One of the teachers in my office Aniko, took me on my first library outing last Friday. We took the bus and the metro to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences where her friend Hedvig Kuselits is one of the catalogers. I also met the “boss” and she had an office full of book trucks and appeared to be cataloging also. Hedvig normally has three people in her office. It was my impression that they are all cataloging books but I should have clarified that. It is one of those things I didn’t think to ask.
Hedvig speaks English very well. She had an undergraduate degree in chemistry and when she lost her job in the chemistry she got her library degree. Obviously she is perfectly suited as a science cataloger. Hedvig showed me how she was cataloging the English language memoir of a British photographer. The Academy of Sciences seems to interpret science very broadly so someone of minor importance to the history of photography fits into the collection. Hedvig used a site called the European Library to look-up her book and then used Cyber Dewey to help her come up with the library’s unique call number. She also added language codes and she read enough of the book to decide to classify it as a memoir not just a book on the photographers unique contributions to the field. Now that is real cataloging.
The reading room in the library was fantastic, beautiful dark old wood, green glass reading lamps on each desk and only the occasional plug for a laptop but I did see a few. There were at least three staff members behind the reference desk. I have no idea what they were doing but they all looked busy doing something. The library has a collection of two and 1/2 million books but most are kept either in storage on a lower floor or off site. In other words, this is a closed stack library except for the reference collection and current periodicals. The reference collection was up-to-date and in pristine condition. The library had a room devoted to the old card catalog also polished dark wood in beautiful condition. Like our libraries the old catalog was closed in 1986 and they had a table full of OPACs for the new catalog. There were quite a number of old professors and students reading books and taking notes in pencil of course. I saw one or two laptops.
As is common in Hungary there was a system with three sets of electronic numbers above the desk. You request a book and when it comes your number is lit up although I’m under the impression it may take hours or even days for your book to come. Once your book comes they keep it in a locker on site for you. Only a few privileged scholars are allowed to actually check books out of the library. You can use the library for day for Ft 500 about $3.85 or buy an Academy of Science membership. As Hedvig said for the price of a movie you could amuse yourself all day reading. They did subscribe to the New York Review of Books which I think costs more to buy than the day fee. Besides cataloging, Hedvig works an occasional Saturday at the Reference Desk in the reading room.
We visited the auditorium where they sometimes have lectures and concerts.
We also visited the Academy of Science Oriental Collection which is another special collection of books in a specially designed room in the same building. The academy of Sciences also has an art collection. A young man on duty with an excellent English and a very quiet library whisper described the room and it’s contents to me.
There are also four rooms of paintings mostly portraits of famous Hungarian men of arts and letters who were founding members of the Academy of Sciences. Annico explained a bit about the men pictured to me. The only ones that were familiar names have metro stops named in their honor. One other item of note, Hedvig has one of the most beautiful views of the Danube from her office that I have seen. Since when did they give catalogers this kind of view?