Nestled in the heavily treed hills of the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, Český Krumlov (pronounced ˈtʃɛskiː ˈkrumlof, or to my ear, chesky kroomlov) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site three hours from Vienna on mostly tiny roads. Despite a population of barely 13,000, drawn by the fairytale appearance of an aqueduct shaped fortress, cobbled pedestrian-only streets, magnificent castle gardens reminiscent of Versailles’, and countless and constant elevation changes, nearly a million sightseers flood the small community each year.
Because the town truly does cherish its heritage, and the incredible building occupied since 1991 by the Městská knihovna v Českém Krumlově (or MKCK – translates to Municipal library in Český Krumlov) is a great example of its preservation of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque beauty.
The library entrance is adjacent to kostel svatého Víta, the Catholic church that owns the 14th century structure. Formerly a prelate’s residence, it surrounds a central courtyard and the ground level is studded in nooks housing stone saints.
Started in 1879 by the table society “Křen” (inexplicably this means horseradish), MKCK was founded in a pub by patriots interested in propagating all things Czech, especially literature. The first books were locked in a chest under the care of the inn keeper. Deemed a library in 1921, it competed for funding with a rival German speaking organization until after WWII. In 1959 it received responsibility for the district and took over the task of assisting smaller libraries. The process of computerization began in 1992 and the internet came in 1998.
In the lobby, notices in Plexiglas and free standing bulletin boards keep the populace apprised of happenings.
At the main desk, I am greeted warmly by Hana (seated) and Gabriela who tell me Mgr. Martin Nechvíle is expecting me. While waiting, I glance around appreciating the contrast between dark oak beams overhead and colorful modern furnishings and fixtures.
A corner resembles a parlor. A blue sectional has throw pillows, a fluffy matching carpet and an oblong coffee table. Potted ferns, philodendrons and window boxes add touches of greenery.
Tots waiting for parents on pint sized red and yellow seats have puzzles, toys, crayons and a case of games and picture books for amusements.
Martin is charming and after gifting me a tote bag and pin takes me on a tour. MKCK has wifi and eight public computers that are free to users and for the first half hour, to visitors. Classes are offered on using the internet and the e-resources and Excel, Word and Power Point.
Two other locations serve Český Krumlov, but this is the biggest. Annual cards are free to personnel, under sixes and over seventies and 140 koruna (@ $6.50) for adults or institutions (e.g. daycares) or 70 CZK for children. They have CDs, audiobooks, ebooks and ILL. Borrow ten items – books and games are lent for a month, magazines two weeks and you can reserve materials and renew via email, online, in person or phone.
Martin has been director here for three years and as we pass a ledge displaying recommendations below this lovely scene, I realize his archaeology degree is appropriate considering the treasures and relics and that they’ll celebrate the 140th anniversary in 2019.
The website has English and German versions and links to popular and new titles, read aloud books for infants and toddlers, the calendar, bibliotherapy and area news highlighting lots of cooperation between the country’s facilities. Details of tasks and training provided to knihovny in the vicinity and prices for hiring their elegant halls are posted as well as annual reports and a plethora of pictures from field trips exploring the village’s remarkable architecture, game tournaments, art workshops, author events, creative writing courses, music and dance performances and documentary films presentations.
Databases put a Czech bibliography at your fingertips, plus archives, the national union catalog, Šumava (nearby forests roamed by Celts) and world literature, and dozens of Czech classics for free download as ebooks or audiobooks.
Behind this pleasant spot, the floor becomes a balcony and short stacks abut the railing overlooking a lower level with projection equipment that doubles as a screening or meeting room. Stairs lead down to this collection and terminals have orange hedgehog mice and upholstered high backed seats.
MKCK puts on photography exhibits, travel talks, lectures from experts on topics like healthy eating, being a police detective, fashion and techniques to improve your memory. They have book clubs, a presence at festivals and do guided tours for St. Wenceslas Night. Just scrolling through Facebook gives evidence of how they help the community’s well-being. Thousands of shots of happy customers of all ages attest that a rip-roaring good time will be had at library sponsored affairs.
