King-Size Krakow

Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie

Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie

While we were in Krakow, Poland in June, visiting our friend Danuta Glondys, Director of the Villa Decius Association, she graciously contacted her colleague, Anna Wiśniewska, from the regional public library, Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie (WBP), who gave us a tour of this splendid facility.

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Anna Wiśniewska p.o. Dyrektora in her office with Danusia

Anna, deputy director here since 1996 except for five years when she was the director, told us that WBP was created in 1945.  Taking up the entire block, it’s an older building which was headquarters for the Austrian Army during World War II.  The four stories contain a hefty 15,000 square meters (161,459 square feet) and it’s just 200 meters from Planty Park, the beautiful green belt that rings the old city center (which is within walking distance).  Accessible by public transport, it’s a great location, which is good as this is the only public library in Krakow.

Out front, large sculptures resembling crumpled paper balls sit on the grass between the edifice and the wrought iron fence fronting it and inside there’s a café in the lobby and a defibrillator in the hallway for emergencies.

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Entrance to the main reading room

We started out on the busy top floor at Czytelnia Główna (main reading room) where a huge checkout desk is lit by natural light from slanted attic windows.  There’s ample space for customers as this building has 400 seats and 40 computers with Microsoft Office.  They have wifi and all the tables have electrical outlets for recharging laptops.  Blond wood furniture and plush red chairs provide a comfortable place to read or do research and though you can now search for all items online they’ve kept the old card catalog which reminds us of how complicated it used to be to find what you need.

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My husband Michael in the stacks

WBP has 500,000 items, plus the Malopolska Digital Library containing 80,000 digitized documents about the history and cultural heritage of the area.  They use the Universal Decimal Classification, security tags and gates and people can freely peruse all the collections.

With books, music, audiobooks, CD Roms, and documentary and classic films (some are 16mm), residents have a plethora of choices and can also access online databases, some the library subscribes to and others they create.  If city dwellers need anything else, interlibrary loan is available.

Like Anna, the younger reference librarians have MLS degrees.

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Reference Librarians at your service

Patrons can reserve books and pick them up the next day if they are not checked out
and anyone living in Poland can get a card here, even foreigners and the homeless.
Magazines, e-readers and media can be borrowed for two weeks while other materials go out for a month.  Depending on the format and department, they’ll loan between three to five things and most items can be renewed three times.

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The corridors give you an idea of the length of this enormous place

Nicely appointed with brass fixtures cradling globe lamps and plants adding a splash of green, pretty touches abound like a flowered cloisonné glass table and a black and fuchsia stand sporting tiny pamphlets on local attractions.

Paintings are everywhere, some with scenes of Polish peasants or typical country houses.  There’s an exhibition room with winners from an important Polish photojournalism contest and the long hallways on each floor provide further room to show off artwork.

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One of the dazzling walls painted by students from the Pedagogical University of Krakow

The library has an office for people in their “third age” (School for Active Senior Citizens),
a compilation of literature where the text is as beautiful as the words, a foreign language collection, music section, art library, a Business Information Center and they are slowly digitizing materials so people can view them from home (currently there are 1500 titles).
WBP also oversees local libraries in the Malopolska area around Krakow and helps with training their staffers and organizing book clubs for all ages across the region.

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Elżbieta with a Braille map of the Americas

Elżbieta Sawicka is in charge of the Braille Room for visually challenged people.  There are a number of offerings, from Braille books and older recordings on cassette to newer audiobooks on CD.  Volumes of Braille pictures let you feel the images and raised maps of Krakow and in atlases allow sensitive fingers to explore the city and the world.  Films here have audio descriptions since it can be hard to tell what’s happening when there’s no dialogue.

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Section for adolescents

The Division for Youth has graphic novels and a presentation of great origami bugs fabricated at a workshop for older kids.

This structure has four separate spaces seating between 30 and 100 people that can be rented for a nominal fee and laptop projectors and screens can be provided.  One conference room even has simultaneous translation capabilities.

