Just 11 miles from Trieste, nestled in the rolling green hills of tidy southwestern Slovenia, lies the town of Sežana. Once belonging to Austria, they had to hide all Slovenian books while occupied by Italy after World War I. During WWII it was a dangerous spot to be in as natives put up quite a resistance against the Nazis and Fascists. After liberation it became part of Yugoslavia until the country achieved independence in 1991.
We pulled into a tree shaded parking lot for some shops, an intriguing octagonal wedgewood blue bar, and Kosovelova Knjižnica Sežana (KKS), the headquarters for the javna knjižnica (public library) of the four municipalities in the region. Three branches and a portable collection in Senožeče ensure that a library is always accessible.
Magdalena Svetina Terčon, who manages all the locales, kindly offered to give me a tour and we chatted before she showed me around. She spent time in Limerick, Ireland via a cultural exchange and speaks excellent English so I apologize for any mistakes I’ve made. Google can’t seem to translate Slovenian as accurately as it does other languages.
KKS has 12 employees. Ten work as librarians and Magdalena sometimes helps out with customers. They have free wifi and though most citizens must pay for borrowing privileges it’s less than 20 euro for a family for one year. All K-12 students and the unemployed get free membership and seniors just pay half. Of course, if you want to use things in the library it costs nothing.
Like the rest of the facility, her second story office is quite stylish.
And along with three informative multilingual brochures on the topography and sights in the vicinity that she gave me, she keeps some rare materials here. Published in 1689, The Glory of the Duchy of Carmola, a four volume tome by Janez Vajkadd Valvasor is one of the oldest…
…and she even has a tiny version that delights young visitors.
After studying and teaching Slavic languages, Magdalena took the exam that is a requirement of any non clerical or janitorial personnel who work in a Slovenian library and has been the director here for four years.
She writes poetry so has an affinity for Srečko Kosovel, for whom the library is named. Though just 22 when he died in 1926, he wrote more than 500 poems (many unpublished until the 1960’s), and as a voice against forced Italianization and for international socialism is considered a major central European talent of the modern era. His family home and its beautiful garden, Kosovelova domačija, are nearby and are preserved by KKS who organize visits there and published a book of his sister’s recipes.
The Kosovelova Study Room up here has a number of items by and about the poet plus its glass cases contain books, newsletters, articles, postcards, audios, videos and realia from the district for scholars and elementary pupils working on local history projects. Some materials can’t be checked out, but others are lent for up to a week.
The adjacent periodical area is also a good place to study and I love how the rose and white colors of the furniture are used in the magazine and newspaper racks.
This level is mostly for younger patrons and the library is great about involving its audience. A secondary school painted the zone for knjizni moljis (bookworms) age six through fifteen and the comfy couch, red bean bags, chess set and board games are sure to attract them.
All over the glossy tile and marble floors, potted pines and ferns, ficus, philodendrons and further foliage in gorgeous glazed ceramic bowls bring the outdoors inside and pale walls emit a magical glow. Simple touches amuse and engage. A bare branch spray painted black in a silver vase perks up a corner cabinet, and arrays of matted drawings grace both sides of the stairway where a little gnome squats next to plants on the landing.
In Ciciban, for those age nine and under, each year school kids repaint the central pole, imbuing the space with their chosen motif.
The cars on the trolley carry precious picture book cargo and instruments, a dollhouse, stuffed animals, puppets, Legos, and toys encourage the imagination. At the desk, an overgrown daisy and a framed series of illustrations catch the eye.
Kids four and younger come once a week for storytimes and though schools have libraries, kindergartners must read five titles and talk about them, so KKS throws a party where the small set receive a diploma. Since they host at least three class outings a week, the extra room fold down leaves on a big table affords comes in handy.
Colorful hardcovers propped on end panels lure older readers into the stacks and the windows supply lovely views of the bucolic meadows outside or for train obsessed youths, the tracks right below.
Kid’s creations are everywhere – portraits and artwork are pinned to clotheslines and taped to a column in the storytime section where cloth draped bulletin boards and tables are awash in amateur watercolors. A brilliantly hued macaw and brightly colored scenes on cloud shaped backgrounds affixed to the glass panels on a sliding door reveal some major skills. Sandwiched between two hutches, a cardboard castle stands by boxes of soft fabric books and free discards to take home.
A curtain between tall cases topped by peaked roofs turns one part of the room into a stage so the more theatrically minded can invent their own plays.
With 471 events each year, the system’s Facebook page gives an idea of some of the activities available for children. Videos show paper dragons and a pirate ballet and photos depict everyone costumed for Mardi Gras, the snowman tots made at the holiday fairy tale and a beautiful Christmas tree adorned by crocheted snowflakes. Sessions on crafting tiny creatures or reading to dogs or learning about the world under the sea are heavily promoted…
…as are the myriad offerings for adults. A doctor talks about a humanitarian expedition to Papua New Guinea and an author expounds on the customs in a small African village. Residents hear from tornado and UFO experts, dog trainers, dieticians, architects, historians, spiritual gurus, gardeners and firemen or listen to guitarists and flautists, bands, a partisan choir or national poets at the “Merry Day of Culture.” Attend exhibitions from needlework clubs, famous painters and Karst artists (folks often use this geological term to refer to inhabitants) or singing workshops and literary teas. Go to book discussions and launches or offsite programs at the botanical gardens.
Down here, the split personality of KKS’s 11,000 square feet is more apparent. The portion built in 2000 has a modern feel and shelves radiate out from the middle. It’s open and airy and displays dot tables or become portable when affixed to easels on wheels. Whether it’s an arrangement of Srecko’s titles or running books to highlight a popular marathon or an impromptu assemblage of the works of a Dutch writer who was speaking the next day, attractive layouts introduce users to new genres. A push to read Slovenian authors includes a physical compilation and a virtual one on the website.
The furnishings and fixtures have flair. A curved silver sign mirrors your image as it directs you to the various departments. Large rocks hold long wands of postcards the library has designed to celebrate each year. Oversize acrylics mix with Picasso style prints and borrowers can easily find sought after titles as recently returned items are stowed on a black wire cart by circulation.
Near the foyer, alcoves hold numerous articles about the knjižnica or upcoming happenings.
In Media, orange smiley labels separate the children’s DVDs from adult’s and the CD console has plenty of storage in the drawers underneath.
As in Italy, movies for loan are subject to copyright laws, but a large selection of videos are just a year or two old and go out for a week. Books go out for a month and can be renewed.
As well as the novels and nonfiction, KKS has volumes for college students and lots of materials for learning foreign tongues plus literature in English, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Croatian. Some of the 120 periodicals are in English, Italian or Croatian too.
For ILL, they belong to an association of 58 libraries, but if you order out of this group you must pay. Their budget comes from the government ministry and the towns, but they have 7,263 members and can keep those fees and fines.
As we ventured into the old structure, Magdalena told me that Kosovelova Knjižnica Sežana has been in this location since 1948 but this section dates back to 1850 and has charming flourishes. The cheery rust linoleum and wood wainscoting have a retro appeal that’s perfect for Marta’s local history collection – as is the card catalog kept for nostalgia’s sake.
The website has a calendar, annual reports and provides access to e-books and databases searchable from home including the Dictionary of Slovenian Literary Language, EUROPEANA: Think Culture, and mCOBISS – digitized information from more than 400 Slovenian libraries.
Magdalena and her staff have fashioned a wonderfully eclectic place that enriches the lives of their community.