Buoyant Bratislava

In the Little Carpathians, Bratislava and the hilly suburbs surrounding its old town are home to about 650,000 people.


A castle, Parliament and a UFO tower affixed to a bridge keep watch over this delightful city just an hour from Vienna and two from Budapest.

Part of Czechoslovakia until the “Velvet Divorce”, in 1993 it once again became a capital, this time of the newly formed Slovak Republic, aka Slovakia.

The metropolis has five districts and several have their own libraries and branches. But Mestská knižnica v Bratislave (Bratislava City Library or MKB), the main facility, has three separate indoor locations providing free wifi, reading rooms and public computers plus an al fresco setting. All are in walking distance of each other in the pedestrian zone.


Manager Helena Mlejová graciously agreed to show me the library, so my husband Michael and I met her by satirical posters encased in glass under a sheltered passage into the courtyard of an ancient MKB building in the former Jewish quarter. Shaded by towering trees and sporting outdoor shelves and wrought iron patio furniture as well as flower boxes, tables and chairs on the balcony above, it’s a pleasant entrance to the Department for the Blind and Partially Sighted, Nonfiction, the administrative offices and a bindery.

Established in 1900, the knižnica moved to its current premises in the fifties and sixties. Free to under fifteens and the physically and mentally challenged, the annual fee is four euro, but pensioners and students get a discount and companies and legal entities are charged eight euro to access the 260,000 items. They have around 55 employees and are a depository for all Slovakian publications. The budget of seven million euro from the mayor, fines, fees, successful grant applications and rents of ground floor spaces like the adjacent souvenir store pays for salaries, operating expenses and materials.


Exiting the recently installed audio signal equipped elevator on the third level, I admire the intriguing arrangement over padded leather and chrome armchairs as we approached a huge, mostly white, expanse where the décor consists of abundant tactile objects. Among the numerous audiobooks, MP3s and cassettes are a magnifying talking PC and scanner, games and cards with oversize numbers and pips, a Braille typewriter and a portrait of Princess Diana receiving a bouquet from a young boy when she opened this section in 1991.

Slovakia’s premier institute for sightless resources is in a small town that has a school for the blind, but twenty libraries scattered throughout the country also have permanent and rotating audio collections and postage for special requests is free.


Veronika is preparing Grétka to be a companion canine so we spent a few marvelous minutes tossing toys and reveling in playful nips and puppy breath. As in the United States, she and Helena both took five years of university courses for a master’s degree, but Veronika focused on helping the blind.

Patrons have discussions with blind writers, guide dog training orientations, a cinema allowing the visually impaired only and free ILL and eaudiobooks. The Way of Light is a presentation of paintings and photographs from the blind and partially sighted and during April’s Bratislava Days, MKB sells donations and weeded volumes for 50 cents. Always a hit, the sale earns 8,000 euro or so and proceeds buy new materials for the blind.


Gripping square hand holds we descended the coppery marble steps to the lockers and bulletin boards of Nonfiction.

Helena speaks perfect English (any mistakes in translation are mine). She’s worked here for ten years and supports the technology. Last year, she spent several weeks touring US libraries so is well aware of how American facilities operate and our issues and considerations. She explained that MKB is quite concerned about user privacy and copyright so adheres to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Part of the rules affect movie screenings, photographing customers and, unfortunately, lending physical and electronic audiovisual items, so the only downloadables for the (non challenged) public are in the national ebook account.

On this level, a big study area has reference tomes and internet terminals. Modern fixtures complement the contours of the old structure and philodendron vines crawl up the sides of stacks while oak stave buckets hold tropical ferns.


The website links to academic and general databases, an RSS feed, an English version, media articles on MKB, service statistics, business plans, satisfaction surveys, organizational charts and contacts. To maintain transparency, invoices, contracts, income sources and calls for proposals for construction projects are all posted on line. Partnering with Charles University, international organizations, foreign and local libraries, clubs, community centers, foundations and schools, they get some financial aid from the country’s culture ministry, the Arts Support Fund, and the regional government and organize professional development exercises for public knižníc in the vicinity.

We strolled a few hundred feet to the juvenile department. Enticing windows are filled by crepe flowers and suggested paperbacks and in the foyer orange reigns supreme tinting a circular railing and stairwell, furniture and doors. Framed children’s drawings done for previous Bratislava Days adorn the walls. The theme is always about the city and this year it’s The Story of One Place.


The playroom has popular and new releases and lounging options ranging from soccer ball patterned beanbags to thick carpet squares to white pads cut in odd forms so magic markers can turn them into turkeys or stegosaurus. Similar shapes hang from the ceiling above crate of dolls and toys that occupy youngsters awaiting story time. Radiators are a vivid purple and scarlet, a tall red metal rack supplies oversize read aloud books and toddlers have a sturdy rainbow hued dining set.

Plush animals sit on a sill and stools are made of tree stumps. The pockets of a silk fire breathing dragon are stuffed with crayons and treats and bright beach pails pose as garbage cans. Origami butterflies and leaves are strung across the area and by the battery recycling and shopping baskets, short tiers contain the newest acquisitions – circulating board games.


Friendly Eva told us the 15-16 year olds at a local school of applied arts made this incredible desk. Their clientele goes from newborns to teens so a second space has magazine spinners, graphic novels, manga series and cushioned crimson cubes. As a supplement to the primary and secondary schools they carry some textbooks and curriculum perennials and literature in German, English, French and Russian. Slovakia produces five or six periodicals for youths which can be borrowed.

The library cooperates with a natural history museum for some kids’ sessions and has competitive literary quizzes, a graphics and photography camp, theatrical performances and author appearances. Drama pupils tell international fables, a musical poetry duo celebrates the 130th birthday of a famous Slovak writer or hear humorous rhymes and discover animal communication methods. Activities stress education and culture so there are reading groups, Slovakian fairy tales and book talks (with prizes) and for families, parenting titles and health advice.

Next on our list was the stunning music and arts division.


