Chuffed about Chur’s Libraries

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.


Perhaps original to the structure?

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.


Martin Leuenberger, Katalog (Verbundkoordination)

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  Or access world newspapers alongside Swiss periodicals and digitized historical documents.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.


Benedikt’s last week

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.


Leaning over the railing I watched the activity below

KBG’s focus on education means an acquisition policy based on scientific quality and allowing textbooks…


Wonderful views of mountain villages perched high above the crystal clear Rhine

…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.


Painting above appears to be an axe wielding man leading a flower crowned cow to slaughter!

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.


At checkout, Stefania greeted me warmly and was very helpful, though camera shy

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.


Love this curved staircase, but the catwalk is for staff only

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.


The attic’s layout is like a maze

Still, if true, it would mean that patrons of Chur have even more to be grateful for.

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Inspiring Innsbruck

I got a taste of this pretty Austrian metropolis many years ago, a few years after their 1976 Winter Olympics.  Bigger now, it retains its charm.  A short walk from the pastel houses lining the sparkling Inn River I came to the Stadtbücherei Innsbruck (SI).


Behind a facade of stately structures, tucked into an ivy smothered cobbled courtyard with a little playground and covered bike racks, lies the sheltered entryway.  Taking advantage of the brush rug protecting the marble lobby tiles from shoe grit, I perused posters of district happenings before meeting Dr. Markus Jäger, who spoke perfect English (as usual, all translation errors are mine).



Markus studied political science and has a PhD in American Literature and Culture and has been here five years.  He worked at SI as a student and oversees children’s and teen books, much of the social media presence, public relations and group visits.  The latter are often set up by Sonja Unterpertinger, who, though employed by the Tyrol, has an office here running Servicestelle für Lesepädagogik encouraging reading in youngsters using outreach to schools, workshops and Markus’s introductory tours.


Atrium style roof

The interior is stunning.  Geometric walls and ceiling set off the cushy overstuffed sofas and armchairs by classic forest green lamps.

SI is under the cultural branch of city government, has 6000 members and costs 19 euro per year, but a family card is 23€ and kids and the retired pay eight.  Everyone can checkout up to twenty items (books go out for three weeks and audiovisual (magazines, CD Roms, audio books, DVDs, games, music CDs) for a week), reserve for less than a euro and renew.

This area of Austria has some very small libraries organized by town churches but independent of this stadtbücherei.  The unified catalog has their holdings and via Innsbook, users can borrow at any location and return to the same institution.


Children’s is for 11 and under but similar cabinets sporting purple instead of yellow at the bottom indicate fantasy and other YA materials

As we headed into Youth, Markus told me they lend a wide choice of board games but PC ones were abandoned as everyone gets them from the internet now.

Stacked primary hued boxes hold picture books and make for flexibility in presentation and odd angular seats promise parents a padded perch.  A perfectly positioned skylight illuminates the stage.


For daytime performances, there’s a natural spotlight

Tuesdays to Fridays mean school tours and storytimes, all done before the ten a.m. opening.

English, French, Turkish, Russian, Spanish, Italian, and Serbo-Croatian titles spark curiosity about our wide world.  Adults can choose from these tongues and I spotted German as a second language and Farsi too.  Europeans are close to so many destinations that their huge travel book section has overhead signs directing you to Africa and the Americas, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe etc.


Drink coffee anywhere

Movies and music are easily browsed in carts on wheels.  Lacking a meeting area, the omnipresent mobile shelving is handy for evening events as it can be shoved around to create all kinds of spaces.  The portable stacks are used all over and in Kid’s they have an accordion room divider as well.

IMG_5816Crime fiction is their biggest seller so there are recommendations stands by the door.  Online, SI has a journal database and offers e-books and e-audiobooks but evidently in this country, publishers can prevent electronic sales to libraries, even though the Austrian Library Association does pay royalties to authors.

Display subjects range from running to Kafka to International Women’s Day to sustainability to LGBTQ topics.


Glass elevator

I see interesting touches everywhere like sleek chrome support columns and coat racks.  Four internet computers arranged in a pod and one for word processing are for cardholders – show yours at the desk and you’ll get the keyboard, or a wifi password.

