ATLA Staff Visits BETH in Zagreb, Croatia

Submitted by Andy Carter, ATLA Digital Projects Manager

The 46th General Assembly of BETH took place in at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute in Zagreb, Croatia, from September 9-13. BETH brings together national theological library associations and some individual theological libraries from across Europe.

The Institute sits adjacent to the Zagreb Cathedral and was home for four days of discussions about European digital initiatives, tours of Zagreb and the Croatian National Library, and shared meals with new found friends. I was honored to attend BETH and give a presentation about the development of the ATLA Digital Library contextualized within the recent history of the United States’ digital initiatives.

The conference was structured so that attendees stayed in the same location, attended a single track of presentations, and ate meals together throughout. This was excellent for getting to know your peers and, in spite of some language barriers, by the end, you feel like you’ve been to camp as much as a conference.

My time at BETH was a crash course on the digital projects being undertaken by European theological libraries. Our peers across the Atlantic operate under the umbrella of Europeana, a digital library that aggregates collections from all European nations and was a model for the United States’ own Digital Public Library of America. Of course, each institution that presented faces local priorities and challenges and it was fascinating to think about the ways their realities did and did not map to my own experience.

I was in attendance with ATLA Executive Director Brenda Bailey-Hainer who will also be writing about the conference and covering some of the issues discussed in more detail. I would like to single out a couple of presentations that piqued my interest. On our tour of the Croatian National and University Library, we learned how they managed their own digital collections and prepared them to be harvested by Europeana. For anyone involved in managing digital materials or migrating metadata this was both familiar and informative.

One of the (many) new things I learned at BETH came from a presentation on the earliest Slavic alphabet known as Glagolitic script. A professor at the University of Zadar in Croatia explained how they are working to digitize some of the earliest known manuscripts containing Glagolitic. This will be a major accomplishment for preserving the script’s history and for making it accessible to scholars worldwide.

I hope I am able to return to BETH someday. The conference was focused, friendly, and packed with useful information across all four days. Theological libraries on both sides of the Atlantic are doing what they can with the resources they have. And it is good that we are able to meet for the purpose of sharing our challenges and, as importantly, our successes.

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