Check-in with the community in Lviv Public Libraries
Engaging the community in a library space is a very common formula. But how can you activate, as a library, an emergency alarm and metamorphosis of the space of the library and hoist the flag of victory during a war? By their previous experiences and projects, such as Sensoteka, Lviv Public Libraries network gave a good example of how to re-define the volunteering work during a war and how to adapt and gain new competencies for librarians who are, in the past, stuck in a stereotype paradigm when it comes to the role of the library.
As public libraries’ role is nowadays more dynamic, in Lviv Public Libraries this new change of paradigm began long ago, when librarians started to develop their main activities in the framework of dialogue and active listening to the community needs. It was after 1991 when Ukrainian libraries shared a new beginning on a new paradigm, and that paradigm was and still is based on openness and dialogue with the community.
Lviv Public Library is actually a network of libraries with a common goal- to reach out to its communities and to be active in their needs. As a network of more than 170 libraries, with various profiles, Lviv Public Libraries has defined the concept of community as a permanent extension of its actions and numerous projects which are focusing on strengthening this relationship. It wasn’t hard to this connection with the community, while Lviv, as one of the largest cities in Ukraine with 750.000 inhabitants, is considered to be a city of writers, publishers, and readers with half of the city’s population registered with one of the city’s 174 libraries.
Some projects very important for the librarians’ community need to be mentioned. Long-term projects in Lviv Public Libraries were trainings on “Information and cyber security for library users.” The participants had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in the field of information security, learn how to protect their personal data, accounts, and bank accounts from the actions of criminals, respond to cybercrimes, and also act to help our IT army in our Ukrainian cyberspace. The training took place at the initiative of the Ukrainian Library Association, the project “Digital, inclusive, accessible: support for the digitization of public services in Ukraine” (Action Support Project), which is implemented by the UNDP in Ukraine with the support of Sweden.
Another project based on international cooperation was “Public Information Centers in Lviv Oblast”, a project that was implemented by the Forum of Lublin Non-Governmental Organizations in partnership with the Poland-East Cooperation Center and the “European Dialogue” public organization in 2013 with the financial support of the “Support for Democracy” program of the Polish Cooperation for Development Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic Poland in 2013.
The centralized library system for adults in the city of Lviv was created in 1975. It unites 23 branch libraries of the city of Lviv, including the libraries of the villages of Rudno, Bryukhovych and Vynnyki. Central Library for Adults of Lviv is a collection of public libraries containing a universal fund of documents, which totals 797,669 copies on various types of information carriers. Libraries combine traditional and electronic information resources, individual and corporate methods of work, solve problems of cultural and educational activities, and introduce innovative library technologies.
The successful operation of libraries as an information center obliges library specialists to quickly and adequately respond to changes in the information needs of users, to improve forms of service, to provide high-quality information consulting, to expand the range of library and information services with the study and use of the latest technologies. The organization of such public spaces as the First Lviv Media Library, URBAN Library, and Sensoteka became emblematic of the system.
The project still includes the organization of such an interactive space as the Innoteka at branch library No. 17, as well as the arrangement of the Lviv open laboratory LvivOpenLab. This is a space (maker space) open to everyone, where there is a lecture hall, a library, Physico-chemical, biotechnological, and IT laboratories, a media studio, and a workshop for working with wood. Department of the media library of the Tsembe named after Lesi Ukrainka /First Lviv Media Library/ – interactive public space of the new generation; serves as a platform for educational and public initiatives; is a place for informal communication and a center of leisure. Branch library No. 8 /URBAN-library/ is a specialized space for all those who are interested in urban planning and are engaged in public activity with the aim of solving the problems of urban space.