The website has snaps of all personnel and describes their roles.  Additionally it links to Seitenwechsel (Page Break to us) the twice yearly newsletter, annual reports and Sommerleseclub, the adolescent summer reading initiative.

Facebook has promotions for Innsbruck Reads (a yearly project where they give out 10,000 copies of the selected novel for free) and for new magazines and titles, a prose festival, contests and “Bloody Valentine”, a crime author talk.  Studded with quotes about libraries, votes on boys’ and girls’ favorites, photos of people enjoying lectures or a good book, new interns and hires, staff posing in an array of T-shirts for World Book Day, foreign colleagues and readings from local writers (often sponsored by corporations), it’s very active.


Kathrin Mader-Walch (former Head of the City Library – she just retired)

We chatted for a bit to Christina Krenmayr (in June, she was in charge of the digital end of things, but now she’s the new Head) .  She has a Mag.a – an Austrian master’s degree.  It is possible to get a master’s in information science, but to join the team you need the equivalent of a high school diploma plus twice a year you’ll spend a paid week in Salzburg for continuing education.  Also, you must do a library course with a final presentation.

Markus’s presentation was a model for a new library (and one will be completed next year).  A big part of its premise was that a public library is a mirror for diversity – he mentioned the collection only had Catholic volumes in the seventies and early eighties, but now carries all religions.


Magazines overlooking the green bushes of the garden

Select from periodicals in English, French and Italian as well as all the German newspapers.

Markus mentioned it’s a very social venue to come and read or meet friends.  Noise is acceptable as people should feel welcome.  They have an educational function and strive to reflect the needs and wishes of inhabitants.

IMG_5823A few thousand refugees call this region home.  Many come to study German and they can checkout two items.  Markus co-organizes wer bist du?  (Who are you?), a series allowing students to learn about the cultures of representatives from different nations and the advantages of diversity.  It’s also designed to welcome the newcomers and ease integration.

Programs include games afternoons, readings, poetry slams and storytelling for adults.


Cool stairs draw your eyes up

The second floor is teen and adult nonfiction but it gets awfully hot in summer because of all the glass.  Low shelves of coffee table tomes ensure natural light is plentiful, not just from the panes above.

IMG_5850The ends of tall steel and wood cases have tilted ledges for suggestions and a conference table seats eight.

IMG_5847As attractive as it is, SI has been in this building for eighteen years and it’s much too small – about 590 square meters (6350′ square) for patrons and 100 for offices and technical support.  Austrian library standards are two units per resident, but they’re physically confined to 55,000 for a population of over 130,000.  The city approved the future stadtbücherei three years ago.  At the entrance to the aldstadt, by a popular shopping mall and public transport, it will be at the base of the new cultural center with some local archives and the Andechs gallery and will be quadruple the size and more modern, e.g. self check…


Posted photo of home in 2018 (courtesy of SI)  – plans are available to examine

There’ll be study rooms and an event hall (so staff can stop shifting furniture).  New hires will supplement the team of eleven working Monday to Friday plus the three on Saturday.


Mountain views from our nearby hotel

What a wonderful place and after moving into the new digs, they’ll be even better equipped to fulfill the Stadtbücherei Innsbruck’s Leitbild (motto) envisioning a “city library for all” that embraces their multilingual community.

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Serene Sežana

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.

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What a great slogan! genij=duh+razum means Genius=Spirit of Mind

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.

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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.


Conference table

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Most people have a device so the seven public computers are sufficient

…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.

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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.


The original entrance before the addition

Magdalena and her staff have fashioned a wonderfully eclectic place that enriches the lives of their community.

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Tremendous Trieste


Bordered by Croatia to the south and Slovenia to the east, Trieste, Italy clings to the lower reaches of a karst plateau.  Flanking a cobbled walk and reached by either steep streets or staircases Biblioteca Comunale Quarantotti Gambini’s (BCQG) locale is typical of this tranquil metropolis on the Adriatic where the maze of narrow, crooked byways in the città vecchia (old town) lead down to attractive pedestrian areas and vast piazzas.

I passed through here 37 years ago and was so taken with its peaceful and statuesque demeanor I had to return.