Covering art, music, architecture, cinema, crafts and gardening, it’s the visual highlight for me. Handsome mahogany fixtures proffer scores, libretti and museum catalogs. Plenty of face out shelving enables browsing and serendipitous selections. A long room has instruments to play, row after row of LPs and a gigantic console outfitted in speakers and turntables and all the components, old and new, necessary for enjoying the myriad types of recordings. Across from it, low couches let you listen in comfort as fresh air floats in through windows overlooking the patio below where an industrious cat prowls, steadfastly eliminating all mice.IMG_2901

Alfonse Mucha prints grace the space and over the sheets for 50 masterpieces propped on the Yamaha electric organ, a number of lovely black and white sketches were produced by Kristina’s talented hands.img_2877.jpg

An antique card catalog sits on a marble plinth and by violet corduroy seats and a big planter we spoke to Kristina and Renata under swinging burnished gold stars.

Satiny stack ends hold plants or recommendations and are topped by maroon arches that echo embellishments of the tables.

Appropriately the art gallery is up in the attic. It’s got an upright piano and kitchen and accommodates fifty.


Vibrant murals deck the garret and light streams in via skylights imparting views of the spires of Old Town.

MKB has housed exhibitions from potters and hobbyists as well as tatters, weavers and animated film makers on subjects from genealogical charts, maps and ceramics to embroidery, illustrations and textiles.


Leaving, I spotted these delicately colored tiles by the notices in the vestibule.

At six p.m. they were hosting a poetry event in the penultimate locale – a grassy outdoor oasis in the city center stocked with reading materials. Relax in the shade beneath umbrellas by the sculpture garden or review the sandwich board advertising the evening’s entertainment. When we crossed the lock bridge above later that night we saw a number of people still mingling long after the affair had finished up.

During the summer they’ve featured Romani jazz, a blues band, drummers, pop concerts, an actress and chanteuse singing Piaf and Dietrich standards and a trio from Prague accompanied by accordion and guitar.

Facebook has announcements for upcoming functions and gives head counts for past ones and when Queer Jane, an indie punk folk group was here, over 900 attendees managed to squeeze in.

The page has nearly 1500 followers and posts thousands of snaps. An adorable one introduces Grétka saying she’s available for walkies and loads of them show kids making ornaments and decorations and inhabitants smiling broadly at various library happenings. I laughed out loud at a shot of a sign proclaiming “Dinosaurs don’t read; now they’re extinct. Coincidence?” and for every anniversary, holiday or birthday, there’s a plug for their items on that topic.

Other offerings include literacy classes, how to photograph babies, the weekly schedule for the outdoor stage, fantasy evenings, lectures, autumn camps, a visit from a witch, a puppet show, poetry festival, travelogues, comics workshops, seminars on innovative techniques for the future and a Tibetan teacher who will help you find inner peace.

There are videos of a piper and a pianist, an unconventional children’s book using a strange method of pagination to create one long picture that cleverly folds into itself, and a guitarist and flautist giving a holiday recital.


Last but not least, the Fiction and Foreign Languages Section is five minutes away on foot. We chatted to Alžběta for a bit. Although mostly fiction and travel guides, they have stuff on Bratislava history and specialize in the humanities.

Pretty quilted sofas and curved upholstered seats back up to glowing panels with marble accents. Display space is built into the cases and desks have a convenient ledge for purses or bags. Bright blue lettered sticks jutting from between books make it easy to locate titles. Chose from educational journals, tons of bestsellers, bins of Harlequin romances or go online at the stand up stations below bulbs dropping from a curved minimalist bar.

Heavily Hungarian and German, just 15% of the population was Slovak before World War I. Actually part of Hungary until 1918, there are a number of books in that tongue since some seniors still speak it. English, Czech, Italian, French, Spanish and Russian round out the collection. Focusing on the elderly, there’s memory training and PC classes and consultations.


Helena is on the left and Alžběta the right

I am so thankful to Helena for revealing the fabulous place that is Mestská knižnica v Bratislave. Her assistance was invaluable for my understanding of the amazing things they do. The citizens of this fascinating city are extremely lucky to have such a dedicated staff anticipating their literary requirements and keeping them amused with quality programming!

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Cherishing Český Krumlov

IMG_3259Nestled in the heavily treed hills of the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, Český Krumlov (pronounced ˈtʃɛskiː ˈkrumlof, or to my ear, chesky kroomlov) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site three hours from Vienna on mostly tiny roads. Despite a population of barely 13,000, drawn by the fairytale appearance of an aqueduct shaped fortress, cobbled pedestrian-only streets, magnificent castle gardens reminiscent of Versailles’, and countless and constant elevation changes, nearly a million sightseers flood the small community each year.

Because the town truly does cherish its heritage, and the incredible building occupied since 1991 by the Městská knihovna v Českém Krumlově (or MKCK – translates to Municipal library in Český Krumlov) is a great example of its preservation of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque beauty.
The library entrance is adjacent to kostel svatého Víta, the Catholic church that owns the 14th century structure. Formerly a prelate’s residence, it surrounds a central courtyard and the ground level is studded in nooks housing stone saints.

Started in 1879 by the table society “Křen” (inexplicably this means horseradish), MKCK was founded in a pub by patriots interested in propagating all things Czech, especially literature. The first books were locked in a chest under the care of the inn keeper. Deemed a library in 1921, it competed for funding with a rival German speaking organization until after WWII. In 1959 it received responsibility for the district and took over the task of assisting smaller libraries. The process of computerization began in 1992 and the internet came in 1998.

In the lobby, notices in Plexiglas and free standing bulletin boards keep the populace apprised of happenings.
At the main desk, I am greeted warmly by Hana (seated) and Gabriela who tell me Mgr. Martin Nechvíle is expecting me. While waiting, I glance around appreciating the contrast between dark oak beams overhead and colorful modern furnishings and fixtures.

A corner resembles a parlor. A blue sectional has throw pillows, a fluffy matching carpet and an oblong coffee table. Potted ferns, philodendrons and window boxes add touches of greenery.

Tots waiting for parents on pint sized red and yellow seats have puzzles, toys, crayons and a case of games and picture books for amusements.
Martin is charming and after gifting me a tote bag and pin takes me on a tour. MKCK has wifi and eight public computers that are free to users and for the first half hour, to visitors. Classes are offered on using the internet and the e-resources and Excel, Word and Power Point.

