work within the association, cooperate with your colleagues, and complete different assignments. In your view, what does this concept imply for today’s young people?
- In the first semester of the first academic year, I give my students an assignment in classification, with the purpose of making them process on their own the significant periods, enterprises and characters of the history of classification. Work is done in groups. One of the groups is always assigned or can choose to process Dahlberg’s oeuvre. The best studies are written about this subject. In the completed papers one can see the respect they feel for this flamingly smart, logical, open-minded, fragile elderly lady, who accomplished a very successful career and never ceased to be interested in changes, renewal and, most of all, people. Respect shines through these papers. The kind of respect students feel when they have the opportunity to get closer to such a knowledgable expert and can write about her. In the submitted studies there always is some extremity in the positive sense. It occured, for example, that a student wrote an email to Dahlberg, and there was one who edited the scientist’s figure in the photo taken of the group. I would like to mention another example as well. It was in this semester that they offered a specialized course on the “History of Reading Clubs” for first-year MA students at Eötvös Loránd University for the first time. During our work we experienced unbelievable magic. My father used to deal with this subject matter. As students were gaining an insight into the world of reading clubs, a picture unfolded in front of their eyes that they had hardly or not known at all until then. They were looking for – and many of them did find – their roots, they found their way to archives. They were brought face to face with the era and the past of their grandparents. They respected the people working here and the values they professed in the reading clubs. It is a different issue that today’s young people are a little more liberal-minded than we were when we were of the same age. I would not have dared to do a lot of things that they do. Even at university classes. But I am trying to tolerate these cases when I face them. I often admire them as well.
- Speaking of your foreign connections, how have foreign relations been developing at the Association of Hungarian Librarians and what role have you played in shaping them?
- Foreign relations have always played an important role at AHL. The Association has always had a president and a vice president who assigned an important role to foreign relations. When I was a delegate at an AHL general assembly for the first time in my life, at the time it was Éva Prőhle who presented a report on this subject. I was impressed by how complex and many-sided this area was. My immediate predecessor, Katalin Haraszti, did her job very seriously, meticulously, and extremely dedicatedly. When I was assigned the foreign affairs tasks, she very helpfully passed on her experiences to me. The information she provided helped me a lot. The international relations of AHL can be divided into two big areas. One is keeping in touch with “foreign foreigners”, the other is with Hungarians across the border. Both are extremely important. Obviously, we have a closer connection with the neighbouring countries that are situated nearer us, and with the Visegrád countries.
I would like to mention only a few examples from the recent past. Thanks to an AHL grant opportunity, we depened and put into an official form our relations with the Croatian Library Association (Hrvatskog Knjiznicarskog Drustva). In the spring of 2009, we invited the representatives of the Croatian Library Association to our program organized under the auspices of “cultural tourism” in Pécs, in the course of which we formulated the conceptual framework of our cooperation and prepared our cooperation agreement. Then a little later, Madam President Klára Bakos, General Secretary Anikó Nagy and myself travelled to Zagreb to sign the cooperation agreement. Among the representatives of the Croatian Library Association were President Zdenka Sviben (Zagreb), Board Member Andrea Bozic (Eszék), Head of the Reference Library Section of the Library Council Tamara Krajna, and Secretary Ira Tuzlancic. In the cooperation agreement we recorded in writing that we would assist each other in taking account of, publicizing, and mutually spreading information about our common historical and cultural values through the library system of the two countries, support Croation librarians in their preparation for library activities within the European Union, facilitate the development of cross-border relationships and the mutual exploitation of advantages resulting from geographical proximity, and make it possible to provide mutual assistance in providing library services for the Hungarian and Croatian minority living in the two countries. We have a good relationship with the Italian librarian profession as well. On the occasion of visiting the 2009 IFLA Conference in Milan, the Association of Hungarian Librarians and the Italian Library Association (Associazione Italiana Biblioteche) signed a cooperation agreement. Relying on this cooperation agreement, we successfully applied for an NCA (National Civil Fund) grant, which aims at strengthening civil society and supporting our own civil organization in assuming an international role. We can consider it an especially significant achievement that Mauro Guerrini, the President of the National Committee of the IFLA conference in Milan, also honoured us with his presence at our annual conference in Debrecen. I think it is a great honour that he visited us here one month before the IFLA conference. Unfortunately, due to a lack of money, we could not always make it to the Austrian events during the past few years. Nevertheless, Gerald Leitner (current President of EBLIDA) promised us that he would come to our annual conference in Baja.