Fama, Carmela and Clio

Director Carmela Apuzza graciously gave me a tour, despite my knowing no Italian (and I apologize in advance for any mistakes I’ve made due to my translations or misunderstandings).  We chatted a bit with Fama at the front desk who had a great grasp of English, and helped Carmela and I communicate.

The library is on one level, but conveniently, the space for adults is across the road, so noise is not an issue for older patrons.


Heading into an area for the tiny tots I was charmed by the glowing blond wood and sturdy furniture, especially the choo-choo train full of board books wending its way about the room.  Primary hues cover crates and hassocks and accent bins and shelves raised from the floor for easy cleaning.  A wall full of cross stitch panels crafted by youngsters catches my eye as does the nautical motif in the storytime nook (after all this is a large port).


Antonella Farina beams as she proudly shows me around her lair, but I made her sit for a snap of her desk loaded with toys and stuffed animals guaranteed to intrigue bimbos (I was delighted when my Italian sister in-law informed me years ago that this word means babies).


Antonella Farina’s charges are six and under

Nati per Leggere (Born to Read) is the slogan for the big push for early literacy and BCQG hosts many fun activities surrounding this issue, often incorporating music or games.


Hang your coat from little alligators, elephants and parrots

As evinced by the cloakroom, everything in this section is sized for toddlers so displays and picture books are within easy reach, even for the not quite ambulatory.


Just outside is an enormous patio where staff often hold affairs.  Enjoy expansive views of the red roofs and surrounding ranges as you stroll among trees, shrubs and oversize planters.


Nearby, older youths have a large assortment of colorful titles to choose from and four internet stations (some filtered) plus two computers for schoolwork, listening to music or watching videos.  Kids have book clubs, outings at nearby seaside resorts, concerts, Easter egg hunts, programs like Magic Snack and Confetti in a Jar, lectures on the environment and the importance of vegetables 😉 and cultural seminars like Shoah Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A video on the busy Facebook page shows everyone joyfully celebrating Carnevale at Plaza Unita.  Elaborate costumes, the pastel swirl of ethnic dancers’ skirts and general revelry accompany the library’s literary themed float decorated in Sendak characters and gigantic tomes.  Regional announcements and lots of photos pepper the site.  Mother’s Day in a park pictures rapt children on a blanket listening, shots portray quiet moments of parents engaging offspring.  After a party and delicious desserts, volunteers and employees smile over a big success, then cheerfully dance around with brooms cleaning up.  At a vaccination clinic BCQG cleverly brought books to distract kids from a fear of inoculations and there’s a movie of a rep from the Romanian community (recent donors of native language items) speaking about their way of life.


Note the neat dioramas right above the PCs

Helping under 19’s enjoy reading is a high priority and the biblioteca involves the whole city – professors, teachers and schools, professionals, parents and caretakers – in the materials selection process through a series of meetings on quality reading and format free literacy.  Attendees can discuss and share their favorites.

Lending collections go to schools and community centers, class visits are frequent (students even blog about the experience) and teachers have double borrowing privileges.  Also, Trieste partners with 362 Italian cities in a countrywide project Centro per il Libro e la Lettura connecting state and local institutions, associations, bookstores, and other invested parties in the effort to provide access to reading via usual channels as well as at festivals and events and during Maggio Dei Libri (May Book Month).


At another branch, teens and young adults attend lessons on comics, graphic arts, design, and fashion, and there are interactive digital logic labs and author talks.  All age happenings present the traditions and customs of various groups and the series A World of Stories has representatives of all the populated continents with sessions on New Zealand, Europe, Hebraic culture, Cuba, etc.

The library has bilingual titles and storytimes and Italian-Slovenian and Italian-English functions.  Books come in English, Russian, Portuguese, French and Spanish.  They have some adult Arabic volumes and a number of children’s Arabic books.  And many classics come in Italian and the original tongue.


Language study scaffale

Italy has taken more than its fair share of refugees, and BCQG welcomes them with free Italian courses for foreigners.  On May 25th they have a graduation party outside.

