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The Role of Libraries
in the Information Society
Portugal - 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 Portugal.

Generic data

In 1993, Portugal had 9.8 million inhabitants and an area of 92,389 sq. km., which gives a population density of 106 inhabitants per square kilometre. In 1990, Portugal spent 0.07% of its GDP on libraries.

Higher education libraries

Higher education libraries in Portugal had 242 administrative units in 1993. The number of volumes in book collections was 5.6 million. In 1993, 200,000 volumes were added. There were 349,000 registered users.

Public libraries

Public libraries in Portugal had 161 administrative units in 1993. The number of volumes in book collections was 3.9 million. 294,000 volumes were added that year. There were 633 thousand registered users.

Statistical data on libraries

The total number of titles in UDC classes in 1994 was 6,667 in comparison with the 6089 in 1993, 6462 in 1992, and 6430 in 1991.

The Portuguese National Bibliography lists the following:

Year Number of titles

The number of titles of books in print in Portugal is catalogued once every two years, and is as follows:

Year Number of titles of books-in-print
not available
not available
not available

Despite progress in automation, in the daily library business "traditionally, libraries do not co-operate with each other. There is neither an efficient network of library co-operation, nor an inter-library loans scheme and a subject specialisation scheme... Cataloguing file transfers has become significant, with already four examples at a regional level."

In Portugal, three types of situations can be defined for the public libraries network. 124 libraries are integrated into the Rede de Leitura Publica (Public Libraries Network), 16 of which are included in the RILP (Public Libraries Integrated Network) consortium. 52 have been inaugurated since 1987 and 44 are being automated. 62 municipalities have not yet been supported by the RLP while 89 municipalities do not have a public library.

The level of automation of the municipality services was studied through a questionnaire carried out at the end of 1995, by the IBL. The results allow us to conclude that, of the 213 replies, 90% use computers and 60% have local networks. Only 20 use external electronic mail. This situation does not extend to public libraries which continue to be placed at a secondary level, with the subsequent investment restrictions for the new technologies.

Amongst the new services available is automated search in PORBASE, in the local catalogue (CDS/ISIS) and in ADVANCE. According to a study carried out by the IBL in February 1996, 26 libraries used CDS/ISIS and nine used ADVANCE, of a total of 42 replies. The remaining seven use other systems.

Libraries and the Internet

Four public libraries have access to the Internet. Senior librarians expect a new service for users to be created fairly rapidly. In the last two years, the main extension in services has been access to multimedia information via 22 CD-ROM facilities.

Nine RILP libraries have access to the possibilities offered by electronic mail and it is expected that the remaining seven will have access this year.

In Portugal only one public library provides a homepage on the Web. The National Institute of the Library and Book also has a Web homepage.

For the moment, the primary investment area is CD-ROM and interactivity of the multimedia systems.

The Ministry of Science and Technology signed an agreement with 54 libraries from the RILP for connection to the Internet by the end of 1997.

Policy issues on libraries

In the field of libraries and archives, there is still a great delay in the provision of information in Portugal, since there is no clear policy in that area and Portugal is still behind on technological development.

To overcome the problems of access to scientific and cultural production, it is necessary to interconnect libraries, archives and databases as a network. Still in the domain of libraries museums and archives, a policy of systematic digitalisation for public access needs to be adopted.

The modernisation of the information sector stresses the political intention of improving the information resources; with the adaptation of librarian careers to the new skills necessary for the use of the information technologies, including microcomputer, electronic transmission of documents, electronic publishing, and data storage. In mid-1992, the Instituto da Biblioteca Nacional e do Livro was created in order to optimise the resources of the public libraries sector.

With the recent separation of the National Library and the creation of a new institute, Instituto Português das Bibliotecas e do Livro, 1996 was a decisive year for public libraries.

Amongst the incentives for the new services is the "Public Library Computer Network", an initiative of the consortium RILP (public libraries, municipalities and IBL) since 1992. IBL is responsible for:

  • funding of 50% and training of the libraries' staff;
  • definition of the standardisation, automation and librarianship levels;
  • definition and constitution of local catalogues, as well as their maintenance;
  • definition of the minimum parameters relative to acquisitions, loans and statistics;
  • publishing and dissemination of the network technical documentation;
  • supervising the installation and functioning of the systems;
  • elaboration of statistics relative to the public libraries, at a national level.
The municipalities are responsible for the remaining 50% of the funding and for the costs of the installation of the computer system, as well as telecommunications and maintenance.

Four strategic measures were proposed by specialists to promote new services and a better performance:

  1. Local Catalogues, which require the necessity of exchanging records between libraries, promoting regional collaboration.
  2. Exchange of records between the ADVANCE and CDS/ISIS systems, which requires a specific training and developments for the importation and exportation of records. The current problems consist in the creation of copies and in the management of authority files.
  3. Integration of annexes in the computer system of the library, which transforms each local system into a network system, and which requires investments, systems administration, communication costs, training and maintenance.
  4. Access to Internet through the public telecommunication services, which requires a study on the viability of a combined access and the optimisation of existing costs and means.
To overcome the problem of the high costs of telecommunications, the IBL studies co-operation possibilities, providing a common connection to Internet for the RILP libraries, in a pedagogical perspective for future access. As a means of providing information to the global community, the implementation of the Institute's Home Page is being studied.

Additional background information

Report on the situation of libraries, museums and archives prepared in December 1997 by the Portuguese National Focal Point for the European Commission's Libraries Sector.

European Commission

DG Information Society
Cultural Heritage Applications Unit Contact:Digicult
e-mail: (email removed)

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