Two other locations serve Český Krumlov, but this is the biggest. Annual cards are free to personnel, under sixes and over seventies and 140 koruna (@ $6.50) for adults or institutions (e.g. daycares) or 70 CZK for children. They have CDs, audiobooks, ebooks and ILL. Borrow ten items – books and games are lent for a month, magazines two weeks and you can reserve materials and renew via email, online, in person or phone.
Martin has been director here for three years and as we pass a ledge displaying recommendations below this lovely scene, I realize his archaeology degree is appropriate considering the treasures and relics and that they’ll celebrate the 140th anniversary in 2019.

The website has English and German versions and links to popular and new titles, read aloud books for infants and toddlers, the calendar, bibliotherapy and area news highlighting lots of cooperation between the country’s facilities. Details of tasks and training provided to knihovny in the vicinity and prices for hiring their elegant halls are posted as well as annual reports and a plethora of pictures from field trips exploring the village’s remarkable architecture, game tournaments, art workshops, author events, creative writing courses, music and dance performances and documentary films presentations.

Databases put a Czech bibliography at your fingertips, plus archives, the national union catalog, Šumava (nearby forests roamed by Celts) and world literature, and dozens of Czech classics for free download as ebooks or audiobooks.
Behind this pleasant spot, the floor becomes a balcony and short stacks abut the railing overlooking a lower level with projection equipment that doubles as a screening or meeting room. Stairs lead down to this collection and terminals have orange hedgehog mice and upholstered high backed seats.

MKCK puts on photography exhibits, travel talks, lectures from experts on topics like healthy eating, being a police detective, fashion and techniques to improve your memory. They have book clubs, a presence at festivals and do guided tours for St. Wenceslas Night. Just scrolling through Facebook gives evidence of how they help the community’s well-being. Thousands of shots of happy customers of all ages attest that a rip-roaring good time will be had at library sponsored affairs.

We move towards Periodicals where 118 magazine and newspaper subscriptions fit tidily in slots divided by clear plastic…
… and meet Jarka by books on UNESCO attractions worldwide and Šumava and local history volumes. I chuckle when I see, next to a euphoric euphorbia, sweet clay angels made by tiny hands watching from high atop a console.

Martin mentioned they have a budget of 7,000,000 CZK and eleven employees here. Since the building is so old, alterations need permission, so the steps are difficult for seniors or patrons carrying prams but eventually an elevator will be installed.

We see his office which has a striped couch and chairs perfect for staff conferences.

Then passing a huge glossy glass and teak credenza we reach Children’s.
It’s got a stuffed dog to sit on, mobiles, cushy mini benches and cubes adorned with playful dinosaurs that stow neatly into a table of suggestions. Adolescent artwork and a racetrack rug alongside crates of board books, face out shelving on white wire racks and cutout kittens are all graced by views of the turrets and steeples of Old Town.

Kids play instruments at recitals, join in for crafts, Halloween activities and drawing dragons or enjoy puppet and talent shows. They can read to earn money to be donated to a chosen charity and the fantasy, sci-fi and horror BOoK! Con has a short story writing competition and a contest for those up to age 15 to paint or pen a piece about animals.

Online, educators have 33 different programs options that people involved with youngsters can order for their wards to attend during the school year. Topics cover finding information, net safety, cyber bullying, holiday traditions around the world, Christmas fairy tales, ghost stories, comics, sing-alongs, nonsense poetry, the insect empire, opera and the fate of Jewish youth during WWII.
Visible to the left of this arrangement in black and white, a long table is lit by hanging globes and sun streaming in through sheer curtains. In September they have sessions for parents on leave for their new infants. Giving valuable instruction on working from home, starting a company, advanced MS Office, photo editing, website construction and improving computer skills and CVs…, it even offers daycare (the announcement on Facebook was accompanied by a solicitation for babysitters)!

In an alcove just off the learning zone, a mini kitchen seems humbled by the crystal chandelier swinging from the heart of an ornate buttressed dome above.

We are entering the original part of the complex and everywhere the marvelous touches of yore delight. The arches, stained glass in rock niches and carved doors are striking and what has dimmed with age is being restored.
On the left above the glowing leather chesterfield, a mural from the 14th century is being painstakingly uncovered.

Monks made beer here and the edifice’s religious past is evident in the frescoes lining our path.
As we wander the corridors, Martin unlocking and locking doors, I gape at the exquisite antiques…
…and the splendid ceilings, until we arrive at the pièce de résistance.
The library lives in about 900 square meters not including the 1400 square meters in the older premises used for concerts and events or rented out for weddings and gatherings. Though fees earned are retained, energy costs are expensive.

Almost hidden among the rococo motifs, Martin points out an extraordinary 1765 fireplace fringed in lustrous wood topped by a prancing troubadour and costumed eighteenth century figures shadowed for a three dimensional look. Beyond, a large dining chamber with white linen and bent ebony seats welcomes hungry guests. A phenomenal venue for a ceremony!

Nearing the end, we come to the gallery (which can also be leased) in the cool confines of the cellar.
I had met local artist Eva Karmazínová previously as I first came during the lunch hour. Set off by stark plaster walls and softly lit by tall lamps, the fantastic sculptures and oils, portraits and nudes propped on waist high blocks and attached to black grids were produced by her. She said she is very glad to have this studio.
Sweeping vistas on several sides complete the wonder that is Městská knihovna v Českém Krumlově.

What a magical place. Everyone was very nice and friendly and how kind of Martin to reveal all the amazing spaces in the compound. The citizens of this adorable destination are indeed lucky to have access to such an enchanting cultural center.

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Vital Vilnius

Last August we visited Vilniaus senamiestis (old town), the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lithuania’s capital.
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A gorgeous patchwork of ancient architecture, pleasant plazas, creeks, fields, forests and several hills, the city encompasses a delightful micronation, the Užupis Republic, and the vibrant Vilniaus Miesto Savivaldybės Centrinė Biblioteka (Central Library of Vilnius City Municipality) (VCB) serves the 800,000 or so residents of the metropolitan area with a central facility, 15 branches and two children’s libraries.