As we headed over to the other part of the library, Carmela points out the three flags for Trieste, Italy and the European Union by the entrance.  Italy celebrates its EU partnerships, and I’d already spotted an EU map with money, flags and points of interest for all the participating countries.


The Adult Area is a few steps away

It seems that public libraries have always been important (and political and nationalistic) here.  Beginning in 1861 Slovenes promoted nationalism with “citalnice” (reading cabinets) run by volunteers.  They later established libraries that closed during WWI but when they tried to reopen the Fascists objected.  There were violent clashes and in 1927 a decree closed all Slovenian institutions in Italy.  Only a fraction of their heritage was saved.

Meanwhile, the Minerva Society opened Via degli Artisti, (the Society for People’s Reading) in 1869.  In 1910, after 41 years it ceded its charge to the public foundation, Popular Municipal Library of Trieste, which, under various names, had had a reading room since 1901.  Though briefly closed during World War 1 and again in 1918 while governance was in flux between Austria and Italy, it reopened in 1921.  Six additional sites debuted in 1924 as public literacy skyrocketed.  Politics reared its ugly head in 1926 when some bibliotecas were closed due to the belief that they weren’t spreading a strong Italian national feeling among the populace.  But in the fifties the newly formed National Reading Service revived many of the libraries closed due to fascism and opened new locales all over – one in a school had 15,000 volumes and there was even one at the jail.  Closures and new locations followed, but in 1998, BCQG arrived then moved to this location in 2008.  Whew, quite a turbulent and tenacious history!

This biblioteca was named in honor of Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini, an Italian novelist,

IMG_5471journalist and poet who was the director of Biblioteca Civica “Attilio Hortis” (the most important library in Trieste) during World War II (1943-46) and the recipient of the Bagutta Prize (and a handsome man as can be seen, despite the glare from my awful photo).

This side has the same Italian flair – soft lighting, neon walls, bright red carts and those funky orange, black and yellow chairs.  But here brushed chrome pamphlet racks and stacks complement the gleaming gray floors.


Bratislav in media

Carmela introduced me to Bratislav whose excellent English helped me discover more about BCQG and about information science education in Italy.  Carmela has a degree in literature then took classes specifically for libraries.  Each year she takes continuing education courses to update her skills.  Typical for libraries worldwide, there are never enough funds to buy as much as desired, but each year she gets a budget from the city which she spends on recommendations and giving the public the materials and services they want and need.

BCQG has 28,000 items, organized by Dewey Decimal Classification all in the online catalog and in the national one.  Services are free to EU members and anyone can use things while in the library.  They have a meeting room for 30 people, reference help, ILL, large type and audiobooks (some specifically for the visually challenged are labeled in Braille).  Reserves are placed by phone or email and a diplomatic archive and two smaller locations are in the vicinity.

Once a small publisher, Carmela kindly gave me BCQG’s treasury of local kid’s stories and the hardcover Raccontami Chi Ero, an assortment of myths and legends told by artists from all over the globe (Colombia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Greece, Angola, Kurdistan, Burkina Faso, the Albania Rom…).


There’s air conditioning and as long as no one is waiting you can use one of four internet stations for up to four hours per day (one hour at a time), though most customers hook up to the free wifi on their own devices.

Provided in conjunction with the Stelio Crise State Library, the MediaLibraryOnLine allows users to borrow e-books, stream video or download language and e-learning courses, audiobooks, music and video games.  Searchable databases, historic documents and online encyclopedias have over 1,700 newspapers and magazines, mainly in Italian.  Besides Facebook, BCQG has an RSS feed and Twitter and YouTube accounts.


New stuff

According to the copyright law Italy follows, the latest DVD cannot be borrowed
until 18 months after the first edition is issued, but there are many appealing recent acquisitions, you just have to be a little patient 😉

Offerings for adults include musical cabarets and book talks – one on Elements of Vedic Cosmology comes complete with a pianist, flautist and a scarf swathed dancer demonstrating the sacred dance of Isis.  Exhibitions showcase female writers and films featuring actresses, or highlight a special day like Nowruz (New Year) …”to all our friends from Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan…”

The 21st of March is dedicated to so many things – elimination of racial discrimination, forestry, poetry, Down syndrome… – that they couldn’t choose, so created a case that honors all of these!


