Libraries quickly acknowledged that the new technologies would be able to reduce their costs and increase the public’s access to their collections. A standard classification system (MARC 21) was introduced in 1993 which helped to harmonise the different library catalogues and to facilitate the exchange of data between different libraries.
There are around 100 out of 1 200 scientific and academic libraries providing their catalogues via the Internet in Poland. The central catalogue run by the Library of Warsaw University currently has more than 500 000 records, including 50 000 in the Kaba language, which are compatible with the US Library of Congress Subject Headings.
State support for the development of widespread access to the Internet is deployed through measures such as a reduced 7% VAT rate for Internet connections (the basic VAT rate is 22%) and education programmes introduced at the school level.
In December 2003, the Ministry of Scientific Research and Information Technology in co-operation with other ministries drew up a Strategy for the Introduction of Information Technology in the Republic of Poland 2004-2006 – ePolska; a document based on the EU initiative eEurope. A number of activities have been foreseen within the framework of the Strategy, some of which are aimed at ensuring access of citizens to the new information and communication technology in the field of culture. More specific references have been made to:
- digitalisation and publishing of collections on the Polish Internet Library;
- digitalisation of cultural goods and access to databases on the Internet; and
- introduction of terrestrial digital broadcasting in Poland (preparation of amendments to the Broadcasting Act).
In December 2008, the Ministry of Interior and Administration prepared a document on The Strategy for Development of the Information Society in Poland until 2013. Objectives of the strategy include reforming the Polish education system, equipping schools with computers, enabling election voting via the Internet, improving the operation of the emergency number 112, health care computerisation, digitisation of libraries and museums and the implementation of e-services in public administration.
In May 2009, the government accepted the project of amending the Act on Informatisation of Activity of Entities Realising Public Tasks. Proposed regulations are aimed at facilitating electronic contact with the administration structures. In administrative proceedings, documents in electronic form will have the same power as a paper document. Adoption of amendments to the Act is one of the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Team for the Implementation of the Digital Poland Programme, set up by the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, at the end of 2008.
On 6 August 2009, an agreement on the Programme of Computers for Polish Public Libraries was signed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, the Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Interior and Administration, the President of Polish Telecom and the Chairman of the Foundation for the Development of the Information Society. According to the agreement, the TP Group is obliged to provide municipal and communal public libraries and their branches with free connection to the Internet. All libraries will be exempt from license fees for three years, the duration of this agreement. The Polish Programme of Polish Public Libraries’ Computerisation is the best example of co-operation of government institutions, NGOs and the private sector for the development of an information society in Poland.
According to the Report on Digitisation of Polish cultural resources (prepared for the Congress of Polish Culture 2009), the digital resources of State Archives are calculated at approximately 3 million scans, libraries – 300 thousand library units (ca. 1915-1917 million scans), museums – about 300 thousand reproductions.
The most important initiatives of digitisation in Poland include the following projects: National Digital Library Polona and the Polish Internet Library; Digital Archive of Historical Polish Literature; Polish Digital Libraries Consortium and Digital Libraries Federation and National Digital Archives.
Moreover, the National Audiovisual Institute is operating since 2009 (for more information on its mission and activity see http://www.nina.gov.pl/en/nina).
The work of digitalisation in Poland is characterised by fragmentation and a lack of coordination of the initiatives undertaken. The reasons for this situation include, inter alia, lack of funding of digitisation at the central level, low levels of awareness on the importance of digitisation of Polish cultural goods among the administrators of the memory institutions, and lack of awareness of the importance of collecting and permanent storage of digital documents for Polish heritage. Moreover, most cultural institutions are not able to finance the laboratory equipment and digitisation from their own budgets, which is why these works are financed on an ad hoc basis, from the structural funds, targeted subsidies or international projects, which does not provide them with continuity and sustainability. Central coordination of the digitisation process is particularly important for libraries, since there is a danger of digitising the same documents in different centres.
One of the obstacles that complicate the process of sharing digital documents in archives and library websites is the limitations of the Copyright and Related Rights Act, database protection and others. Therefore it seems necessary to modify the existing provisions or create new legal provisions, as well as to popularise the free licenses for the non-exclusive digital publications and to post documents on the Creative Commons license type, developed specifically for the Internet.
In September 2009 the Programme on digitalisation of cultural goods and collecting, preserving and popularising digital objects in Poland in the years 2009-2020 was elaborated. According to that document, the main tasks for the years 2009-2020 are development, protection and ensuring access to Polish digital resources. It demands legislative changes, e.g. in the Act on the Obligatory Library Copies or Copyright.
In 2010, the so-called Lost Museum (Muzeum Utracone) started to operate. During World War II, Poland irretrievably lost over 70% of its material cultural heritage. Following the war, the listing of 516 000 stolen works of art took into account only the most valuable collections in just a few provinces (Voivodeships). The project aims to explore new ways of presenting knowledge about Polish war losses in the field of cultural goods. The website http://www.muzeumutracone.pl will be a virtual museum where lost and stolen objects will be exhibited.
In January 2012, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Bogdan Zdrojewski, announced that within four years Poland will create a digital public domain which will be a complete public cultural resource and will contain an explanation of copyright issues. The aim is to be one of the first five countries with such a domain.
Regardless of the above mentioned documents emphasising the significance of new technologies for the country’s development, Poland is still below the European Union average for development of its information infrastructure. In 2008, Eurostat, in cooperation with the EU statistics offices, published the results of research on the utilisation of information and telecommunications technology in households in Europe. Parallel research was carried out in all EU countries, which in Poland was completed by the Central Statistics Office (GUS). In 2007, 30% of households in Poland had access to broadband Internet. The Internet is used mainly by young people. Less than half of Poles aged between 25 and 54 admit to network activity while the situation for the elderly is much less, at 10%. Less than 50% of Poles know how to use search engines, only a third can send e-mail messages and 7% of Poles know how to create a Web page.