Klára Bakos cultivates a very good personal relationship with Silvia Stasselova, the head of the Slovak Library Association. Madam President is a regular participant at our annual conferences, and numerous Hungarian colleagues know her. We can count on our Slovak colleagues for many things. Our Polish connections are significant as well. Joanna Pasztaleniec, a member of the board of the Polish Library Association was present at the closing of the conference entitled “Competitive country – with competitive librarians”. Unfortunately, the most recent momentum of our relationship was when we sent our condolences to our Polish colleagues because of the tragedy near Smolensk, the death of Polish head of state Lech Kaczynski, several high-ranking officials of the country, and relatives of the victims of the Katyn massacre. Besides the relationship between our associatons, our board felt compelled to express this gesture also because of the many historical parallels and the common past. Relations with the Romanian Library Association are mutual. We take part in each other’s events on numerous occasions. I personally have a close professional relationship with Victoria Francu, with whom I met in connection with UDC and the thesauruses. We also invite the representatives of the Serbian Library Association to every annual conference. We will hopefully meet them this year in Baja as well, moreover, we expect to welcome them as speakers.
- How do you keep in touch with Hungarian library associations across the border?
- Keeping in touch with Hungarian library associations across the border plays an especially important role in foreign affairs tasks. They are our permanent invitees at every significant event we organize (annual conference, book festival, conferences, training programs), and they also contribute more and more often to some of our big association events. In July 2006, the AHL concluded a cooperation agreement with the representatives of the KAPOCS Library Group (a cross-border association of Hungarian libraries), the Romanian Hungarian Librarians‘ Association, the Slovak Hungarian Librarians‘ Association, the Ukrainian Hungarian Librarians‘ Association, and the Subcarpathian Hungarian School Librarians‘ Information Association. We also organize common events, like the common professional forum in Somorja on 17th April, 2009, with the participation of the Association of Hungarian Librarians, the Slovak Hungarian Librarians‘ Organization and the Slovak Library Association. The participants, based on their earlier civil relations, reviewed their organizations‘ situation and tasks with regard to the current challenges of the information society, summarized the newest results of the profession with an international outlook, and put into writing what further opportunities lay ahead for cooperation between the AHL and Slovak Hungarian librarians. The important scenes of cross-border cooperation are the member organizations in which they traditionally cultivate close cooperation with the Hungarian member organizations and institutions that work in the neighbouring countries. A significant acknowledgement of this work is the fact that in 2010 Gyula Mándli was awarded the title of Freeman of the Town of Ipolyság (in Slovak: Šahy) in recognition of his activity to develop relations between the towns of Vác and Ipolyság. An important element of keeping in touch with Hungarians across the border is the operation of the IFLA-HUN electronic discussion list, run by Katalin Haraszti. Together with IFLA in July 2007, we launched this internet correspondence forum established for Hungarian and Hungarian-speaking librarians, information experts, cultural managers, hungarologists, and embassadors of Hungarian culture living inHungary, in the neighbouring countries, or in other countries of Europe, North andSouth America,Australia andAsia. The basic concept of an electronic discussion list originated from the intentions expressed at the 6th World Congress of Hungarian Librarians; from the demand that the Association of Hungarian Librarians should create a forum where the opportinity opens up for a cross-border exchange of professional ideas. The list operates on the server of IFLA, in Hungarian and (if required) English language.
- From the more distantly-situated countries which ones do you have a professional relationship with?
- It is the German and Scandinavian colleagues with whom we cultivate a closer relationship. On 10th June, 2010, we will hold a Swedish Day in the National Library of Foreign Literature, where, besides the representatives of the Embassy of Sweden (Alina Mattisson Lax, Judit Holländer), Ildikó Annus from the Department of Scandinavian Languages and Literature of ELTE and Maria Larsson, who lives in Göteborg, will also be our guests.
- How does your relationship work with IFLA and EBLIDA?
- Based on the changed rules of IFLA, we are members in two sections (Public Library and Knowledge Management) and also in the Section on Management of Library Associations. I consider it very important to take part in IFLA conferences. It is no accident that it has four to five thousand visitors! Here one can follow the trends and build relationships. We have traditionally good results in this organization as well. There were and there are Hungarian section members and chairs. I have been a member of the leadership of the Knowledge Management Section for eight years and used to be its secretary as well for several years. And now I have become the program chair for the Knowledge Management Section at the upcoming IFLA Conference. The AHL plays a decisive role not only in relationship building and cooperation but, for example, in the translation of different basic documents and standards of IFLA. Unfortunately, participation in IFLA conferences is becoming more and more expensive. We can almost always only travel by using grants or external help. In the recent period, several of us managed to get to European conferences that were held closer to Hungary. We will apply for grants this year as well. In connection with EBLIDA, I would like to highlight the Vienna Declaration, approved in Helsinki on 6th May, 2010. This is actually a library policy recommendation for the European Commission. The declaration proves that EBLIDA deals with a lot of things, from standardization to the quite general issues of library affairs.
