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