Working as a team in resilience and growing active citizenship in crisis
What better example than a team of librarians from city of Luhansk spread, against their will, in different cities, who are keeping the library alive, could throw on the table the idea that libraries are open for democracy because even in hard times, because there are people such as librarians who are dedicated to their job and they are responsible for their activities? In one of the Ukraine cities which was bombarded, the librarians had to be evacuated and they left the city, continuing their activities from different parts of Ukraine doing their job every day.
The library in Luhansk was founded in 1897. As many other libraries in Ukraine, this library had an impressive collection and an attractive educational and cultural offer for its audience. But everything changed, also as for other libraries in Ukraine after 24th February 2022 when the Russian invaded Ukraine. We can say that the Luhansk Regional Universal Scientific Library plunged into the same river twice. First, it happened in 2014 when the library was bombarded by the Russian army during the first war. It was the first time that the library lost a considerable part of its collection. After the war ended, librarians managed to get back on track and on board again the community in the library’s activities. Only the second time – there are more splashes. The building was partially destroyed, and the wounds are more visible than the first time and librarians don’t know exactly the situation of their collections of books. The library held many special collections and old books about Ukrainian history and nobody knows exactly at this time if they are still part of the library’s treasure. Librarians are scattered across different parts of Ukraine. They stretched to the west, to the center, and a little to the south. Currently, we can talk about a traveling library project, because where there are people, there is work. And this work cannot be done if there wasn’t teamwork. Typical for an evacuation facility, eh?
After evacuation, the goal of this library is to develop a model of a library service organization that will be flexibly implemented by migrant librarians in different parts of Ukraine. So one thing is certain, all the librarians from Luhansk Universal Scientific Library are working from different parts of Ukraine and they are working online. In this sense, it seems reasonable to ask if this can be called anymore a library.
Looking over what Luhansk Universal Scientific Library is doing nowadays means more to reflect upon the way this library is responding to anticipation – since they are out of books, they are still called a library that is delivering services. And this happened only because it was a team effort that managed to invent new things, to be active in their new formula to their community. It was needed to invent new things, we read a lot and we know that we will win.
During 2019-2021, the library from Luhansk implemented a project titled PULSE (“Development of a course on strengthening local self-government in Ukraine”) for libraries and public organizations of united territorial communities of Ukraine from the IREX International Organization. During the year, 11 trainings were held for the communities of the cities of Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Siverskodonetsk, Starobilsk and the settlement communities of Bilovodsk, Shulgynsk, Troitsk, Krasnorichensk, Chmyrivsk. The main goal of the project was to convey the provisions of the decentralization reform in Ukraine, to provide consultations to citizens regarding changes in legislation, and to encourage residents of local communities to actively participate in self-government.
For children the library is developing even at the time being a Code program in Luhansk region with the aim of promoting IT technologies among children and adolescents aged 8-17 held 3 online events: a three-day children’s online Coach for Coaching School for future Code Club mentors, a two-day Scratch-battle on programming between mentors and their students and a three-day Hacker Rank Sessions programming skills training academy in the areas of HTML|CSS and Python. In total, 8 classes were held, 5 mentors were involved. 82 children from Luhansk region took part in the events. This project brought together volunteers from different areas, the library in the end generated a program dedicated to volunteering.
Another important project of the library is called Peace in the Digital Age with the support of the Institute of International Cultural Relations (IFA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. The project united participants from 10 regions of the country. During this time, 150 blogs were written. Attended 1 training. Organized and held 2 blog cafes. The main goal is to teach the basics of media literacy.