View of Trieste and nearby mountains from Castello di San Giusto

Residents of this corner of Italy are lucky indeed to have such a marvelous team working for them!

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Debonair Deshaies

Butterfly shaped Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands has close to half a million people and is the biggest EU territory in North America.  An “overseas region and department of France” they speak French and Antillean Creole and offer a fascinating mélange of two cultures.


From the mercifully dry Trace du Nord Basse-Terre

We stayed near Deshaies on the western wing where spectacular beaches fringe the shore and inland, the rainforest and an active volcano define the mountainous topography.

Torturously twisted roads cling to the coast turning short distances into long drives, so luckily Guadeloupe has around six public libraries spread across the island and the bibliothèque municipal de Deshaies (BMD), was just 4 kilometers away.


A blue sign downtown on the main drag announced the library, an intriguing two story structure with three facades of floor to ceiling windows topped by setting suns.  Walking passed this solemn statue and an aquamarine spiral fire escape, I admired the lush tropical trees and bushes and the radiant blooms spilling out of a wood plank flowerbed surrounding a tall palm.  Big burrowing crabs scurried back into their holes as the roosters and I made our way through the parking lot to the entry in back.

A tiled tier took me into the building where I was greeted by three staffers at the circulation desk.


As you’d expect, none of them spoke English and I must confess that my college French has suffered while learning Spanish for the last eleven years.  Since the dialect here is liberally spiced with Creole, my comprehension was negligible and speaking the language got me nowhere, so much of this post is speculation.  I’m not even sure that all three women work at BMD, though there was one computer downstairs and two upstairs…


Pour les enfants

I can confirm they have air conditioning (a must to protect books from humidity) and a storytime twice a month.  The village’s Facebook page includes invitations to BMD activities like Parents Café where you can chat with a psychologist about giving your child the tools to succeed in school.


Journaux pour les jeunes

Unfortunately other programs on FB having to do with youth and sports and games and animation are evidently too much for Google’s translator, but they sound like a lot of fun.

Along with the books arranged on spiffy red and yellow wire racks, kids’ have a selection of comics and graphic novels to choose from.IMG_5181

It’s a cheery space, with lots of light and everything has a French West Indies flair.  Birds of paradise sprout from an upended log under a straw hat and orchid loaded branches adorn the many fuchsia and yellow posterboards honoring des femmes Caribeennes and other female role models.


Little driftwood easels and a music stand are original ways to highlight recommended titles.

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, waving fronds filled my field of vision.


I didn’t find any evidence of wifi or public computers up here, and the websites for all of the Guadeloupe public libraries are quite brief, but it’s possible that at least some residents have access to digital resources through LAMECA, which is headquartered in the capitol and has downloadable books, movies and music for its subscribers as well as Caribbean themed dossiers, articles, exhibitions and images.


Adult section

A large room with a piano, stacked seating, and a screen provide a great place for town happenings.  Facebook mentioned a talk by a local historian and coaching and information sessions on topics like property taxes and your health.


A cozy alcove beckons readers…


…and has a great view of the harbor, as do the porthole windows scattered about.


In the reference area, you can browse a number of volumes on the region’s history.


And vertical venetian blinds help the HVAC keep things cool.

Despite the lack of audiovisual materials at BMD, other public libraries on the island seem to carry CDs, CD Roms and DVDs as their names include the word “médiathéque” and at least one of the websites gives loan limits for AV items. Unfortunately, my initial, admittedly cursory, search led me to concentrate my efforts on a bigger institution, but I was never able to get permission to take photographs there from the top brass 😦


Back outside the front door I noticed a tent set up for an upcoming annual event.  The Terra Festival is a competition in conjunction with the national park that celebrates cinema and the ecosystem – there are categories for long and short films and a “minute for the environment” as well.

IMG_5310Libraries and the natural world are inextricably linked in this magical land.

