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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