When the invitation came from the U.S. Embassy to travel to Croatia to present a series of workshops on Digital and Traditional Literacy I was overwhelmed with the honor and responsibility of this task.
What were the libraries in Croatia like? Did they offer programming, community events, internet access? What were the communities like that they served? What kind of budget did they have to work with? How much were they like the libraries in the United States?
What an amazing experience this trip was. I learned so much from the librarians in Croatia and I can only hope that they learned from me.
The first set of workshops was held at the U.S. Embassy located in Zagreb. The librarians that attended on the first day were from all over the country. One librarian’s trip started at 4:00 a.m. where she boarded a ferry to take her to the city of Split and then a 4 hour drive to Zagreb. The second day workshop was attended by librarians that worked all over Zagreb. The librarians were so eager to listen to a librarian from America! They love America and wanted to learn as much as they could. Each workshop held at the Embassy had a total of about 20 to 25 librarians.
I spoke with them about E-books and Digital literacy and how that is becoming more and more common throughout libraries in the United States. It became very clear, very quickly however, the limitations that these librarians have to work with. Money is a very big issue which is something all libraries have in common throughout the world. Sharing the budget struggles that I have experienced firsthand as a Library Director for 7 years seemed to make them feel more at ease. I could totally relate to their expressions of frustration of not being able to offer these types of services to their patrons because of the lack of funding and the lack of support. Not only was the cost of these devices out of reach for most of their patrons, the cost of subscribing to a type of E-book provider such as Overdrive was just a pipe dream.
Still, they soaked up everything that I had to offer them and I truly enjoyed visiting with them after the workshops and hearing about their libraries and how proud they were of them.
The third workshop was held in Zadar which was a coastal community located about 3 ½ hours from Zagreb. Zadar was absolutely breathtaking! The city was built around Roman Ruins and was just like what I would imagine old time Rome would be like. Streets made of rock and beautiful cathedrals everywhere you looked. You could hear the bells tolling from the many bell towers all throughout the day and early evening. The one thing that struck me was all the little children that were outside playing. My escort told me that this city was extremely safe. It had a very low crime rate and everyone knew each other and looked out for each other. What a concept!
The group of librarians that I worked with in Zadar were from the “American Corners” libraries located throughout Croatia. These libraries were partially funded by the U.S. Embassy and in exchange they had a “corner” of their library dedicated to all things American. All the materials were in English and all of the items offered were related to the United States in one way or another. These libraries were also required to hold 24 programs every year. They were all so enthusiastic and motivated. I was able to tour the American Corners library in Zadar and it was very similar to the Safford City-Graham County library where I currently am. It was a busy and happening place with many patrons checking out materials, reading the newspapers, attending a program or with their children in the children’s area. It felt very familiar!
The last workshop I held was actually a lecture to the library students at the University of Zadar. This was probably the most fun out of all the workshops I gave because the students were so involved in the process. They also understood all my jokes! Many of them came up to me afterwards with all kinds of questions and comments! I made sure these students knew that they had chosen the best profession ever. There is nothing that can compare to it.
Overall the trip was a quick, fast paced adventure into a world that I had never been before. The food was wonderful. I had Risotto 4 times!!!! It was delicious. The sounds, smells and sights will be something that I will never forget and there is not enough time or space to share everything that I experienced.
The most important thing that I learned while I was there was that a librarian is a librarian wherever they live. We all share the same goals and desires which is to serve our community and our patrons to the very best of our ability. We have the greatest job in the world! There is no other profession that I know of, other than a teacher that touches more lives for good than a librarian. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language or that we didn’t have the same traditions, we are librarians, and that made us friends!
By Lisa Lewis, ARSL Board Member