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A Librarian’s Tour of the Czech Republic, Part 1

by on August 19, 2013

In a previous post, I talked about my passion for library buildings and how I visit libraries while on vacation.  This past May, I took a step further and participated in the Prague Summer Seminar, a two week trip sponsored by the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science and the Institute of Information Studies and Librarianship at Charles University in Prague.  One word to describe this trip: amazing!

Our Czech hosts (faculty and students from the Institute) worked very hard to plan our two weeks to include many visits to area libraries, time to talk with local librarians and attend lectures, and of course, see the city and have fun.  For me, it was a nice balance of planned group activities and free time.  I also enjoyed getting to know my fellow travelers…other librarians and library science students from around the United States.

While I could write pages and pages about the trip, I will focus this post on the public libraries: the Municipal Library of Prague, regional library in Kromeriz, and the library in Liberec.  On this trip, I learned that libraries in the Czech Republic are concerned about the same issues as those in the United States.

The Municipal Library of Prague (Městská knihovna v Praze) (http://www.mlp.cz/en/news/) is very similar to large urban libraries in the United States.  This main branch has special collections (such as music) and has space to hold events.  The children’s department is charming, and it was fun to see popular children’s titles translated into Czech.  The library does circulate eBooks to its patrons, but due to strict copyright laws in Europe, the titles are classics or self-published by the library.  Upon entering the library, visitors see a tower of books constructed by artist Matej Kren.  There is an opening in the tower with mirrors inside above and below to give the illusion of an infinite number of books.  The director, Mr. Tomáš Řehák, gave a brief talk about the state of the library and the future, asking the question “Are we still worth the taxpayer’s money?”

The Kroměříž Library (Knihovna Kroměřížska) (http://www.knihkm.cz/) is located in the southeast part of the Czech Republic.  This library is a regional library and in addition to serving as a public library to the community, they also assist other smaller libraries with training and catalog support, very similar to library systems here in the United States.  They are struggling with space issues to the point where if a returned book cannot fit on the shelf, it is put on a shelf in the back room until it is needed again.  I had an interesting conversation about eBooks with one of the librarians in the information department.  My U.S. library’s practice of circulating eReaders preloaded with eBooks purchased through Amazon or Barnes and Noble would be considered illegal in the Czech Republic due to strict laws.  I was impressed by their clever use of space.  A portion of a former bomb shelter under the library has been converted into a small computer lab that is used for teaching computer classes, training job seekers, and helping immigrants improve language skills.

The Liberec Regional Research Library (Krajská vědecká knihovna v Liberci) (http://www.kvkli.cz/en/) offers a wide array of services and the building has an interesting design.  This library is the public library in Liberec, but it also has a large collection of materials that supports the curriculum at the local technical college.  It also serves as a depository for Czech magazines and newspapers as well as locally published book.  There is also a large collection of materials in other languages.  The design is fascinating because the library and synagogue next door are connected.  An exterior wall of the synagogue is visible inside the library behind the circulation desk and public computers.  Known as the “Reconciliation Building,” the library stands on the grounds of a former synagogue that was destroyed during World War II.

Photos of these libraries can be found on my flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/librarianlouise/. More stories and thoughts about libraries in the Czech Republic will be shared in future posts.




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