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The Role of Libraries
in the Information Society
Belgium - Background Information


Updated 05 NOV 98


In connection with research on the role of libraries in the information society , we have collected a fair amount of information on how the situation is evolving in different countries. This document provides background information on Belgium.


Generic data

In 1993, Belgium had 10 million inhabitants, and an area of 30,519 sq. km., giving a population density of 329 inhabitants per square kilometre. In 1990, Belgium spent 0.18% of its GDP on libraries.

Higher education libraries

Higher education libraries in Belgium had 140 service points in 1990. The number of volumes in book collections was 6 million. In these libraries, there were 874,000 registered users in 1990.

Public libraries

Public libraries in Belgium had 1151 service points in 1990. The number of volumes in book collections was 29.7 million in 1990. In these libraries, there were 1.7 million registered users in 1990 and 48.3 million loans.

In general, public libraries are grant dependent. Allowances are made by the national government for staff (up to 85% of the wages), operational costs and infrastructure (both 60%).

Statistical data on libraries

The number of titles in the Belgian National Bibliography for the years from 1990 to 1996, were:

Year Titles in the Belgian National Bibliography
1990 12157
1991 13913
1992 15754
1993 8470
1994 11192
1995 9007
1996 8962

The increase in the number of books-in-print titles is not available.

Library automation in Belgium was 50 % in 1995.

Flemish-speaking Belgian libraries

The Flemish community has Six Central Public Libraries (CPLs), one for each province, fulfilling a support function to the smaller Local Public Libraries (LPLs) in their working area, which in their turn can have branches and dependencies. There is a nice even spread of libraries over the area.

Library automation in the Flemish community was left to the initiative of the libraries, which lead to a large variety of automated systems. According to the latest update from 1/6/95, 65% of all public libraries have been automated or are preparing to do so.

The Flemish Union Catalogue (VLACC) is available in some 34% of the Public Libraries through CD-ROM and floppy disks. VLACC data in digital format or in any other form are used by 52% of all libraries.

The on-line consultation of the VLACC union catalogue is made by 4% of the libraries (the six CPLs and some of the larger LPLs).

The number of Internet access is estimated in 3%, counting the connections but not the number of work stations, and only 1% offer Internet access to their patrons. Three public libraries have their home page on the World Wide Web, but only one library has direct access through the WWW server of the local authority.

French-speaking Belgian libraries

The French community has, in between CPL and LPL, room for a Main Public Library of which every province can have one or more. Libraries are spread more unevenly over the area. This unevenness is resolved by means of mobile libraries.

In 1995 there were 54 service points of French speaking higher education libraries, with a collection of 9 million books, serving a population of 66.2 thousand users in 1994 and 69 thousand users in 1995.

These French speaking higher education libraries owned, in 1994, 100 CD-ROM's. This number raised to 200 in 1995.

In the French community, up to 34.5% of the libraries have been automated or are currently executing an automation project.

In what concerns the library and information networks, no central services have been established yet, but there is an efficiently functioning ILL network through phone and fax.

Libraries and Internet

As of May 1998, there were many academic and special libraries on the Web as well as a few public libraries. Most of these are accessible through BOLD , the Belgian online directory of libraries. Also on the Web are the Royal Library Albert I , the Belgian association for information management , the Flemish association for libraries, archives and information management and BELNET , the Belgian research network.

Policy issues on libraries

The public competencies in the sector of libraries are widely spread among the federated entities. Scientific and public libraries lie with the ministries of the Flemish, French and German speaking Communities or even with the local authorities.

A Workgroup Libraries has been created in 1994. It represents the libraries and documentation centres of BELNET sites (including the Royal Library and all the university libraries) that provide electronic information provision through the network. The principal aim of the Workgroup is to create a virtual library.

It has submitted proposals for new services that could be developed through projects (co-)funded by the OSTC within the framework of its plan for technical and scientific support to the Information Society (1996-1998).

The main objectives of these projects are: electronic publishing and document servers; electronic document delivery; search and retrieve; access to networked resources.

The first project called BOLD (Belgian Online Libraries Directory) was launched in December 1996. It is aimed at building an on-line distributed directory of Belgian libraries and library organisations accessible via the WWW and based on LDAP facilities.

A project called VIRLIB has been launched within the framework of the programme of scientific support to the diffusion of telecommunications (1995-1998) financed and managed by the OSTC. The project aims at creating a virtual library infrastructure using state-of-the-art telecommunications technology. The end result must be the creation of a prototype able to test all possible aspects of document delivery.

The union catalogue of current periodicals in Belgian university, research and special libraries (ANTILOPE) has been permanently updated since 1987 by the University of Antwerp (UIA). This initiative has been supported by the National Conference of University Chief Librarians and grew into a national project.

The ANTILOPE plan (1995-1996), a project from the VOWB (Flemish Coordination Centre for Scientific Libraries), is funded by the Flemish Community. It is aimed at integrating in the ANTILOPE catalogue information on all the periodicals available from Flemish research libraries.

IMPALA (Instant Mailing Procedure for Automated Lending Activities) was used for the first time in 1991 within the VUBIS-Antwerpen library network. The system has been recognised by the National Conference of University Chief Librarians as the national system for electronic document ordering. In 1992.

The Electronic Information Centre Flanders (called Elektron) is a project being proposed by the VOWB with the support of the Flemish Government. Its goal is to provide the Flemish libraries with a high-quality information package that will consist in: the union catalogues of periodicals (ANTILOPE) and of books available from the Flemish research libraries, electronic bibliographies, electronic periodicals and full-text databases. Elektron will also establish an electronic document delivery service.

The Central Public Library of Leuven is the co-ordinator of three European Libraries' projects. The SPRINTEL project (Speedy Retrieval of Information by the Telephone) developed a prototype information service available by telephone 24 hours a day. Information is stored in a tree structure that can be navigated by voice commands.

A second project, REACTIVE Telecom (REsidential Access to Information via Everyday Telecommunication Tools) was recently completed. The project was designed to bring the VLACC catalogue into the homes of the public by means of a combination of telephone and teletext.

Recently CPL Leuven undertook to co-ordinate the PubliCA (Public Libraries Concerted Action).

The Centre de Lecture Publique Nivelles is member of the MOBILE-consortium, a retained 3rd Frame-work project that aims at providing information in remote areas via an electronic mobile library.

The Flemish community earmarked in the 1996 budget, 64 million BeF in order to provide Internet access for all public libraries in Flanders. In the 1997 budget, additional financial means were made available to further develop and co-ordinate this project.

The French community of Belgium is currently preparing its Internet Website and it will soon be working. In it, each library will be granted the possibility to build its own site, and all the data related to libraries currently in CD-ROM will be available.

Before all libraries are connected into one dedicated library network, they will all have access to the Internet. A budget for the implementation of this project has been dedicated.


Report on the situation of libraries, museums and archives prepared in January1998 by the Belgian National Focal Point for the European Commission's Libraries Sector.
European Commission

DG Information Society
Cultural Heritage Applications Unit Contact:Digicult
e-mail: digicult@ec.europa.eu (email removed)


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