We move towards Periodicals where 118 magazine and newspaper subscriptions fit tidily in slots divided by clear plastic…
… and meet Jarka by books on UNESCO attractions worldwide and Šumava and local history volumes. I chuckle when I see, next to a euphoric euphorbia, sweet clay angels made by tiny hands watching from high atop a console.
Martin mentioned they have a budget of 7,000,000 CZK and eleven employees here. Since the building is so old, alterations need permission, so the steps are difficult for seniors or patrons carrying prams but eventually an elevator will be installed.
We see his office which has a striped couch and chairs perfect for staff conferences.
Then passing a huge glossy glass and teak credenza we reach Children’s.
It’s got a stuffed dog to sit on, mobiles, cushy mini benches and cubes adorned with playful dinosaurs that stow neatly into a table of suggestions. Adolescent artwork and a racetrack rug alongside crates of board books, face out shelving on white wire racks and cutout kittens are all graced by views of the turrets and steeples of Old Town.
Kids play instruments at recitals, join in for crafts, Halloween activities and drawing dragons or enjoy puppet and talent shows. They can read to earn money to be donated to a chosen charity and the fantasy, sci-fi and horror BOoK! Con has a short story writing competition and a contest for those up to age 15 to paint or pen a piece about animals.
Online, educators have 33 different programs options that people involved with youngsters can order for their wards to attend during the school year. Topics cover finding information, net safety, cyber bullying, holiday traditions around the world, Christmas fairy tales, ghost stories, comics, sing-alongs, nonsense poetry, the insect empire, opera and the fate of Jewish youth during WWII.
Visible to the left of this arrangement in black and white, a long table is lit by hanging globes and sun streaming in through sheer curtains. In September they have sessions for parents on leave for their new infants. Giving valuable instruction on working from home, starting a company, advanced MS Office, photo editing, website construction and improving computer skills and CVs…, it even offers daycare (the announcement on Facebook was accompanied by a solicitation for babysitters)!
In an alcove just off the learning zone, a mini kitchen seems humbled by the crystal chandelier swinging from the heart of an ornate buttressed dome above.
We are entering the original part of the complex and everywhere the marvelous touches of yore delight. The arches, stained glass in rock niches and carved doors are striking and what has dimmed with age is being restored.
On the left above the glowing leather chesterfield, a mural from the 14th century is being painstakingly uncovered.
Monks made beer here and the edifice’s religious past is evident in the frescoes lining our path.
As we wander the corridors, Martin unlocking and locking doors, I gape at the exquisite antiques…
…and the splendid ceilings, until we arrive at the pièce de résistance.
The library lives in about 900 square meters not including the 1400 square meters in the older premises used for concerts and events or rented out for weddings and gatherings. Though fees earned are retained, energy costs are expensive.
Almost hidden among the rococo motifs, Martin points out an extraordinary 1765 fireplace fringed in lustrous wood topped by a prancing troubadour and costumed eighteenth century figures shadowed for a three dimensional look. Beyond, a large dining chamber with white linen and bent ebony seats welcomes hungry guests. A phenomenal venue for a ceremony!
Nearing the end, we come to the gallery (which can also be leased) in the cool confines of the cellar.
I had met local artist Eva Karmazínová previously as I first came during the lunch hour. Set off by stark plaster walls and softly lit by tall lamps, the fantastic sculptures and oils, portraits and nudes propped on waist high blocks and attached to black grids were produced by her. She said she is very glad to have this studio.
Sweeping vistas on several sides complete the wonder that is Městská knihovna v Českém Krumlově.
What a magical place. Everyone was very nice and friendly and how kind of Martin to reveal all the amazing spaces in the compound. The citizens of this adorable destination are indeed lucky to have access to such an enchanting cultural center.