The idea of creating a permanent body to facilitate cooperation between libraries in the Baltic region arose at an international symposium called “Bibliotheca Baltica”, which had been organised by Lübeck City Library in June 1992 within the framework of ARS BALTICA, an initiative of the government of the state of Schleswig-Holstein.
The Lübeck Symposium was the brainchild of Dr. Jörg Fligge, later the treasurer of Bibliotheca Baltica, and Dr. Robert Schweitzer, the association’s secretary from 1992-2008. Both men had professional and personal involvement in the Baltic region: Dr. 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. Schweitzer had written his doctor’s thesis on the history of autonomous Finland and 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. Fligge, as director of Lübeck City Library, and Dr. 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 – materials on all countries bordering the Baltic Sea.
The purpose of the Lübeck Symposium was to generate a feeling of shared 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 the destruction and removal of library holdings have, over 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 region 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 materials 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 brought together scholars, who pointed out the traditions of the Baltic region’s common heritage, and specialists from the entire region, reporting on the situation of the kind of collections characterised above in their individual countries. The issue of transferring information on preservation techniques, microfilming activities and collective cataloging ventures, especially for the librarians in the New Democracies, was also taken into account.
The biennial symposia 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 organised in two partly parallel sections: one uniting music librarians of the Baltic region, the other a meeting of high level librarians on library policy, continuing a series of conferences organised 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, whilst concentrating on new forms of library management necessitated by changes in the public financing of libraries.
The Szczecin Symposium in September, 2000, had 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”.
In 2002, the Symposium was held in Copenhagen, with a special conference on library building and another on public libraries.
Two years later the Greifswald Symposium was held to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Greifswald University Library. The Symposium was fully devoted to opening and showing treasures of libraries in the Baltic region – medieval manuscripts, old and rare books, etc. – to provide access and research opportunities in the digital age. The Vilnius Symposium in 2006 focused on the cultural heritage of the Baltic region and topical digitisation 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 the presentation of important collections in the Baltic region and how to digitise them, but also presentations of the collaborative efforts in the area.
The Lübeck Symposium marks the beginning of the 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. 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. In 2009, the “seat” of the association moved from Lübeck to the Herder Institute in Marburg, where its archive is now 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 for discussions on matters of information on collections, but also on issues of library policies and management questions. He served from 1992 to 1996 and 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), Andris Vilks from the National Library of Latvia (2004-2008), and Dr. Gunnar Sahlin from the National Library of Sweden (2008-2012). The association’s current president is Renaldas Gudauskas of the National Library of Lithuania.
While Bibliotheca Baltica surely cannot be ranked among the most powerful and influential international library organisations, 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 information exchange not only between librarians of all countries bordering the Baltic Sea, but also between library executives and collection specialists, and scholars as the users of our services.