To have a library one can't afford

  • 2000-06-29
  • By Anna Pridanova
RIGA - Only 6 percent of the Latvian population support the idea of funding the building of a new Latvian National Library by an additional fee tacked onto their electricity bills. A public opinion poll on attitudes towards the library building shows that while over three quarters (76 percent) support the idea of a new LNL building, only 45 percent of all respondents are willing to pay for it out of their own pockets.

But support for the new library construction is expressed against a background of pessimism about the current general economic situation in the country: only 20 percent evaluate it positively, and 48 percent negatively.

People think a more complex system for raising the money would be best, with main funds to come from state investments but also from private, local and foreign donations.

Research shows that at the time the interview was conducted - from March 28 to April 4 - only 43 percent of people knew about the draft law on the library building, although this issue was aired in public debate and on radio and TV.

The Skele government raised the issue in March, asserting the mandatory tax to be the only way to gather the necessary 85 million lats ($141.7 million).

The law, voted down by the parliamentary committee for education, science and culture on May 16, proposed to gather the money in a 12-year period from all users of the electricity monopoly.

Lawmakers' reluctance to impose undebated decisions coincides with public concerns about the proposed system.

"Who will give me an account of how the money has been used? Yes, we are willing to pay this additional fee, but what then? What is the guarantee that they will take the fee off, when the time set for money gathering expires? And are there really no other ways to raise the funds?" said Inta Ancane, project manager at the advertising company Delta-marketing..

The research sampled 557 Latvian residents aged 15 - 74 and has a +/- 4 percent margin of error. This sample is representative of Latvia, said Diana Grencmane, project manager at the Baltic Data House which made the interviews and processed the first data for the research.

"We had three-level control on the research implementation. We called back 10 percent of the respondents by phone to prove that they really were interviewed. We checked 10 percent of the data entry, and conducted 100 percent question sheet control," said Grencmane.

The data was collected in over 50 places around Latvia by 53 professional interviewers. The average length of the interviews was 37 minutes, and people were selected randomly.

"The interviewers knocked on every fifth flat in blocks of flats and every second door in single housing residential areas, beginning at a randomly selected address. Only one person was questioned in every home. People in the families were chosen by the 'youngest male method'. Only the youngest person (male, and if not - female) was questioned," said Grencmane.

The research revealed the major problem about people's unwillingness to support the bill on fund raising for the new library building.

It is that "people lack information about the real situation in the library and the condition in which the books are kept," said Lita Hofmane, head of the LNL personnel department.

"We lack an organized information campaign on the issue," said Valdis Liepins, head of the research implementation company Baltic Connection Inc.

Asked what the differences in public attitudes are in different Latvian regions, Liepins said, "this is a matter depending on the distribution of Latvians and non-Latvians in Latvian regions. Say, people in Latgale (the most non-Latvian populated region) exhibited less support for the project than in other regions.

"I don't say it's their fault. It's our fault that we could not inform and persuade them as we should," said Liepins.

"The Latvian National Library is one with the longest life in the prospects. The idea appeared in 1926, but the construction was postponed all the time," said Guna Delina, deputy director of the LNL.

"I read the Latvian press of that time. They said we needed a bridge over the Daugava, we needed the Freedom Monument, we needed the Central Railway Station, we needed city bathhouses. Ironically, today we have everything already built except the national library," she said.

The number of LNL users has doubled within the last 10 years, now reaching 43,000. The same is true of the number of books loaned, more than 3 million last year. But the quality of service and the quality of books, unfortunately, do not follow the progress of public interest.

The library's books are dispersed in eight buildings, none of which is built as a library, with only one in good condition. The rest need huge repairs, because they are 19th century houses with no air conditioning and bad water pipes.

"Because of bad air conditioning and irregular central heating, the rare books die. In the winter they get wet, and then they dry out in the summer," said Anita Arajuma, head of the main book depository division.

"In the book depository on Arsenala street in Old Riga, where there are some rare and unique books, the only sign of civilization is electricity. But it is cheaper to build new buildings than to renovate some of those we already occupy," said Delina.