In Creation of New Partnerships

The digitization of materials in Finno-Ugric languages in the national libraries operating in the Russian Federation has grown significantly during the past few years. Many Russian libraries have established their own digital collections and given the public either full or restricted access to the materials. The assumption is that the digitization and improved accessibility to Finno-Ugric materials both old and new promotes the language learning of native speakers of these languages. These Finno-Ugric languages can be thought to represent a crucial resource or the worldview of their communities, cultures and traditions – and culture, traditions and the worldview are best transmitted in free use of the native language.

At the same time, the dissemination and harmonization of information has been overlooked in the enthusiasm for digitization, and in the discussions conducted with the Russian national libraries it has become clear that there is no control over how much and which Finno-Ugric materials are digitized in the Russian Federation. This complicates the accessibility of these materials and the systematic planning of digitization projects and may result in redundant work, a highly inefficient use of resources.

The same problem is reflected in the spotty accessibility to the material. From the perspective of the end users, learning to use and administer the many user interfaces requires not only time and IT know-how, but also skills in the dominant language. Until recently, there has not been a system which could be used to search, browse or access all digitized Finno-Ugric materials. The standardization has also been insufficient, and typically no harmonized quality requirements have been set for the digitized materials. This has prevented the use of this material in, e.g., linguistic research. We have for some time hoped to receive a suitable proposal from the Russian libraries which would enable cooperation between them and the National Library of Finland in terms of both harmonizing the digitized materials and the development of their quality specifications.

To promote the objectives described above, the Digitization Project of Kindred Languages is heading to city of Oulu, where the Finnish-Russian Cultural Forum is taking place on the 30th of September and the 1st of October. The Finnish-Russian Cultural Forum is a unique form of activity developed by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and the Russian Federation Ministry of Culture to activate and promote direct cultural cooperation between civic organizations, cultural institutions and artists.

For our project, the Cultural Forum is an excellent opportunity to create and foster partnerships with Russian libraries. This year, we Finns had our turn for proposals. In the course of activities at the Digitization Project of Kindred Languages, we want to enhance the interlibrary co-operation over our Uralica portal. And it does look like we will have a plenty of work and good fun ahead of us, since six Russian libraries from Komi, Murmansk, Tver, Mari-El, Mordovia and Udmurtia are arriving in Oulu for negotiations over the releasing the digitized items on Uralica.

On the behalf of the project, I wish you all welcomed to Oulu. Let the Cultural Forum be successful for all of us.

Yours &c.,
Jussi-Pekka Hakkarainen

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