We have an image of how librarians understood quickly that their role has to be defined in a dynamic framework, and they assigned the concept of the project as a keyword for their new activities and challenges. But this is far to be something interesting, but what is happening in Lviv is a challenge for the librarians to define in an actual and present manner their activities and their space (library) as a welcome friendly host for people’s ideas. We can say that echoes from the community are heard by authorities since there were examples when infrastructure adjustments and restoration of some libraries happened due to the request of the community. Since this happened already, it feels that everything seems to be in order for libraries in Lviv. But there is still one issue that comes into place as being not fully covered, and that is the change of paradigm that librarians need to apply when it comes to the role of the library. And this change of paradigm is synonymic with the persistence of a stereotype associated with the role, function, and purpose of a library. And just to be clear, we are talking about the persistence of a stereotype in the case of both the audience and librarians. That is why, if we are looking over the projects that public libraries in Lviv are developing, there is a red wire easy to identify in the engagement of position in any way the library as open space. It was a new approach that some of the librarians weren’t so excited about it. But, in the end, it is the community that marks the trend. By appointing the public libraries in Lviv as open spaces for the public, it had a very visible effect from the beginning when it comes to audience development, which was an achieved goal.
The impressive numbers of libraries in Lviv could be inserted in a premise that this is already a consolidated bridge with the community, whilst almost 30% of the population of the city has a library card. But, while many librarians are willing to be open and break the stereotype that a library is just a place where you can read, there are still some who are following a traditional path. In fact, what the librarians silently want is for people to share their ideas and produce their projects in the space of the library. This was before the 24th of February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014. I said was because war is changing everything. And the change was visible, among librarians and the crisis generated by the war changed also the role of the library in the community. I understood from librarians in Lviv that assuming the responsibility for their community needs, what happened next was a more flexible attitude among all librarians.
So the stereotype was put aside and changed to an openness and a responsive attitude. Lviv was one of the cities in Ukraine that was seriously wounded during the war, being bombarded and destroyed in its infrastructure. Nevertheless, while Lviv Public Libraries as a partner in the project Growing Active Citizens Hub participated during those days of the war, although the emotions were intense, I understood that being a librarian is more than a job, it is a confluence of dedication, responsibility and assumed the commitment to articulate a helping hand to the people. What was needed to be done happened in the library: at one of the city’s main libraries, volunteers weave camouflage nets for soldiers fighting in the east and accommodating internally displaced people. Volunteers described the process of weaving camouflage nets as therapeutic. Many refugees arrive in Lviv feeling overwhelmed and unsure of their future. Weaving netting gave the people a sense of purpose and distracted them from their problems. This example stands by to put a light on how good practices can be pragmatically shared because at the library in Lviv where this happened (or it is still happening while I’m writing this article because, unfortunately, war is not over in Ukraine), the manager did camouflage nets 8 years ago when Ukraine was engaged in another war.
Just a glimpse away, prior to the 1st day of the war, librarians’ competencies were developed within a bureaucratic framework. But then, everything changed, and competencies grew with the needs. Dealing with people who were running away from the war, librarians understood quickly that they need to organize the space of the library in such a way that everyone, children, and adults feel the fresh optimistic air of a future of freedom and by the activities they are coordinating in the library, to make those people forget for a while the atrocities of war. Dealing with internally displaced people is not something that usually a librarian is doing, it is not anymore about flexibility and openness, it’s about having the practice of a specialized MD in psychiatry. But for librarians, challenges are huge, and perhaps only they, by having the sense of sensibility, dedication, and responsibility can handle an emotional approach to this delicate matter. Librarians understood that their job and life is now aligned with the purpose of growing active citizens’ hub for their freedom and happiness.
Get in touch with the National Association of Librarians from Republic of Moldova
Address: 2A Mularska St., Lviv, Ukraine
Phone number: +380 322 55 33 83
Webpage/ social media channel: https://cbs.lviv.ua/
This project is developed by Progress Foundation Romania, granted by E.U. and the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and implemented in Armenia, Republic Of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine with the help of the regional partners: Lori Regional Library, Armenia; “Dimitrie Cantemir” Public Library from Ungheni, “IPS Antonie Plamadeala” Public Library from Hincesti & Library Association from Republic of Moldova; “G.T. Kirileanu” Neamt County Library & “Antim Ivireanul” Valcea County Library from Romania; Luhansk Regional Scientific Library, Lviv Public Library & Ukrainian Library Association, from Ukraine.
This article was written by PhD Alin Daniel Piroșcă.
Growing Active Citizens Hubs is granted by E.U. and the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Black Sea Trust or its partners