Before the war and evacuation, library activities focused on actions dedicated to young people in promoting the library as open and cultural space. Quiet party in headphones as a tool for forming an inclusive library art space within the House of Europe infrastructural mini-grants and the All-Ukrainian promotion “Good Silent Party” with headphones was organized 4 times at row. The main goal of this project was to unite active youth in such places as libraries and involve them in the processes of formation of the Ukrainian cultural space. The library in Luhansk had also a residence project such as research Art-Residence “Aura of the City”. For the third year in a row LOUNB has been a partner in this project. In 2021, within the framework of the “Aura Mysta” residence, commissioned by the Federal Government of Germany, the “Blockpost” art therapy program worked in Starobilsk, the purpose of which was to increase the level of social activity and cohesion of the veteran community and IDPs (by holding joint events and organizing leisure activities), strengthening cooperation between veterans ATO/OOS, IDPs, public organizations and local self-government bodies of the community. In total, a total of 94 people took part in the program’s activities. The LOUNB team participated in the selection of residents’ applications for participation in the project and creative meetings with writers.
In 2021 the library signed a memorandum with the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, joining the Luhansk OUNB to the “Oral History” project. The goal of the Institute’s project is to preserve historically important facts of the present in the format of narrative interviews. The main topic of such interviews is the memories of the participants of the hostilities since 2014. Also, respondents may include immigrants, witnesses of the Revolution of Dignity and Freedom, witnesses of the Second World War, etc. All librarians of the region who are willing to join and have the technical ability wereinvited to work in this direction. The project objective was to collect more valuable historical materials in 2022. Before the war started there were 3 narrative interviews which have been recorded and sent to the Institute’s archive in video format.
In 2020 the library from Luhansk developed the project A woman’s voice has power. The initiator of the project was the public organization “Human Rights Foundation”, and it was implemented with the support of the IFA Institute of International Cultural Relations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany within the framework of the Program for the Restoration of Peace and Dialogue for Internally Displaced Women. The main goal of the project was to build a dialogue between internally displaced women and communities; increasing the professionalism of female leaders of local public organizations in online human rights protection and blogging. The library contribution to the project was the organization of gender training for communities in the region.
As per international cooperation, the library started in 2018 a project with Lviv Regional Library for Children and libraries from Warsaw, Poland. The project name is We are Ukranians, me and you! and the main idea is to popularize Ukrainian literature and language among the Ukrainian diaspora in Poland. During the reporting year, librarians and philologists of LOUNB conducted a series of trainings on the culture of Ukrainian broadcasting “Linguistic delicacies“. Thanks to our methodical persistence, other libraries of the region (Kreminna, Novopskov) were also included in the project. During the Covid-19 crisis when all the activities were online, the library extended its activity to international level by generating the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Briefly from the activities of this project I mention 9 online meetings with American public figures, a presentation “Inclusion in Ukrainian libraries” (author Serhii Letuchiy) and a participation in the “Gold Star” program for international visitors-leaders: celebration of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act, organized specifically for Ukraine by the US State Department.
After 24th February, Luhansk was among the Ukrainian cities that suffered severely wounded, being bombarded and the library needed to be evacuated. It was a hard time for librarians, who needed to spread to other safe cities. What happened next, was cohesion between librarians from Luhansk Universal Scientific Library with a consistent goal: to keep the library alive. How they did it, it’s a good example of re-writing the role of an open library even when it is absent from the everyday life of the city. So the library was open and librarians continued to work, for everyone, online. A particular story I heard about a librarian who wanted to reach Lithuania, but, because it was mandatory to pass through Russia, he was detained for questioning for 8 days, after he was released, he managed to reach Lithuania and started to work with his colleagues from Luhansk, who were spread in different cities. But there were some cases when librarians from Luhansk didn’t want to leave their hometown or they have elderly parents and they want to stay with them. What they did was actually to continue some projects that allow them to work online, such as Code Club (mentioned above).
So even from distance, the librarians from Luhansk are still a team and they provide their services to the community. And in a team, everyone has a role, so the librarians from Luhansk, after they were evacuated, split their roles and started to engage their community in the learning and educational activities. And it is all about competencies that librarians have in order to deliver further. And people are aware that nobody else than librarians can provide them with good learning because people trust librarians and librarians are responsible for their community.
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.