30 years have passed since my first participation in CENL Annual General Meeting events. In the same way as the current event, it was held back then in the Richelie building, the only difference being that the construction of Mitterrand building was not yet complete. All three directors of Baltic national libraries – Ivi Eenmaa (Estonia), Vladas Bulavas (Lithuania) and myself were invited to CENL right after our countries joined the Council of Europe. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (Germany), was then an incumbent president of CENL. Executive committee back then consisted of Erland Kolding Nielsen (Denmark), Dr. Prof. Esko Häkli (Finland), Sir Brian Lang (UK), Bendik Rugaas (Norway), Wim van Drimmelen (Netherlands), Vilenka Jakac Bizjak (Slovenia) and others.
I consider Esko to be my ‘godfather’. In some respect Erland was the second one. I started working in the National Library of Latvia in 1989 at the age of 32. That was the time when upcoming projects were still at the stage of ideas and EU funding had only began. I can attest that the birth of Europeana is attributed to a CENL initiative.
Back then, when I started my job, the main attention of libraries was focused on national information policies, strategic planning, innovation, primarily in the introduction of information technologies, standardization of data infrastructure, preservation of valuable collections, as well as communication interfaces and cooperation within the European network. Before the launch of the European Library (TEL) – a number of projects initiated by CENL had already become a part of history. UseMarcon, Mecon (for CD-ROM interfaces), Forum on national Bibliographic Databases (called as Computerised Bibliographic Record Actions (CoBRA)), portal for simultaneous access GABRIEL, OPAC Network Europe (ONE) and other. This was also the beginning of retroconversion of data storage for e-documents and the access of thereof, mass introduction of Library Information Systems. Together with the aforementioned projects, we saw a fast development in the amount of cooperation networks, other joint projects both on bilateral and multilateral level, as well as the formation of new consortiums.
The National Library of Latvia and I personally have had a chance to cooperate not only on the neighbouring North and Eastern European level. We have also cooperated with libraries in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Croatia, Slovenia, Israel, Italy (Rome), Austria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and other countries.
While we were in the midst of negotiation process for the new library building in Riga, we received a wonderful support and suggestions from library directors and members of the UNESCO International group of experts for the National Library of Latvia project – Erland, Esko, Thomas Lindman (Sweden), Benedik. This list extends further to Ivi, Vladas, Wim, as well as to Klaus-Dieter and Vilenka with their substantial contribution. We also got acquainted with the libraries of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, France and the United Kingdom. When CENL was hosted in Riga in 2001, all the library directors present at the event, cosigned a joint letter, an appeal to the government of Latvia to begin the construction of the new library building without any further delay.
My time as the director of the NLL is closing to an end. This has been a very fascinating and fruitful period. I would like to state, with a feeling of great satisfaction, that we have managed to get to know almost all of the Europe’s national libraries. And we have cooperated with most of them. I would like to express my gratitude to all of our partners – current and former. I am wishing CENL to continue promoting cooperation between national libraries, maintaining and developing the role of the association in the community of libraries in Europe and around the world.
Andris Vilks, Director of the National Library of Latvia