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Handsome Hilton Head

Though just 45 minutes from downtown Savannah, the drive passed romantic stretches of Spanish moss draped trees and marshy South Carolina Lowcountry brings you to a different world.  You probably know the island as a golf mecca with beautiful beaches, but despite all the new construction, nature is thriving.  Bike trails run along vast swampy tracts of abundant foliage…


Yikes!  Luckily we didn’t encounter any voracious reptiles

…and the Hilton Head Island Public Library (HH) sits on a nicely forested campus.  Circling bronze statues of petite readers, a drive leads to the landscaped entryway of the tasteful one story brick facility.  Covered by peaked green metal roofs, it’s quite big – 26,900 square feet on one level.  Behind varnished teak and aquamarine wrought iron benches, azalea bushes add color along the portico.


The large tiled lobby is loaded with area information on sandwich boards, wire racks and easels.  A double sided mahogany vitrine shows off an array of miniature ceramic cottages and affords a tantalizing glimpse into Children’s as you sit on a polished granite slab taking in the geometric designs leading up to the glowing wood slats of the raised ceiling.


Bernie and Sue, Friends and friends

Across the hall, spilling from its confines, the Friends’ Shop sells audios, videos, kid’s materials, paperbacks and hardcovers.  One of the many Friends of the Hilton Head Library contributions is a film series and I was delighted to see they were airing the wonderful Arsenic and Old Lace along with newer movies like Sully.

HH has a number of programs and several book groups (one for seniors).  Meditation Mondays, a legal clinic, Introduction to iPhone, software and internet classes, yoga,   Spanish-Language Library Orientation, a flute concert and talks on local history and preservation or on what it’s like to hike the entire 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail are just a sampling.


Down a corridor resembling a gallery, the large meeting room seats 140.  For more intimate occasions, the small conference room has a capacity of 25 and sectionals can be arranged to create a long table surrounded by snazzy purple wheelie chairs.  They also have four little study enclosures each outfitted with a computer.

HH is one of five locations of Beaufort County Library (BCL).  The system has a foundation and a wide variety of community partners allows them to maximize services.  Two of the branches have media labs and in May a new bookmobile starts its route.


Inside, by the oak planters flanking security gates, there’s a handy wheelchair and walker.  Natural light from high panes floods the interior and to the right is an elegant circulation desk, spiffy checkout terminal and holds self pickup for their 116,000 items.

An unfinished jigsaw puzzle beckons as do featured titles topping low cases and round kiosks and displayed in the New Books cabinet by the front door.  Art work and wall sculptures complement attractive furnishings and a circular podium of PACs leads to some of the fifteen adult PC’s…


…and then to Teen Central’s six additional stations.  Young adults lounge on bean bags or barstools accessing the wifi and perusing manga.  Posters tacked to racks of popular YA novels promote tweens and teens acrylic painting or invite them to feast on pizza while solving an after hours murder mystery or celebrating the Superbowl at the Madden Football Tourney  (kids have one too, but during the day).


BCL has a Pinterest account and a very busy facebook page loaded with pictures – I had to laugh at one of a teensy girl reading to an enormous dog about five times her size.  Videos from another branch show the building from a drone’s perspective and adolescents demonstrating a Rube Goldberg machine.  Photos of happenings range from author talks to the Orchestra Petting Zoo to a lecture on preserving the past by gathering memories from your elders and a Civil War re-enactor describing the horrific conditions faced by the injured.  Notices remind you of Conversation Café and seminars for social security planning or end of life issues.


So open and airy

The BCL website offers Hoopla music, movies, TV shows, graphic novels and more plus 3M ebooks and audiobooks, LearningExpress, Mango Languages and Discus (Digital Information for South Carolina Users) state wide (and mostly state funded) periodical database.  Signup for emails when new titles are added in your favorite genre or scan your branch’s very own newsletter.  A page for Black History Month highlights recommended materials in multiple formats and instruction and exhibits on researching African-American genealogy as well as a discussion of the Gullah language, still spoken by a quarter million inhabitants of this coastal region, led by a writer versed in the subject.

Events on the electronic calendar include coding, quilting, Pokemon, math, cooking, coloring and chess clubs, line dancing, violin classes, Zumba and 3D printing, video editing and stop motion animation sessions.  They have a winter reading program and I was salivating over the Second Annual Chocolate Olympics.