Conveniently positioned in Memorial Park next to a cluster of apartments, the sleek air conditioned four tier structure has a polished oak bench, book return out front, and ample parking.
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The spiffy tiled lobby sports foam cubes in shades of olive and vermillion, a glass elevator, cloakroom and a bulletin board highlighting upcoming programs.

On the top floor by the administrative offices, there’s a conference space seating 100. A painting propped on an easel introduces an art exhibit, one of many sponsored by the system which also hosts photographs, stained glass and postcards.
The library has wifi and 14 public internet stations. There’s an English version of the website and it links to the newsletter, new books, interactive quizzes, virtual galleries and the VilniusGO app which has a plethora of information about local attractions. To maintain transparency, planning documents and financial statements are available online. You can ask questions via email, download Vyturio ebooks or use databases such as Ebsco, Infolex (for their legal system), Naxos Music, Zinio business news and one of full text Lithuanian magazines going back to 2003.

Users add holds from home, borrow up to five items for 30 days and renew three times if no one else wants the materials. Cards are free and VCB lends board games, a variety of ereaders and its KomiksLaB (comic strips in the nation’s libraries) works to reduce the digital divide.

Light wood furnishings and beams streaming in the windows impart an airy, spacious feel and by the Vilnius Collection, PACs on podiums have ledges to stow your belongings.
I chatted to friendly Laura, a Senior Bibliographer, for a bit before heading to the basement where, wandering through the staff sections, I encountered a man who kindly unlocked the computer classroom so I could take shots.
The biblioteka trains individuals or groups of up to 15 here and teaches technology at five different locations as well.

In an effort to reduce loneliness among seniors they have clubs for them to meet and chat or spend a literary themed evening together. Members arrange gatherings and activities that promote a healthy lifestyle.
Ever practical, the music and art reading room offers a few kid’s items to entertain them while grownups browse the CDs, vinyl records, documentaries, old scores, music DVDs and computer media. Titles on Russian and Lithuanian composers abound and it rotates displays on topics like ways to get children off electronics, wedding traditions, romance, ethnographics, rock pioneers, Japanese aesthetics and the influence of Mozart.
In one corner, above a set of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, a selection of handheld instruments includes an ocarina and youths can try out a piano, accordion or balalaika before parents invest in expensive equipment that might just end up in a dusty attic.
A scarlet space by the periodicals has matching red sockets that draw your eyes up. It’s a busy place and so many tables are occupied it’s often hard to take pictures. By the Lithuanian fiction, I notice more toys for tots and that most areas have a desk so help is never far away.

The library runs a YouTube channel and Pinterest and Instagram accounts. Facebook has event announcements plus shout outs thanking the organizers. I love the page’s slogan “When in doubt, go to the library.” and the lists that ask you to vote on the best romance or fantasy fiction series (the latter got quite a response from customers and was heavily tilted in favor of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings).

Thousands of photos feature grand reopenings after renovations, affairs for you and your pet, outdoor summer functions… For Vilnius Reads, they created a mobile open-air reading spot by installing a huge case of books (that can be locked down during inclement weather) in a popular square and for other festivities, a dome tent houses a popup library.

For the holidays, VCB puts on a fair selling handmade souvenirs and knitted accessories. Attend lectures, discussions, book talks for young and old, plays, fairy tales, concerts, lectures or go see a film.
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The children’s premises are on the second level of an historic building (so no A/C) across from some vegetable stalls 100 meters away. Luckily an extremely accommodating employee walked me over to it or I would probably still be searching as I got lost going back – the warren of streets of these old European towns means a block is not really a block 😉

The cheerfully rusty door at the entrance is adorned in multihued stickers and a bright yellow sun. In the pristine white lobby, kids’ paintings are caught in a fishing net. Potted plants and tall vividly marked tribal vases complement the bare limbs of a tree decorated in paper flowers.
Renata, Giedre and Tatiana were so welcoming. We talked a bit (again my usual disclaimer, any errors in translation are mine) and they said there are eight internet terminals and if someone requests it, they will do storytimes.

The interior is a wonderful mélange of colors and textures and guaranteed to please. Pippi Longstocking cutouts and stuffed bears peer down from shelf ends, a scarecrow hangs from a coat rack and I’m sure countless toddlers’ fingers have been stuck into holes in the cheese grater style desk. Stacks of face out picture books mix with crates of board books and a pile of titles cut into farm animals shapes are covered in fabric simulating the real thing.
VCB has a Youth Center to provide adolescents with things to do and a place to be. Socialization programs for Roma youngsters use films, dancing and drawing, all coordinated by a psychologist.

One satellite has a psychedelic multisensory zone with a fish tank, neon lights, lava lamps and fur rugs encouraging relaxation. Fascinating sessions exploring topics of sexual identity, empathy, emotional intelligence, duties of children etc. are held there.

At summer camp kids make paper mache heads and participate in sports, theatrics, contests and creative amusements.
Go to arts and crafts, 3D modeling, bibliotherapy, English classes or language courses for non native speakers.

The network partners with associations to change refugee stereotypes and for civic initiatives. Director Rima Gražienė and other personnel are regularly interviewed on television and radio and recently they joined government celebrations of one hundred years of statehood.

VCB’s inception dates to 1977, well before the nation achieved independence from Russia in the early nineties. Bordered by the Baltic Sea, Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia (via its exclave, the Kaliningrad Oblast), a little less than three million people call Lithuania home. Vilnius is in the southeast part of the land, 100 miles or so from Minsk, so it’s a no-brainer to collaborate with this neighboring institution and the library in St Petersburg. Frequent professional development seminars and conferences encouraging librarianship throughout the country are easier to develop when Riga joins in the project. In fact, VCB has quite an international presence – last spring they signed an agreement for a Krakow cultural exchange and a team from Moldova toured and were shown how to provide remote assistance to children evincing behavioral and emotional disorders. Croatia cooperation is next.
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Strolling the short distance back to our hotel along the paths of the Neris River, I mused on how lucky the Vilnius patrons are to have such a marvelous resource fulfilling their cultural, educational and bibliographic needs.

