Acts of honor

The Mission of the Librarian and Bulgaria

Nikola R. Kazanski

Dedicated to the sacred memory of Lady Snejana Ianeva – library promoter and inspirer at the time of Democracy

Science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme

François Rabelais Pantagruel

The Mission of the Librarian is a famous essay by the eminent Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) which was presented on 20th of May 1935 as an inaugural address during the opening of the Second International Congress of Libraries and Bibliography in Madrid. In it he stated that every human life has a mission. A mission is just this: the consciousness that every man has of his most authentic being which he is called upon to realize. The mission (after Kant) transforms the Man from The thing-in-itself (Ding an sich) in The thing-for-itself (Ding für sich) and for the world in general. Immanuel Kant himself held a post of assistant librarian (Zweiter Aufseher) at the Royal Castle Library in Koenigsberg for 10 years after he had declined a professorship in literature. Before this he had to pass a long and arduous process for his appointment including the withstanding of the extreme cold as the entire library building remained unheated during the winter…

Sir George Gordon Noel Byron used to say that The Past is the best prophet of the Future. So let’s try to see the future as a past, and why not the past as a future. It is not at all a simple oxymoron or paradox. With that end in view we shall take the risk to simplify the things notwithstanding the warning of the Latin apophthegm that Nul simplex sigillum veri est.

Therefore what is the place of Bulgaria in The Mission of the Librarian?!?

As it is quite well known our country is in the bosom of the Slavonic-Byzantine civilization (after Dujčev) conceived with the deed of the Saints brothers Constantine-Cyril the Philosopher and Archbishop Methodius (co-patron saints of Europe). An exceptional part in the recognition of their mission and the preservation of the memory for their enlightenment lifework is played by Anastasius Bibliothecarius (ca. 800–879). He was a close acquaintance to Constantine-Cyril the Philosopher who he called fortissimus amicus (my audacious friend). Furthermore The Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars A.D. 866 [to Kh(ag)an Bo(go)ris] were prepared also by him. As the most educated Roman ecclesiastic of that time he was the one to assess completely and deeply the work of genius of the Slavic enlighteners and to fully support them as an intellect and as a librarian. His significance could be compared to those of the Phoenician librarian Herennios Philon [(Philo of Byblos), 64-141), author of the library treatise On the Acquisition and Choice of Books (Peri ktēseōs kai eklogēs bibliōn). Owing to him was preserved the information about the Phoenician priest and scientist Sanchuniathon and his work On the Phoenician Alphabet, as well as about the architects of the Zoroastrian (Babylonian) science and lore. This is the right time to mention the deplorable clash of the civilizations which, to our greatest regret, has to do and does have a direct impact on the libraries and the preservation of the lore from the hoary antiquity even to this very day.

Alexander of Macedon was known to completely destroy the Phoenician city of Tyre and then burned the library of the Persian kings in Persepolis. Because of the highly centralized structure of these states the information about their civilizations has been recorded in a few or even in one unique copy and besides, on clay and stone tablets, also on valuable materials like silver and gold. Only by miracle was preserved the famous clay cylinder of the Persian king Cyrus (now in the British Museum) which enunciates the freedom of all people enslaved by Babylon, as well as a large golden plate (Darius gold plate) with data on the foundation of Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire. Subsequently the Roman Empire literally annihilated any trace of the great Carthaginian (Punic-Phoenician) civilization and demolished Jerusalem and its Temple. The illustrious Great Library of Alexandria was set on fire first by the army of Gaius Julius Caesar and finally devoured absolutely by the Arab invaders. The literary heritage of the Byzantine Empire (which looked after the Classical Antiquity lore) was preserved to some extent by virtue of the Italian cities and monasteries during the Renaissance. And yet the majority of Aristotle's works and the invention like Greek fire have been irretrievably lost.

Bulgaria, as a matter of fact, was quite unlucky in that respect. During the Byzantine domination and especially during the Ottoman yoke almost all written monuments have been destroyed or lost. During this long period from the country were moved out more than 3 000 valuable (illuminated) manuscripts, and only a relatively small part of them (in subsequent transcripts) are now in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, as well as in the Vatican. During the miracle (paragon) of the Bulgarian National Revival one of the main achievements was the creation of the chitalishtni (cultural club’s) and school libraries. Even before the Liberation of the country in 1869 was established the Bulgarian Literary Society (predecessor of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) with its library and museum. Because of historical circumstances and obstacles Bulgaria was the latest to affiliate with European civilization even as compared to its Balkan neighboring countries. Because of that for a long time it lacked the indispensable university and scientific infrastructure as well as the possibility for acquisition of large library collections. This situation has even worsened and aggravated after the two national disasters in 1913 and 1918. And namely against such tremendous odds was accomplished another marvel in Bulgaria – the marvel of Bulgarian librarianship and bibliography. The groundwork was laid by distinguished scholars like professors Marin Drinov, Alexandar Teodorov-Balan, Konstantin Jireček, Lyubomir Miletich, Styan Argirov, Ivan Buresh, etc.