By the magazines, a reading area looks onto a peaceful garden alive with palms and ferns.  Vines trail from ceramic pots and ground covering between flagstones makes an interesting checkerboard pattern by a three tiered fountain.


If you get locked out as I did, tall decorative gates take you through a wall swathed in ivy, up a path and back to the foyer where, saving the best for last, I went into the kid’s room.


Children’s Librarian Greg, a camera shy 15 year HH veteran, kindly turned on the overhead stars that shine in a night sky down into the stage/storytime chamber where Wee Read Storytime for tiny tots and one with hands on activities for older boys and girls take place.


Signage courtesy of denizens of the deep

Youth has four game computers and two internet.  Stuffed animals crowd shelf tops and shamrocks and shiny green garlands proclaim the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday.


Caretakers sit on the red rocker by sunny yellow chairs as their charges play on the race track rug.  If the baskets of toys fails to occupy children, parents can pull fun things to do from clear containers labeled by age and theme.

Plentiful storage cupboards keep it neat and early literacy items are stowed in cute Pup Power luggage.  Bright interlocking plastic bins are full of board books and beasts clutching cherished titles adorn the walls.


Love these two handy holders

HH has special evening bedtime tales, Legos and a movie, Drop-in Crafts and a party for Winnie the Pooh’s birthday.  Something on a Stick Day for young ones conjures up images of all sorts of tasty treats.


The Family Success Center has six PCs and can also act as a computer lab.

The island has about 50,000 full time residents, but the population triples during vacation season.  HH closed for a bit last year due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, just one scary reminder of the perils of living in paradise.

The library has Playaway audios and launchpads preloaded with content for kids or adults which lets them experience the tablet concept before buying.  MP3 audios are available and selected students get around bad or nonexistent internet access at home by borrowing a SmartSpot device that sets up a mobile hot spot, so they are basically loaning wifi!


Cathy, the reference librarian, helpfully gave me facts and figures.  I envy her as I adored my eleven years in that position.  As a trivia buff, it was the dream job, but by the time I left, the internet was so pervasive, true “reference questions” were a much smaller part of how we assisted patrons.  As the greatest segment of their population is older than sixty five, she still does the reference of a decade ago since many elderly customers don’t use the web.

Behind Cathy, a giant grizzly bear watches over the local history texts near back issues of newspapers and microfiche equipment.


Rarer district treasures reside in the stunning South Carolina Reading Room.  Evoking a private library of an ancient mansion, a movable ladder provides access to tomes high up on the floor to ceiling shelves and a pretty Queen Anne escritoire tempts you to grab a quill pen and parchment.  Upholstered chairs by the cozy fireplace and two rectangular tables supply ample space to study a volume from the business collection housed here.

At the back of the stacks, sea glass shaded sconces illuminate carrels and little bronze birds floating overhead add to the illusion of being outdoors.

img_5026Hilton Head is lucky to have such a lovely library and the dedicated, innovative and friendly staff and volunteers are icing on the cake.

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Timeless Tybee


The easternmost point in Georgia, Tybee Island reminds me of the coastal hamlets of my New England youth.  Just up from the massive pier (unfortunately closed since sustaining damage during Hurricane Matthew last fall), the street is full of beach shops and seafood joints.

Running parallel to the sand, the main byway is dotted with hotels, summer rentals and the Tybee Library (TL).


Part of Live Oak Public Libraries (LOPL), the tri-county Savannah region system, TL is a friendly spot serving about 3000 residents and any number of tourists.


A long wheelchair ramp leads to a tiled foyer featuring a plaque honoring donors and a selection of informational pamphlets below the fantastical verdigris ship sculpture Sailing through the Power of the Mind, a chandelier by renowned ironworker, Ivan Bailey.

The one floor building has a raised roof set off by jaunty blue and white rickrack partitions.  Prior to opening in 1988 they were in a wing of city hall next door.  The fields and palm trees of the YMCA are on the other side, and conveniently, just down Butler Avenue you’ll find Tybee Island Maritime Academy, a charter school that uses TL as its library.


Manager Laurel Powers was at the front desk when I arrived and she gave me a warm welcome and was able to chat for a bit between patrons.  They love to dress up the place and though it was mid February, were just taking down Christmas decorations to free space up for Mardi Gras paraphernalia like the garland bordering the top of the glass.  Not ones to be caught off guard, they were already preparing kelly green St. Patrick’s Day rosettes.