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Riveting Riga

When we visited Latvia in August during the lively Riga City Festival we marveled at policemen in oversize Toon heads patrolling free concerts and an ancient square filled with joyous life size fiberglass bears decorated to represent all the nations of the world.


From St. Peter’s Church tower

The middle Baltic state boasts thousands of kilometers of coastline and waterways so though the capital is inland, large ships travel the Daugava River which divides Riga in half.

Crossing a park through a farmer’s market and the grounds of a majestic Eastern Orthodox church, I came to Rīgas Centrālā bibliotēka (RCB) just a short walk from the old town.  The library is being redone but construction barriers outside didn’t block the entrance, bike parking or the wheelchair ramp.


Passing a directory, vending machines and a sandwich board highlighting future offerings I encountered friendly Ilva, who registers new patrons…


…and Dzintra at Reference who was so helpful and quite interested in this blog.

Housed on the second and sixth stories RCB is flooded with light, yet is usually comfortable despite lacking air conditioning (the unexpectedly hot weather all over Europe last summer was an anomaly).  Clean lines, light wood floors and furnishings and muted backgrounds let crisp blue and white signage stand out and tall plants in pretty pots add a touch of greenery.


CDs by Art History and adult stacks

I glanced into a well lit curved alcove filled with paintings just off the lobby.  A wonderful resource for up and coming artists seeking the perfect display spot, this gallery is just one of many available at RCB’s astounding 26 branches.

The bibliotēka also has external service points at a hospital, prison and the visitor’s center as well as a reading room (if I am interpreting Google Translate correctly – always a problem, especially with languages spoken by smaller populations).

A nearby nook holds cabinets of materials on Riga.  Grab one and peruse it settled into an intriguingly modern cushy red seat.


Another space acts as a concert hall.  A grand piano occupies one corner of the room next to rows of titles on opera and music.  The library has quite a collection of scores too (something most American ones struggle to carry, generally relying on “fake books”).

Steps away, you’ll find a glowing vitrine and a knitting project with balls of yarn and booties.  Periodicals are enticingly arranged on spindles close to the recycling containers.

The institution has wifi and 18 public computers, many set in consoles whose extra surfaces make it easy to spread out.

On the sixth level by low bins of DVDs and nonfiction I met cheerful librarian Irisa.


When they opened in 1906 it had about 3000 volumes and was immediately popular despite extremely limited hours.  By the late seventies 48 libraries served Riga, joined together by a unified catalog.  Since then, there has been some consolidation and the central facility moved here in 1997.


The figure on the cubes is a map of Latvia

RCB has a Twitter account and the Facebook page has public service messages and snaps of programs held here and at the affiliates feature a wide variety of activities.  Writers sign their latest works at publication parties, a blacksmith demonstrates his skills, kids have fun crafting and audiences enjoy author talks.  Shots of people in ethnic costumes occur with remarkable frequency as do ones showing off the most amazing spherical popup tent that produces a transparent mini library with beanbag seating, tables, chairs and shelves wherever you decide to pitch it – ideal for being a recognizable presence at any outdoor happenings.


Wonderful views through the windows

Residents can meet and talk to poets, journalists, actors and artists or go to a performance of “Nonsense Traveler” and lectures on the Chinese Silk Road and E-Health.  Some attend literary walks, World Ways, Conservation Conversations or the reading competition’s regional finals.

A plethora of exhibits spotlight painted silk, creative seniors, shawls, individual artists or bring the traveling exhibition of children’s drawings, I Love My Country,  to the populace.


In the youth section, vibrant translucent shelf ends match a rainbow hued clock and a bunch of easels cradle beautiful oils.


Alongside local government entities, RCB was involved in the youth fair and shy youngsters gain confidence via Kanisterapija (reading to dogs).


A chest stuffed full of plush animals sits by a crate of toys in the play zone where a miniature piano encourages musical ability.

Whitewashed walls and flowers stenciled on a pillar give the place an airy feeling and little orange rockers are great for tired tots.  Fabric books hang from a clothesline by short boxes of picture books.  A case of board games stands near desk tops shaped like scarlet jigsaw pieces below a snow goose mobile.


Lūcija and the children’s magazines

For the school holidays the library has a summer camp and participants fashion jewelry from polymer clay, make paper wreaths, postcards and bookmarks.


Bright scenes of springtime adorn the area

The website is comprehensive and has English and Russian versions.  Event announcements include enough visuals and informative text to enhance upcoming experiences.  Photos capture folk dance and song celebrations, theater workshops and the book exchange.  There are links to countrywide newspaper, business and history portals, Ebsco and Flipster ezines, hints for living in the metropolis, job vacancies and delightful stories of why and how librarians chose their profession.

The page promotes ongoing efforts to generate a digital treasure trove of all things Latvian and Letonika has images, videos, audios, dictionaries, encyclopedias, references and full text literature.  In keeping with its mission for preservation, RCB and other locations are working on an oral history archive.  There seems to be a concerted effort to make Latvia’s intellectual achievements and national identity electronically accessible from anywhere and publicizing that idea may be part of the reason they hosted the 2012 IFLA  satellite conference.


Cheerful bugs brighten a study room

Though Latvians are notorious for valuing the solitude of nature, approximately half of the country’s two million inhabitants live close to or in the city.  RCB’s system provides a vital service with its commitment to presenting fascinating cultural opportunities.

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Savor Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Only a half kilometer from our auberge, Bibliothèque municipal Joseph-Roumanille (BJR) in the historic center of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (SRdP) can be accessed by either of the two streets it borders.  The book return is in back of the old mansion they moved into in 1990.


But the Boulevard Gambetta entrance is more impressive.  A zebra crossing funnels you passed gigantic planters and stone pillars flanking the open gate of a wrought iron barrier protecting the gravel courtyard.  Towering sycamores, ubiquitous in the district and often turning two lane roads into peaceful green tunnels, provide shade to review the events promoted in the twin frames attached to the spears forming the railing.