The first Bulgarian bibliographer on a world level was academician Nikola Mihov (1877-1962). The author of these lines had an exclusive opportunity to contemplate him in his study within the last year of his life. I will never forget the spacious room overfilled to capacity with books and drawers with bibliographic cards. On his head he wore a small bonnet like a mediaeval wise man (Doctor Faustus) and on his hands he had special velvet fingerless gloves… 

One of the first really professional librarian of international renown was a man who passed away too soon, Petar Nenkov (1868-1917) from Pleven, who attracted the attention of such authorities in the field like Paul Otlet (1868-1944), Henry La Fontaine (1854-1943) and Bogdan St. Bodnarskiy (1874-1968). He introduced the most neoteric Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) for the very first time, not only in Bulgaria, but in the countries of Eastern Europe as well. He declined appointment as director of the National Library in Sofia and bequeathed his savings to the International Institute of Bibliography (Institut International de Bibliographie) in Brussels with which he worked in close collaboration during his lifetime.

But in the framework of this marvel occurred another, bigger wonder although almost unknown… Namely in Bulgaria were born and developed two women-librarians of world renown. They are Dr. Mara Todorova (Marie Camerani-Teodorova, 1891-1945) and Margarita Dimchevska (1892-1983). Their stories are really worthy of notice and admiration…

The first one graduated, specialized in library sciences and defended a thesis in Germany. She had perfect command of German, Italian, French and English, as well as Russian and other Slavonic languages. She was not allowed to receive the appropriate appointment not only in libraries, but also in any other fields of activity in Bulgaria on account of the nonequivalent status of the women at that time. She was the first to study such problems as library policies and regulations in the USA, children’s libraries in France, libraries for the blind, etc. At the end of 1925 she left with her husband Vittorio Camerani (1898-1961) for Italy where she gained by competition a most prestigious post (and this is for a female stranger from the Balkans!) at the Library of the International Institute of Agriculture in Rome where she served until her demise in a management position. After another arduous contest she was sent to a library training in the USA.

The second one graduated with honors from the American Robert College of Istanbul, studied at the Higher Library School at the University of London and graduated with two awards (equal to two medals for excellent marks!!!). She was the first Bulgarian graduate from the University of London and probably the first woman with two awards for excellent marks in England… In 1929 she declined the fantastic proposal to be appointed as a librarian at Harvard University and in 1930 Margit Dimchevska gained the extraordinary six months travel grant of the Carnegie Foundation. She visited more than 200 American libraries (!) on the special recommendation and assistance by the American Library Association (ALA). To top it all she was received most officially at the Library of Congress by the Director himself – the distinguished Dr. Herbert Putnam (1861-1955) – and he received her with unprecedented honor to be the first woman in general (and this is a woman from the Balkans!) invited to the famous round table

In Bulgaria proper all was going on as before and she was appointed only as a chief librarian and deputy director of the National Library despite the fact that she is undoubtedly the most qualified and with exceptional international prestige (participated and presented a report at the First International Congress of Libraries and Bibliography in Rome in 1929). But then a Director should be only a man and designed especially for this wrongly considered as a sinecure position. She was working here from 1934 to 1944. Margarita Dimchevska was fired by the Communist authorities as “an American” because of her sister, who graduated in the USA and from 1940 lived in Denver, Colorado where she was an university professor and honorary citizen !!!

In these very peculiar times all the same Todor Borov had the courage and in 1945 she was elected as the first and only woman – regular member of the Bulgarian Bibliographic Institute (out of 24 eminent scientists and educationalists). But otherwise she could work only as a private typist until her retirement…

I draw your attention to these edifying stories in order to show that the advent in our times of such a librarian of distinction and spiritual leader as Lady Snejana Ianeva is not at all haphazardly and does not happen on a vacant plot…

After the establishment of the totalitarian system in Bulgaria from 1947 to 1989 the third miracle in the library and bibliography domain took place. It disposed of the most highly qualified staff, trained specialists and skilled workers especially in the framework of the large public and scientific libraries. The reasons for that are mainly three.

First, because of the extremely low prestige of this profession, it was feminized to the utmost. The gifted and bright women, in violation of the proclaimed formal gender equality, were highly restricted and practically denied the opportunity of normal, deserved and well merited professional development.

Second, for the same reasons, to the profession are forcibly directed men with university education and especially an excellent command of foreign languages (usually more than one!) who, however, do possess “wrong” or “bad” biography. These are for instance former royal (tsar’s) officers (Zdravko Dafinov, Yuri Dyugmedgiev, Vladimir Popov), former king’s diplomats (Dr. Hristo Trenkov, Veselin Traykov), persons with relatives living abroad (especially in the capitalist West!) and other similar groups. Not to mention the people with brothers “non-returner” (actually defector to a Western country), as was the unfortunate case with your obedient and humble servant.

Last but not least, was the Bulgarian Bibliographic Institute (BBI) established in 1941 by professor Todor Borov and Academician Nikola Mihov. In 1955 the Institute obtained the statute of an independent research institution and won recognition as the most competent scientific center in bibliography, librarianship and book science, carrying out methodical and organizational direction of the theoretical and practical library and bibliography activity in Bulgaria. Namely this Institute, under the direct leadership of Professor Todor Borov, raised the Bulgarian librarianship and bibliography on a world level notwithstanding the modest possibilities and low potential of the country as a whole. Much to our regret this establishment has been closed down in 1964 (due to ideological reasons and mere envy) but its specialists and alumni continue and persist working actively in other library institutions throughout the country.