Laurel praised her talented staff and said that coworker Ellen O’Leary created this wonderful octopus in the story time room…


…so big, its arm extends onto the ceiling.  Fun pieces hang on the walls and Michael P. White, illustrator of The Library Dragon, donated two sunset shaded paintings of the island, one with the bibliophilic sea creature lurking just off shore.


TL has six public computers and 24/7 wifi.  LOPL’s website offers titles from Georgia Download Destination, TumbleBooks for kids and movies, magazines, books and audios from various vendors.  There are journal databases as well as language learning, practice tests and online tutoring for all ages.  Choose from mobile-friendly e-blasts on topics ranging from Education & Careers to History (learn about the unexploded nuclear bomb off Tybee Island!) & Genealogy.

When I scanned it, the Facebook page had a vibrant “Celebrate Black History” banner and was splashed with rave reviews of the library, recommendations, interesting articles and useful tips, shots of board and Friends meetings, and of the fascinating traveling exhibit Gray’s Reef on the Road.  I was intrigued by the collage of photos from a “Walking Dead” night and saw announcements for local, cultural and pertinent happenings and for free assistance enrolling for benefits like Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, an effort to improve children’s health.


Tall windows look onto green vistas by the magazines and paperback spinners

LOPL has nineteen branches, a bookmobile and school outreach plus delivery to senior and daycare centers and the homebound.  Ten meeting spaces (one here) are available for the public to reserve and there’s a career center and a foundation.

At the numerous locations customers borrow Kill-a-Watt energy conservation kits or go to Tea and Tales, writer’s groups, credit workshops, Medicare 101, yoga, GED and internet classes or get advice at computer labs or healthy heart and money management sessions.  To celebrate turning 100 last November, the Bull Street Library, which holds administration, is presenting thoughtful portraits by local artist Panhandle Slim of some of the award winning nonprofit Deep Center‘s participants.


In the stacks

TL itself hosts events like Family Game Night and holiday crafts.  Adults make bookmarks, join the Bookworms or relax at a congenial gathering of coloring aficionados.

Tybee used to have an ocean view until the condos across the road blocked it, though under the right conditions you can still catch a glimpse of the Atlantic.  It has three employees including full timer Laurel who’s been here seven or eight years and at another LOPL branch before that.  The aforementioned library assistant Ellen is part time as is page Barbara.


Sally is on left, Barbara to the right

Their dedicated volunteers – Sally, one of three selfless souls who help out regularly, has been here for many years – really come in handy.

The miniature lighthouses and romantic seascapes at Circulation are among the nautical themed decorations scattered throughout the facility.  A dictionary stand and a little cart comprising the Book Nook sale sit by the desk, behind which lie the office and a large work area with plenty of shelves, a microwave and a mini fridge.    img_4852

On the right, the children’s wing had dangling snowflake mobiles and is outfitted with pint sized tables, upholstered seats and burnished wood furnishings.  Piles of primary hued cushions and baskets of stuffed animals await the tiniest and separate cases towards the entry display YA titles and graphic novels.

For teens, LOPL has YouTube DIY, coding instruction, robotic theory, knitting and crocheting and Anime club.  They can whip up some ice cream or discover a passion for electronics, solar energy or combustion engines.


Youngsters attend puppet shows, musical storytimes, bingo, infant play dates, ballet lessons, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities, or build Lego stuff, construct masks for Fat Tuesday and mix up Harry Potter’s potions.  Home schoolers hang out together and on Noon Year’s Eve delighted tots get a balloon drop.


LOPL lends passes for Zoo Atlanta, the state parks and the Go Fish Education Center – an aquarium and hatchery that has hunting and fishing simulators and a stocked pond to improve your skills.

The summer reading program is huge, and in conjunction with the city the library hosts the annual Savannah Children’s Book Festival.


So if you’re small enough, plop down in this bright blue Adirondack chair – it’ll put you in the perfect mood to soak up some rays after you find a great beach read.

What an asset to this charming laid back town!

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