Beyond this formidable fence, trees, rosebushes, the shiny leaves of flowering foliage and a graceful nude statue form a pocket sanctuary.  Tall hedges, vines and a pastel graffiti “Book” smother the stone walls, so high on one side it touches the bottom of the roof.


Formerly belonging to a family of seed merchants, it’s a splendid building.  Clay tiles top a row of fretted fenestrations and white wrought iron balconets above the lowest level’s pale blue shutters and coach lamps.

Enchanted by the architecture, I examined the exquisite molding and glass transom with stylized “B” over the heavy wood door while waiting for BJR to open.  Closed Thursdays when classes are held for schools, the library is available four days a week.


In the luminous lobby, marble accents, recent acquisitions in a sparkling vitrine and the brass and wood banister of an enticing stairway immediately impart a sense of calm.

Natives seem to have a distinct flair for design and this table’s inventive containers are typical of external adornment for sheds and shops in the vicinity.


Country chic

Rays spill in via a skylight and from the garden through enormous ancient windows.

A futuristic black and white theme dominates the space to the left where a large curved desk allows up to three people to be available for questions.


Magalie, Gaelle and Salome

I was fortunate to meet three of BJR’s four employees.  Welcoming, friendly and informative, I spoke to Magalie when she wasn’t busy helping patrons.  Though serving a small commune of less than ten thousand, they are rapidly modernizing and have wifi, two public computers and eight iPads for use in house.  The collection totals about 30,000 items and a thousand books, large print titles, movies and audios are added annually.

Everyone was interested to hear Monaco would be profiled the month before this post as Princess Caroline’s children were raised here after their father’s death and had assisted in the renovation five years ago.


Looking towards Youth

Appropriately, considering the assortment of CDs, the section sports a sound system, and across from Circulation, seats slot so neatly into this surface I thought it was just an intriguing display block.


Established in 1885, but unfunded for over a century, the bibliothèque’s paid staff started in the late eighties.  Named for renowned regional writer Joseph Roumanille who lived nearby, BJR stores community documents spanning the centuries from medieval times to the Seventies (records after this are kept at the city hall), including parchments, charters and 1000 plus items on Provence.  Historic holdings are enhanced by valuable donations from generous citizens of materials like manuscripts and probate papers.  Town council deliberations go back to 1620 and present a fascinating portrait of the daily lives of ancestors.  Genealogists consult civil and church registries that, in accordance with French law, are more than seventy five years old.


I was charmed by the juvenile area.  Awash in preppy pink and green, comfy chairs and striped cushions on little rugs invite kids to sprawl comfortably inside, or, since their retractable awnings will shield tots from the sun, drag an egg shaped cocoon out to the mini park.


Cupboards of manga, pop-ups and racks of nouveautes sit near a hanging quilt whose tiny stuffed figures seem to be celebrating the rural nature of the environs.  Elsewhere, painted lines on glass covering a picture create a three dimensional forest and appealing scenes of wood cut African animals add to the decor.

The website links to twenty livres that will change your life, new DVDs and books by category, the catalog and Cadavre Exquis (Exquisite Corpse), a participatory literary mystery generated in honor of their twentieth anniversary in 2011.


Meeting and class room

Facebook has shots of students meeting a famous illustrator, book discussions, craft sessions, group yoga, cello recitals and holiday parties.  Video of a painting workshop vies for attention amidst announcements of jazz concerts, an egg hunt, a lecture on herbs, photography contests, author appearances and a Shakespeare conference.  Playful banter between workers and customers is interspersed by advertisements for star gazing and poetry programs, toddler shows and a comics forum.  Banners publicize storytimes, films and monthly technology help classes for the internet, social media, tablets and email.

Despite the limited hours, the team obviously manages to do a lot for users.  In a joint venture with a local social center, they offer home delivery for those unable to come in, be it due to mobility issues, a temporary infirmity or an infant.


A perfect portrayal of the blinding bleached stone and azure skies of SRdP

Gaelle, the Head Bibliothécaire (librarian), took me around, pointing out Provençal style cabinets showcasing recommendations.  Some of the glowing pine stacks are so tall that the scattered footstools are a necessity to reach the higher volumes.


Shelves of graphic novels have wheels so can be pushed back to save space and by the foreign language dictionaries, colorful flags and posters of faraway lands tempt the traveler to take off.


Great spot to relax

Antique fixtures and oils of Arles mesh surprisingly well with contemporary couches and consoles of magazines.  By a PC, vivid red and purple walls complement rather than clash.

Offices are on the top floor, as is the archive which Salome unlocked so I could appreciate its stunning interior.   Casement windows reveal exterior ornamental design and gorgeous old chests cradle reference sets best perused perched on Louis XIV armchairs upholstered in velvet.


Salome spoke excellent English and we chatted for quite a while.  Potential bibliothécaires in France take a two year course for the DUT (diplôme universitaire de technologie).  They specialize in bookselling, editing, librarianship or publishing to get the professional license in information and communication.  We talked about the wonderful concept of “library as the third place” (home is first, work second…).  She reminded me how thrilling it is when you first start a job in public libraries and realize their vitality and importance to society – discovering what you thought was a quiet haven is actually a shimmering, vibrant asset to the community.


Close to the Alpilles mountain range and boasting a pleasant Mediterranean climate, SRdP is a popular tourist destination, so the library is a welcome oasis with lovely facilities for visitors feeling a bit overwhelmed by the crowds.  But for lucky residents, transplants and expats, Bibliothèque municipal Joseph-Roumanille truly is the ideal “third place.”

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Motivated Monaco


The view south along the Riviera from the spectacular Jardin Exotique

Surrounded by France and its Mediterranean port, this mountainous principality is a quick train trip from Nice, as long as the French national rail company isn’t having a grève (strike) day as it was when I visited…

Monaco maintains 78 lifts, 35 escalators and eight travelators so getting around on foot isn’t quite as exhausting as it would seem.  The station is perched in the upper part of town, so we took an outdoor ascenseur to the lower level then strolled down a brick tiled pedestrian way passing abundant foliage and shady benches to Bibliothèque Louis Notari (BLN), number eight on a short rue of the same appellation.