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One of many stunning displays from local artisans

Computer training for seniors, photography workshops for young people and WBP hosted soirées and literary contests, often in conjunction with other organizations, are just a few of the library programs.  There’s the Malopolska Region Reading Out Loud Contest, Książka za książkę, (where people with a used book to hand in can get a discount coupon to buy a new one), and they run Strefa Bibliopatów which allows participants to swap books.  In another program, volunteers from Spain, Italy and Germany promote their cultures and teach their native languages and also helped seniors learn English.

A long term project “Generations – Creations.  Art in the dialogue of generations”, lets orphans and older folks enjoy activities together.  Forgotten Books introduces youngsters to treasured tomes and among many other activities, has sessions where each age group talks about why materials produced by their generation are worthwhile.

This year, WBP is honoring Nobelist Czeslaw Milosz with unique celebrations at various locations like “Five o’clock Miłosz” a poetry reading tea party and “Miłoszowskie Bugle Calls” where his work will be read out loud for fifteen minutes from the library windows by staff every day at noon. There’s even a Milosz scavenger hunt planned.

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Children’s Room

The vibrant Department for Children (DC) is equipped with low shelves, colorful sturdy stools, storytime mats, an easel for budding artists and wicker baskets of flowers by the radiator.  A firetruck, toys stowed in practical rubber bins, a shelf housing board games and stuffed animals in a cloth dragon that’s reminiscent of the fire breathing one in the royal castle’s dungeon give kids plenty of playtime options.  Framed children’s pictures brighten the walls and the space is decorated with a rocking horse, wood toucan and duck mobiles and a hopscotch mat.  A pegboard holds reading suggestions while a smiling tiger trash can below encourages tots to be tidy.

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The table shows children’s clay creations from Pracownia

A couple of months ago children attended Pracownia, a pottery workshop, and DC has competitions and animation, creative writing and theater programs and one where kids are encouraged to illustrate their own books.  Reading events may feature athletes or children’s authors and artists.

DC has many children’s storytimes and two technology stations with educational software teaching reading, writing and math.  There are displays from the physically challenged children’s week and youths did a wonderful painting in here of Krakow legends.

I loved the tree of opinions – young people write reviews of books they read and collaborate with publishers who give awards for the best review.

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Opinion Tree

Arteka, a magnificent, award-winning glass and steel structure that holds the arts part of the library opened across the street in the Małopolska Garden of Arts in 2013.  Its holdings include DVDs, CDs, board games, audiobooks and art related periodicals in print and digital form as well as the Malopolska Comics Studies’ collection and there are plans to build a digital archive of street art.  Patrons can search Theatre and Dance In Video databases here or use one of the 34 touch screens computers, five tablets or 30 e-book readers (another 30 can be checked out).

This spanking new building has a theater, mirrored and chrome talking elevators and in front of an upholstered couch and floor cushions, a big screen to watch films or TV.  PC’s are loaded with a multitude of special software for graphic design and creating and editing music.  There’s a Blu-ray player, a digital piano and a clock shaped like an old LP labeled Spinning Time.  Just outside eye-catching graffiti adorns the cement walls surrounding a garden filled with geometric shaped benches, deck chairs and white patio furniture.

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Media display in Arteka

WBP’s website has lots of pictures from events like their annual Krakow Festival of Comics, and the Scream Festival.  An Ask a Librarian email service lets questions be answered remotely and there are user surveys for both buildings.

The facebook page is plastered with photos, including some of the very interesting costumes worn at GRART, a festival for those who enjoy role playing games.  Subjects for posts range from current events like the World Cup, Senioralia (the great feast of seniors) and a recent impromptu fire drill to announcements of local happenings and new acquisitions.

What a great resource for this charming and picturesque metropolis!

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Wawel Castle across the Wisła River lit up for Wianki, the festival of wreaths

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4 Responses to King-Size Krakow

  1. Patricia Hassan says:

    What a progressive library! They seem to think of – and address – every need individuals may have. Marveling that this building was a military headquarters during WWII – who could have imagined it would become a public library!

  2. jshaffner says:

    They did a good job repurposing it!

  3. Martha says:

    Wow, there’s a lot going on there!

  4. martha c says:

    The Danforth Museum meets the public library. Nice to see they value the arts and literature .

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