Estonian teens barred from the National Library

  • 2000-10-19
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - The National Library announced Oct. 10 that it will no longer admit children under the age of 16 due to financial problems. For the last four years the National Library has had to cope with the same 56 million kroon budget, which is not adequate to administrate the whole building.

The council of the National Library announced it needs at least 63 million kroons ($3.5 million) to survive. If the library does not get an additional 7 million kroons to the budget, some of its services have to be withdrawn and the opening hours of the library have to be shortened, the officials declared.

Tiiu Valm, head of the National Library, said that the library will also have to dismiss about 30 people. She also complained that the Minister of Culture does not provide enough resources to meet a 10 percent wage increase.

The budget shortfalls will also affect the services of hundreds of other libraries, which use the bibliographical and IT services of the National Library on a daily basis.

The council of the National Library announced formally that its target group is scientists dealing in social sciences and humanities. Specialists, university, college and high school students are welcome only in cases of concrete research.

There are three different types of libraries, each with its own functions, said Ene Loddes, director of library services at the National Library. She said that the tasks of a public library include satisfying the needs of people who live in the specific area, while the tasks of the National Library include preserving all kinds of literature and cooperating with libraries oriented in sciences.

Loddes said that if the network of other libraries worked better in Tallinn, the National Library would not have to deal with so many youngsters. She added that if the network worked better, children really interested in visiting the National Library would have gained access without any problem.

"It seems that the public and school libraries have not fulfilled their tasks well. The one and only National Library should not fulfill their functions," said Loddes.

"Our personnel are trained for a different kind of target group. They know how to deal with specialists of different kind. Curbing children, for which they have not got any training, takes a lot of energy," said Loddes.

The day after the announcement to close the doors to youngsters, the library received a record number of new visitors. According to Valm, 80 new visitors were registered on Oct. 11, while the average number of registrations is usually around 25 per day.

"Maybe they feel that it is better to work in the library since there are no noisy children around," said Valm. She said that some of the visitors of the library are very positive towards the decision to close the doors to youngsters, while the media has taken a negative stand.

She said that administering to children is not the function of the National Library, since there are at least 100 children's libraries and more than 20 public libraries in Tallinn.

Finnish and Swedish national libraries' heads consider the decision to cancel admitting youth under the age of 16 to the National Library justifiable because the functions of the National Library are the preservation of culture and its availability for scientific research, BNS reported.

The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), on the other hand, declared that this is a violation of children's rights and cannot be a valid reason for the library to close its doors to children. UNICEF declared that the decision violates the formal rules of the national library and UN Children's Rights Convention.

Asser Jaanimets, representative of the Estonian Youth Center, said that if youngsters did not go to the library, they might start doing something worse.

"I go to the national library very often and the children don't cause me any trouble. Usually the noisy ones calm down very fast. It is possible to put bad children on the so-called black list. It is not the students' fault that the other libraries are of bad quality and they have to visit the national library," said Jaanimets.

The representatives of different libraries are meeting on Oct. 19 at the Ministry of Culture to discuss the problem.

"I hope a solution will be found. At other national libraries the traditional system works well," said Loddes.

Members of the Estonian Youth Center together with the Estonian Student Council are planning to picket in front of the national library and the homes of the council members on Oct. 19.