Front door

BLN is one of three locations comprising the Médiathèque de Monaco and has the majority of the nonfiction and popular reading materials.  The Sonothèque José Notari-vidèothèque in Villa Lamartine has some periodicals about music but is dedicated to sound and vision so mainly carries DVDs and CDs.  Scholars make appointments to peruse the archives, Fonds Patrimonial at L’Helios.

Marble steps lead to a pleasant foyer housing a water cooler and a stand of brochures.  On one side, set off by potted plants, a stone and bronze plaque honors Louis Notari, the native poet, grammarian and lyricist (he wrote the words to the anthem) for whom this branch was named in 1980.


Blandine welcomed me warmly and I noticed a case of new livres and a couple of cabinets devoted to English books (there are Italian libri as well) in the spacious lobby by the main desk.

I started my tour upstairs amidst tidy offices, nonfiction and students hard at work.


The facility has a spacious modern feel with bright colors, carpet tiles and clear overhead signage.  Atop the manga shelves, back issues of comic books are neatly stored in orange Lucite boxes by the romans jeunesse for teens.


Livre de bandes dessinées

The library has wifi and public internet access and the web page links to the catalog, staff favorites, new acquisitions, video and music on demand, training, ebooks and online resources.  Their presse numérique (digital press) has 1600 titles.

On Facebook, banners promote upcoming functions or tout recent additions, and shots show singers and violinists and rapt audiences listening to jazz or garage bands.


Shelf ends feature whimsical artwork, royal portraits, Dewey posters and recycling bins and in a corner I spotted an intriguing chair.

The cheap seats 😉

I should have tried it, but like this beanbag, I was too chicken to face the possible loss of dignity.


His Serene Highness Prince Albert I started the country’s bibliothèque in 1909 and it became the national library and legal depository in 2006.

The local history in Le Fonds Régional is greatly enhanced by several important personal bequests of ephemera, correspondence, first editions etc.  Precious volumes include over 700 artists’ books (new to me, any bibliophile will find them fascinating).  Avant-garde art is a specialization and they conserve ancient manuscripts and everything printed in Monaco.  Monégasque, a dialect of Ligurian, which itself is a tongue from the Gallo-Romance arm of Romance languages, is certainly rare enough to warrant diligent preservation tactics.

Example of Monégasque

An attractive brochure maps out where to find them in the city and promotes their Ateliers (workshops), spectacles (shows), rencontres littéraires and cinéma.  Membership is 20 euro for ten years for adults and students and over sixties pay just half that fee.

The microstate is small enough that it’s not too taxing to be in three separate buildings, still there is some inconvenience, so in three to four years they will be combined.  The huge construction hole drivers see near the stadium when entering town will be a gorgeous new 50,000 square foot bibliothèque with 60,000 books, 34,000 CDs, 9000 DVDs and a secteur jeunesse! (youth room).


Albert II, Prince of Monaco and his wife, Princess Charlene, above a big TV

Currently, children’s services are managed via national education, rather than the mayor, and the only one not in a school is Bibliothèque Princesse Caroline – Ludothèque for kids over three years old.  During term time, youngsters can join for 8€ and take out three books for 15 days and go to various activities or for 16€ borrow two toys or games from the toy library.


Fanny and Ghislaine

My French is awful, but several staffers had much better English.  Fanny was a great translator and we chatted for a bit.  Though not necessary for employment, she agreed having a university degree helps and told me they each have specialties.  Among other things, she does art history.  Ghislaine handles administrative tasks and knows all about new arrivals and Nathalie, my charming email contact, is responsible for collection development and the plethora of visual paperbacks.  She also handles the catalog and technology and is implementing a new website and software in June 2018.

Despite the language barrier, everyone was so friendly and I received an awesome tote bag, informative flyers and two homegrown publications – La Presse, which introduced me to the term Mook (a hybrid of magazines and books!), and a beautiful pamphlet produced for BLN’s Centenaire highlighting some of its treasures.


Down here, the glossy floor reflects waist high consoles perfect for flipping through graphic novels.  The spiffy black and white design complements the mauve walls and muted lighting.  Like the little metal display racks offering recommendations, some are on wheels allowing for flexibility in furniture arrangements.  Bushes outside slatted windows cast a green glow and pretty silkscreens further enhance the decor.

Besides the typical audiovisual materials, the library buys opera, concert and theatre DVDs and puts on events to appease the cultural tastes of Monacans.  In fact it’s one of the few places where I’ve seen speakers above the stacks (necessary because they do have musical entertainment and show movies in the reading area).


Programs include teas and cultural cycles on different countries.  Enjoy a picnic lunch while listening to Jeff Beck’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl at the Sonothèque or marvel at La Danse Khatak par Priscilla Gauri, a classical Indian performance hosted in collaboration with Ballets de Monte-Carlo.  You can attend monthly lectures discussing famous photographers (pairing images and music selections) or conferences, films, writing seminars, author appearances or bring your whole family for a fun multigenerational craft night.


Magazines et journaux

The Médiathèque presents frequent exhibitions and owns most of the output of painter Henri Maccheroni.   It concentrates on Dada and Surrealism and has numerous journals covering these movements.

Employees teach monthly introduction to internet classes and help patrons learn to download and stream and the library also participates in joint ventures with other organizations such as the annual launch of Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco’s reading marathon (people review and vote for the winner of its literary prize).

All told, citizens can choose from close to half a million items.


Looking north – an almost vertical haven of rocky cliffs and skyscrapers

Quite impressive for a land of 500 acres and less than 40,000 people!

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Dauntless D. C.


The main DC Public Library (DCPL) was closed for renovation when I was in our nation’s capital at cherry blossom time last spring, but I got a chance to visit the West End Neighborhood Library (WE), one of its 25 branches.


Daffodils were blooming in a wide strip of plants bordering the building and visible to all inside thanks to floor to ceiling plate glass windows.


In the lobby, express internet, self check and the catalog are straight ahead and to the right is a large coffee shop.  The bulletin board and big screen TV display up to date information and a few recommendations are scattered about.

I spoke to two friendly staffers at the circulation desk before looking up to admire Paragons of the West End.