- Would you say a few words about your work regarding the preparation of the program of the Knowledge Management Section for the 2010 IFLA Conference in Göteborg?
- When I was invited in 2008 to contribute to the organization of the programs of the Knowledge Management Section at the 2009 IFLA Conference inMilan, it felt absolutely natural. It was a European conference with Eurepean emphases and European committee members. At that time nobody anticipated that the 2010 conference would be in Göteborg instead ofBrisbane. Last year everything happened differently. I needed to find handholds for a surreal decision. My previous experience in conference organization and my Scandinavian contacts came in handy here. The leadership of the Knowledge Management Section placed their trust in me. The other two members of the Organizing Committee are Karolien Selhorst and Stuart Basefsky. The work began as early as in September with the specification of the planned program. The five-member managerial body was established, whose members are the Chair and the Secretary of the Knowledge Management Section, the colleagues responsible for Information Coordination and Newsletter Editing, and the head of the Göteborg Program Committee. We have held Skype-conferences on a monthly basis since then, which requires especially exciting harmonization, since Christel Manke works inTokyo, while the other members of the body work inCanada and theUnited States. Our Section was among the first to publish an invitation to the conference. Our central topic is ‘The Voice of Global Knowledge Management’, which targets the global perspectives of knowledge management and would, first of all, like to demonstrate the possibilities of knowledge sharing at large global organizations that are either generally international or encompass the territory of a nation and are not NGOs. Until the 15th February deadline 37 abstracts had arrived, far exceeding the number of every earlier application, and it was very difficult to choose those five papers, beside our invited speaker Margareta Nelke, that can be presented during the two-hour section session. Among the selected papers, besides the introduction of two international organizations (International IDEA –Sweden; Focuss.Info – theNetherlands) and an independent knowledge management consultant, a German, a Chinese, and a South African speaker can present their results. In accordance with the preplanned schedule, all but one of the authors have already submitted their papers to ensure that they can be published on the IFLA website as soon as possible and the translators can appropriately prepare for simultaneous interpreting because, based on IFLA’s practice, the participants will be able to follow the program of the conference in every official language of the organisation (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish). The Knowledge Management Section will be represented in three further common programs as well:
- Librarians in Action. Information Policy and Human Rights (Sections on Government Libraries, Government Information and Official Publications, Knowledge Management, Preservation and Conservation and Law Libraries)
- Global Learning Platform (Sections on Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning, Information Technology and Knowledge Management)
- Libraries and the Semantic Web (Sections on Information Technology, Cataloguing, Classification and Indexing and Knowledge Management)
Until August the organizers still have numerous tasks to complete, but we are doing good. We will have interesting and high-quality presentations in a great environment. We hope that, just like before, our programs will generate outstanding interest.
- Travel and participation in conferences is part of your life. How do you feel about these occasions? Do you like travelling?
- I have not thought about whether I like to travel or not. But I like people very much and love taking part in conferences – preferably from registration to the very last moment. I am curious as to what happens elsewhere, what cultures and people are like in other countries. I love to learn, talk and argue. In that sense of the word that means a constructive exchange of ideas, a certain kind of thinking together. There are few people who do not take such a conversation, when opposing views may also emerge, in a negative way and who do not consider a different opinion to be a kind of attack. In my opinion, such conversations take us ahead by all means. I am grateful for having been given the opportunity for all this.
- Thank you for the conversation! I congratulate you on your new assignments and wish you a lot of further interesting challenges!
(The interview was made on 21st May, 2010.)
The original, Hungarian-language version of the interview can be found in:
PEGÁN Anita: „Kíváncsi vagyok arra, hogy mi történik máshol”– Interjú Barátné Hajdu Ágnessel, az Magyar Könyvtáros Egyesület külügyekért felelős alelnökével. In: Könyv, Könyvtár, Könyvtáros (2010. augusztus) 19. évf. 8. sz. p. 38-45.
A reference can be found at: http://www.isko.org/kolit.php?cl=92
Pegán, Anita. – „Kíváncsi vagyok arra, hogy mi történik máshol”. Interjú Barátné Hajdu Ágnessel [I am interested in what is happening elsewhere. Interview with Agnes Hajdu Barat] (Lang.: Hun). – In: Könyv, könyvtár, könyvtáros, 19(2010)8, pp. 38-45.