The idea of creating a permanent body to facilitate cooperation between libraries in the Baltic Sea Area came up at the end of an international symposium named “Bibliotheca Baltica”, which had been organized by Lübeck City Library in June 1992 within the framework of the ARS BALTICA activities taken up upon the initiative of the government of the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

The idea of the Lübeck Symposium had been propagated by two men, Dr. Jörg Fligge, many years treasurer of the association, and Dr. Robert Schweitzer, its secretary, had both professionally and personally been involved in the Baltic Sea Area. Dr. J. Fligge was born in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, wrote his doctor’s thesis on the reformation in East Prussia and had been in contact with Lithuanian libraries due to his former post in Duisburg, sister city of Vilnius. Dr. R. Schweitzer had written his doctor’s thesis on the history of autonomous Finland an thus become proficient in the Slavonic, Finno-Ugric and Scandinavian languages of the area. In addition he studied German emigration to the European Northeast as research director of the Helsinki-based Aue Foundation. Dr. J. Fligge as director and Dr. R. Schweitzer as his deputy and keeper of manuscripts, old prints and special collections were at the helm of a library with one of the strongest holdings of older literature on the Baltic Area and the self-chosen task of collecting – as the only library in Germany – material on all countries bordering to the Baltic Sea.

It had been the purpose of the Lübeck Symposium to arouse the feeling of common responsibility for a common cultural heritage being kept within a variety of libraries in the countries around the Baltic Sea, deliberately including Russia and – at a later stage – also Norway. Taking advantage of the new prospects of freedom of information flow, it was pointed out that destruction and removals of library holdings have during the centuries created a situation, in which only all libraries together, by forming a so-to-speak virtual cooperative library, can provide the information basis necessary for research and information on the Baltic Sea Area as a whole, but also on its individual countries. To cite a few examples, the literary cultural heritage of Poland is incomplete without taking into account the holdings of Uppsala. Many German prints have been destroyed in Germany proper, but are kept among the vast German language material in Tartu/Estonia and in the immeasurably rich collection of the former Imperial Public Library, now National Library of Russia, in St. Petersburg. Finnish legal deposit prints have survived in Greifswald, while having been destroyed by the 1827 fire of Turku.

The symposium in Lübeck united scholars, pointing out the traditions of the Baltic Sea Area’s common heritage, and specialists from libraries from the whole area, reporting on the situation of the kind of collections characterized above in their individual countries. Of course, the issue of transferring information on preservation techniques, microfilming activities and collective cataloging ventures especially to the librarians in the New Democracies was also taken into account.

The biennial symposiums have so far been the backbone of Bibliotheca Baltica’s continuous activities. The Tartu Symposium held in 1994, featured the history of literature, the Riga Symposium of 1996 was organized in two partly parallel sections – one uniting music librarians of the Baltic Sea Area, the other being a meeting of high level librarians on library policy, continuing a series of conferences organized by NORDINFO and spreading newest information on cooperative ventures involving automatic data processing. The following Stockholm Symposium in 1998 had its specialists’ section on regional bibliographies, while concentration on new forms of library management was called forth by the changes of public financing of libraries.

The Szczecin Symposium was held September 19 – 24, 2000, with the overall theme “Libraries and the Cultural Heritage of the Baltic Sea Area – its cooperative handling in the 21st century” and also a special conference on “Newspaper holdings: significance, cataloging, preservation, conversion and user policy”.

2002 the Symposium was held in Copenhagen, with a special conference on Library building, another on Public libraries.

Two years later the Greifswald Symposium was already the 7th International Symposium of Bibliotheca Baltica and was held April 21 – 24,  2004 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Greifswald University Library. The Symposium was fully devoted to open and to show treasures of libraries in the Baltic Sea Area – medieval manuscripts, old and rare books – to give an access and research possibilities in the digital age. The Vilnius Symposium held in 2006, focused on culture heritage of the Baltic Sea Area and topical digitization issues in Europe. The 9th Symposium 2008 in St Petersburg focused on maps and other information resources under the title “Access to the Baltic Sea”. The main theme of the Symposium in Helsinki in 2010 was presentation of important collections in the Baltic Area and how to digitize them, but also presentations of the collaboration in the area.

Truly, the Lübeck Symposium marks the beginning of Bibliotheca Baltica association, because the preliminary board, which had been appointed for the task of preparing a formal framework for permanent functioning, also designed some possible future activities. In Tartu, 1994, the statutes of the association were adopted and the first elected board received its mandate. As you can see from the text, published in Newsletter Nr. 2, pp. 5-6, the four elected members of the board, one of whom is the president, have a four year term and are replaced two by two in order to preserve continuity of expertise.

Customarily the hosts of the coming and the previous symposium are members of the board, and the General Assembly strives for a balanced representation of subregions and different types of libraries. Until 2010 the secretary and treasurer were cooptated by the elected members without limitations on the prolongation of their mandate. Since then they are chosen from the formally elected board members with the possibility of reelection. The “seat” of the association in 2009 moved from Lübeck to the Herder Institute in Marburg, where its archive now is kept.

The first president, Professor Esko Häkli, director of Helsinki University Library, the National Library of Finland, greatly enhanced the international standing of the working group by creating links with the activities of NORDINFO and making the symposium not only a platform of discussions on matters of information on collections, but also on issues of library policies and management questions. He served from 1992 to 1996 and he was succeeded by Dr. Tomas Lidman, the Royal Librarian of Sweden (1996 – 2000), Dr. Hans-Armin Knöppel, Director of the University Library of Greifswald (2000-2004) and Andris Vilks from the National Library of Latvia (2004-2008). Since 2008 Dr. Gunnar Sahlin from the National Library of Sweden is the president.

The Bibliotheca Baltica association publishes a newsletter averagely twice a year.

While the Bibliotheca Baltica surely cannot be ranked among the most powerful and influential international library organizations, its work  fulfills an important task in the ever more rapidly changing world of libraries, information and academic research around the Baltic Sea by furnishing a base of exchange of information not only between librarians of all countries bordering the Baltic Sea, but also between library executives and collection specialists as well as scholars as the users of our services.