The system’s foundation commissioned Adrienne Gaither for this magnificent piece that runs the length of the raised portion of the interior and calls attention to the high ceiling.

The library is very modern with huge tilted concrete pillars that make an emphatic statement and form geometric patterns.  Vibrant primary colored shelves accent the bright and airy facility.


I ran into Kevin Osborne, who’s in charge of this location, and he mentioned WE had just reopened last December after their renovation.  Among other things, a courtyard for warm weather fun was installed and I was delighted to learn they operated out of the infamous Watergate during construction.


Next to the patio, Children’s has nine computers and a Women’s History Month wall celebrating Sonia Sotomayor, Tina Fey, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo etc.   Another happy moment occurred when I noticed Shirley Chisholm’s face amid the luminaries – my mother campaigned for the congresswoman in the ’72 primary when she was the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination.  Can’t get away from politics in DC 😉


Eye level busy boxes on the ends of the picture book bins and racks keep toddlers entertained while parents look for new titles.  Blond wood slat partitions give the space a crisp, clean look and patterned carpet tiles covers up spills and can be replaced.


Near grape storage cabinets kids have the perfect seat to cozy up with a favorite author and the adjacent long hallway accommodates ample stroller parking.  Petite tables and chairs create a study area by an enormous mural depicting vines twining around two reading tots.  A Garden Party by Nekisha Durrette is courtesy of the DC Public Library Foundation too.


In just one week WE youngsters have several options besides the many storytimes for a variety of ages.  Go to Lego or book club, do crafts, or under two’s and preschoolers can take mini language skills sessions.

Elsewhere there are playgroups and storytimes in Spanish or pajamas or attended by dogs.  At dance parties, wee ones try out various instruments or go to beginning ESL.  Maker! lets youth over six create a different project weekly – mini robots, helicopter games, racing cars, airplanes, films, programming games and more.  At After School Zone, 9-12’s hang out or join in for activities, puzzles, board games… and Girls Who Code occurs during spring break.  YA’s come for Wii Game night, TAG teen advisory group and a Lounge.

DCPL also has an educator card for teachers and homeschooling parents that lets them check out up to a hundred books and audiobooks for nine weeks at a time.


Smaller gatherings use a nearby conference room instead

WE adults have coloring, yoga, anxiety reducing meditation, a film series, literary lectures and discussions, or coffee and conversation.   And the branch has a blog, its own Friends and book sale, retirement planning and author talks.

DCPL offers meet ups for beginning English speakers, tax assistance, PowerPoint I and Publisher Basics.  The job seekers legal clinic counsels on how to overcome barriers to employment or patrons can learn how to work a sewing machine or show your inner thespian at Reader’s Theater.   Tech Talk Tuesdays at the Center for Accessibility lets assistive technology users get together and share information on specific topics and Memoir Writing for Older Adults preserves precious memories.

Back in the adult section, I notice the gigantic beams have metal railings around them so people don’t accidentally walk into the slanting struts as I almost did 🙂


DCPL has an illustrious history.  Conceptualized in 1896 by an act of Congress, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated the money for the first building.  Sitting president Teddy Roosevelt was present when it was dedicated in 1903.

A federal depository, they increase visibility by setting up Library Takeouts at local happenings so residents can get a card and borrow materials immediately at their booth and as a partner of Community Connections, an organization that helps people find housing and avoid homelessness, obtain IDs, apply for benefits etc.


WE has an alcove with a copy and print center, five study rooms, wifi, 24 adult PCs and three Mac stations on long tables by Teen Fiction.  Other branches house the Memory Lab (scanning and digitization equipment), Studio Lab (recording and audiovisual post-production) and a configuration that let families visit D.C. Jail inmates via video.

Online you’ll find staff picks, an array of research guides and a slew of interesting podcasts.  In one, someone reads the first fifty pages to let you know if you should bother.  A second has episodes concentrating on overrated titles and suggested substitutes and there’s a Georgetown Poetry Series.  The website enhances the collection by 15 million items through goDigital movies, eBooks, etc.  Its learning arm, goThink, has tons of resources from music scores to consumer reviews to “InstantFlix” (notable shorts, documentaries and indie cinema) and includes Universal Class, a continuing education module, as well as databases like the Washington Post and New York Times archives from inception to present.


Reference, graphic novels and manga

Facebook features snaps of high profile galas and banner ads for Freegal Music and programs like Senior Speakeasy, Essential Oils, Open Mic Night and Mixtape Monday.  A video shows the Morehouse College’s Glee Club and Quartet preparing to sing and other postings promotes functions like Indoor & Outdoor Entertaining, where an interior decorator and a landscape designer impart their tips and tricks, and Death Cafe (to help make the most of your remaining days on Earth and discuss any concerns about mortality – with refreshments!).

#OnThisDayAtDCPL, a Twitter feed honoring the past, reports in 1905 they had 35,000 cardholders, and circulated about 1,500 books per day but now have 400,000 members taking out about 11,000 things per day and that “The Washington Post reported that eight neighborhood women modeled “the latest in women’s wear” in a fashion show held at the Chevy Chase library on Mar. 23, 1928. More than 200 people attended the event, which also featured orchestra music.”  How cool!  And to cap off Black History Month they were co-hosting a Twitter chat with “Who Is The Black Panther?” author Jesse J. Holland.


Lovely green glow

During the three years it’ll take to upgrade the flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, they’ve opened a small express facility near it that has holds pick up, accessibility and adult literacy centers, some public internet stations and a training lab where most of the computer classes are taught.  Plus, DCPL extended hours and added public desktops at all branches.  You can still see the special collections by appointment.  I didn’t make one, so sadly missed the D.C. Punk Archive (comprised of personal ephemera like zines, photos, flyers, badges, bootlegs, cassettes, tickets and posters donated by fans and insiders).

Once the $208 million revamp is finished, the Mies van der Rohe designed edifice will boast a café and patio, an auditorium, a conference center, new reading room, a terraced roof top event space and spots for music production, fabrication and art creation.


From the WWII Memorial

What a marvelous boon for the congressionally underrepresented citizens of the District of Columbia!

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