Chur (pronounced coor) is in the idyllic “Heidi” country of eastern Switzerland, so the sounds of ringing cowbells echo from the surrounding verdant hillside meadows.
In the heart of the pretty old town, through a vaulted passage, lies Kantonsbibliothek Graubünden (KBG).
The “kanton” in the name should have tipped me off that though open to all, KBG is more like our state libraries and Canton Librarian Petronella Däscher similar to a state librarian. She’s also president of a commission providing guidance and promoting leadership to and cooperation between public bibliotheks in Graubünden and some specific financial support if needed.
Initially part of a government school, KBG has existed since 1883. The inside of this lovely old building has been thoroughly modernized with carpet tiles, potted trees and ample light supplemented by lamp bars over study tables. Chrome, glass and black leather furnishings and vibrant posters set off pristine walls.
I admired one of the few interior reminders of its antique architecture as I looked for the email from Leitung Stv. (Deputy Head) Andri Janett kindly giving me permission to take pictures.
Their three stories begin in the basement. Being down here ensures it’s cool despite the lack of air conditioning.
At circulation, I chatted to friendly and informative Martin.
He works mainly in cataloging and collection development and is only on the desk a couple of hours per week, so I was lucky to encounter him. As usual, I asked about schooling and Martin said you can do a three year apprenticeship after you finish at 16 or complete a three year Bachelor’s course at the university here.
Art exhibitions, garden tours, haiku readings, presentations and lectures are advertised on the big screen by the entry.
KBG has wifi and, including a thousand magazine and newspaper subscriptions, over 400,000 items in the three official canton tongues, German, Italian and Romansh. The website is translated into these languages and the heading “Neuzugänge”, leads to monthly lists by subject of the 9000 units added each year.
The tab for DibiOst, links to downloadable books, audios, videos and databases supplied by a consortium of district libraries. Or access world newspapers alongside Swiss periodicals and digitized historical documents.
The library employs about 24 people, mostly part time, and has a microfiche machine and a scanner near the comics and graphic novels. Thirty Swiss francs (CHF) a year let you borrow books for four weeks and A/V for two. Renew up to five times if not reserved or source your stuff via ILL.
Browse face out movies and music in mobile cases or choose them from spinners and wall mounted baskets. Wire grids, tilted shelves and pegboard stands offer plenty of display opportunities.
Place holds online and give feedback or peruse the monthly newsletter and sign up for the RSS feed. Under a photograph of Benedikt, is an invitation to apply for the annual internship.
Up past the glass elevator I notice a dumbwaiter and conveyor belt by crates waiting to be unpacked.
Tables sporting chess and backgammon sets tempt you to have a game or you could step onto the balcony to relax in the fresh air.
Or explore the Raetica Collection, completing the Graubünden archives (housed on upper tiers here), it carries delicate old prints from before 1800, and manuscripts, books, images, movies, etc. about or made in the canton or written by inhabitants. Other specialties of KBG are regional radio and TV broadcasts, postcards and topographical maps. The Evangelical Synod’s Pastoralbibliothek compiles valuable works produced after Reformation in the sixteenth century. More recent inventory is on the web and available in the media portal.
KBG’s focus on education means an acquisition policy based on scientific quality and allowing textbooks…
…but nothing for the little ones, so passing through cobblestone squares with fountains, statues and outdoor cafes, I strolled a few hundred meters to Bündner Volksbibliothek or Stadtbibliothek Chur (SC), the city library.
More like our public libraries, there’s an outside book sale and lots of popular materials, this institution (and its other facility, which closes in summer) works closely with KBG.
Downstairs is spacious and nicely arranged with divided boxes of Manga and flower branches adorning groups of recommended titles. Padded red armchairs and a warm window seat over a radiator let you read in comfort. Stacks are on wheels for flexibility – the Swiss are so practical!
The Children’s Room was so busy, I couldn’t take any long shots, but it’s sizable and has a wide selection for kids in their three vernaculars.
Decorated by illustrations of beloved literary characters, plush animals and striped throw pillows, the various plants and colorful magazines, CDs, DVDs and picture books also brighten the area.
Behind desks, storytime paraphernalia is neatly stowed in drawers built into the wall. Like Brugge and Punta Arenas, they have kamishibai sessions (meaning paper play, it’s Japanese street theater) and alpine fairy tales. Adults have book talks and author appearances.
The library is a jumble of at least three floors – book lined stairs bring you to the top levels. Up here it resembles a house or a fascinating warren of nooks and alcoves. Dark beams bolster the ceiling while wood framed doorways and short flights of steps take you from one distinct space to the next. I find a tablet for customer use and a vitrine containing a miniature toy store with tiny stuffed teddy bears, hobby horses and drums.
The website has print and A/V suggestions and employee photos plus their thoughts on life and literature. It connects to DibiOst, annual reports, a local school learning platform and prices – yearly privileges starting at 120 CHF for families, 60 for individuals and 40 for juniors under age 26, or pay per item for 3+ CHF (about three dollars). For schools SC gives class tours, lends kits and assists on reading projects.
Facebook announces they’ve got 70,000 items for your pleasure and promotes future films and events. Shots of writer visits, storytelling and rapt audiences, young and old, pepper the page. Bibliotheksfest had activities, puzzles, raffles and prizes for kids and refreshments for everyone and another time youths created a video.
And it said – “Now it’s official: the public library Chur will become an enlarged, more modern and more attractive library in 2018!” – though this is a translation so I can’t confirm it.
Still, if true, it would mean that patrons of Chur have even more to be grateful for.