As putted into words with elegance by Jean-Jacques Rousseau Nous avons de l’honneur sans vertus, de la raison sans sagesse et du plaisir sans bonheur (We have the honor without vertues, the reason without wisdom and the pleasure without bliss). One could tell that we have been living in a world where Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alles (Each man for himself and God against all). Nevertheless the toilers in a library and bibliography front do have a unique possibility to perceive one notorious prophecy of the Delphic Oracle: I say, Pyrrhus, that you the Romans can conquer! and to assess well what are losing implicitly those which apparently are winning... They probably have achieved the revelations of the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes): And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly... And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. To all this one could only subjoin the notice carved on the pediment of the Delphic temple: Medèn ágan (nothing in excess).

Well-nigh comes fantastic and fabulous abrupt change in 1990 when like in the Russian magical fairytale the evil wizard Kashchey Bessmertny (Koshchey the Immortal) all of a sudden cracked and burst as a soap-bubble and found a very complicated situation in the field of libraries in Bulgaria. Along with the totalitarian regime collapsed and toppled down its misshapen creation called turgidly National system of scientific and technical information. One of the reasons for that was the level of its specially selected “experts” – “trusted men” but with poor or no library experience and quite problematic command of doubtful foreign language (usually an awfully broken Russian)...

After the fundamental change, unfortunately came a period of financial collapse of the state which reflected very negatively precisely on the libraries in Bulgaria.

The only bright ray of light in the beginning was the establishment of the Bulgarian Library and Information Association (BLIA) as early as 1990. The peculiarities of the library domain in the country were the availability of highly skilled staff (absolutely corresponding to the level of the most developed countries) and unusually backward material basis (really at the level of the underdeveloped states). By very good luck just at that time began the Library Program of the Open Society Foundations. During the next 10 years this program will have an exceptional contribution to the development of the libraries in this particularly difficult period for them, as well as for the state as a whole. The total aggregate financial cost of the program will exceed a couple million of US dollars in actual prices.

The theoretical and practical foundation of its activity was the National Automated Library and Information Network (NALIN). Within the framework of the realization of NALIN worked a great number of subprojects like Libraries and Specialized Literature, Compact disc, Encyclopaedias and Reference Books for Scientific Libraries, National Program for Preservation of Library Collections, IFLA Voucher Scheme, Specialized Medical Literature, Chance for the Libraries in 21st century, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL Direct), Pushkin Library, etc.

At the same time the pioneering activity of the American Information Center (AIC) opened in 1993 in Sofia was taking place. Its chief information officer and leading person was Lady Snejana Ianeva who held this high post by open and free competition. Right from the beginning the Center became a laboratory for open access in Bulgaria to the most neoteric and advanced information technologies and electronic sources of reference and specialized information. Here was the first access to the Internet, to American information databases and generally to the world modernization of the library and bibliographic activities. Especially useful were the courses in English for librarians and the lectures of distinguished library specialists from the USA.

After 1999 the Open Society Foundations suddenly and abruptly discontinued its library programs.

At this very moment, clearly stood out the leading role of Snejana Ianeva as the master mind and promoter of the restoration and modernization of Bulgarian libraries in virtue of the American experience in library and information activities.

Particularly substantial in this respect was the project for library exchange with the USA (American-Bulgarian Library Exchange [ABLE]) concluded in 1996 by Nancy Bolt from Colorado Association of Libraries and Snejana Ianeva as a representative of BLIA. In 2000 the partnership was enlarged to 18 libraries (10 from Colorado and 8 from Iowa) and in 2003 the project obtained a task grant from the US Department of State. The main goals of the project were to adopt the American background in the automatization and informatization of the library processes. Through this innovative project the leading American library theory and practice is implemented directly in Bulgarian libraries. Subsequently a large-scale project such as Glob@l Libraries – Bulgaria of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started and inspired by Snejana Ianeva was realized.

The real dimensions of the leadership role of Snejana Ianeva became obvious after her election as the President of the Bulgarian Library and Information Association. But long before that she contributed tremendously for the adoption of the long postponed entirely new Law of Public Libraries in Bulgaria and many other initiatives such as the participation of Bulgaria in the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, as well as the National Library Week. Through her good offices considerable financial support was provided for the activities of BLIA by the America for Bulgaria Foundation

The aggregate activity of Lady Snejana Ianeva during the total period of the democratic changes in Bulgaria is of exceptional importance for the development of the libraries in the country as a whole.

In Bulgaria we do have a sad “tradition” to forget very soon the good deeds and not to sufficiently appreciate our distinguished persons. Let’s at least we, librarians, break this unwritten and tacit rule and to pay tribute to those who really deserve it.

Last but not least to be guided by the following postulate:



In necessity united, In dispute free,

In all the rest merciful