European Libraries Tour
Warsaw, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Stuttgart, Malmő, Amsterdam
Communications, project and partnership manager of the Ukrainian Catholic University's Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky Centre Lidia Shyhymaha talks about her two-week trip to the best educational and cultural centers in Europe. Within the framework of the Culture Bridges international mobility grant she had the opportunity to explore global cultural and library development processes, establish professional contacts and glean a lot of ideas that can be incorporated in Ukrainian public spaces.
The Sheptytsky Centre is a multi-purpose cultural and academic facility, part of which is dedicated to the Ukrainian Catholic University Library, and which has now been in operation for just over two years. In developing the Centre, we were not able to draw on examples domestically and had to look abroad to find exactly what we wanted; there's nothing else quite like it in Ukraine. It was necessary to travel to similar centres that we knew of in Europe, so we applied for a travel grant to do just that. I was doing a lot of reading about contemporary European libraries and that helped me choose some interesting examples to see for myself. It was important not just to copy the good decisions of others and establish working connections with them, but I also had to understand the problems these kinds of facilities face in carrying out their work. The idea was to avoid similar problems in setting up the Sheptystky Centre.

I visited the Warsaw University Library in Poland, the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen, the Malmő Public Library in Sweden, Dokk1 The Aarhus Public Library in Denmark and the Amsterdam Public Library in the Netherlands.
I spent a couple of days in each city, although in a few libraries I would have liked to stay longer. In Aarhus, for example. I didn't expect it to be so fascinating or so large—35,000 м²--and one day there wasn't enough. The Dokk1 Library is part of a large-scale initiative by Urban Mediaspace to convert the Aarhus port into a contemporary urban space.This was named the Best Library of 2016 by International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). It was built in what used to be a port industrial zone as part of a project o revitalize the area. Dokk1 – the name comes from the former freight loading dock area that was there – opened in 2015 after an extended period of project development where it received funding from both the municipality and private partners. When they were planning, they held consultations with local residents, organising focus groups to understand better how locals would use it. Public input included direct involvement in developing the project, the kind of functions it would fulfill, testing it, naming it and giving it its visual identity. Inside the Centre there's a bell that rings every time a baby is born in Aarhus.
Dokk1 The Aarhus Public Library, Denmark
I really liked the graphics library at the Stuttgart Library. You can check out books as well as works of art and switch them out for other paintings every week. They have a catalogue where you can select the picture you want to take home. All the images are insured and if you're late with your return there's a late fee taken directly from your credit card. The time limit for borrowing a picture is two months. They have books, sheet music, CDs and even a piano with headphones so that you can play and not disturb others in the library. They have two mobile libraries named Max and Moritz. They travel to schools, kindergartens and parts of the city where there isn't a branch library.

I took note of how they'd thoughtfully arranged the children's area with furniture suitable for small children and with books placed so the children can reach them by themselves. Generally speaking the libraries I visited didn't follow the typical Ukrainian arrangement of separate sections for children and adults. Most of the centres were child-focused, applying the concept that it's children who bring everyone else—parents, grandparents—along with them. Also, in a departure from the way day-care is managed where children are left with care-givers, these centres encourage parents themselves to spend time with their children playing, reading, and engaging in some creative activity. The Aarhus Library, for example, has a large children's area where you can play football or tennis, a 3D printer for teens, a start-up incubator for schoolchildren, and a knitting circle for grandmothers – in other words, something for everyone and a space that's welcoming to everyone.

It really impressed me that a library that had open ten or fifteen years ago still looked like it was brand new. It was well thought out and constructed with only the best materials. Ukraine is so far behind, especially when it comes to public libraries, and it's a little sad when you see the difference. True, some older buildings are under reconstruction, but we still register people on paper while in Europe everything has been automated for years already and the system is even capable of re-shelving books. It will take a long time to make up this gap. I should also point out that their collections contain high quality, recent, costly editions, and archives that include graphic novels, LP records and game cartridges. You can check out the latest Marvel Comic or play on a PlayStation.
The Stuttgart Public Library and the Malmő Public Library (Playstation 3 та Marvel)
Obviously, the state of the European library sector is significantly better than it is in Ukraine. The first thing that hits you is their automated book system of borrowing and returns. The library user is able to look up the book they want on a computer, collect it from the stacks and check it out at a scanner just like at a supermarket. And then return it the same way, using the scanner. Some of the libraries have an automatic system of re-shelving books. The librarian has nothing to do with that part of the library function, but consults with readers, offering specific advice on literature or answering other user questions.

At the Stuttgart Library your library card includes all your personal data as well as your credit card information. If you're tardy in returning your borrowed items or don't return them at all, then the system charges your late fees directly to your credit card.
The Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen
In the institutions I visited I observed a lot of ways to improve our library system. We need to introduce, above all, an automated process of loaning books and of tracking them in a secure system. We don't have it and won't any time soon, but since it's been operational in Europe for a number of years already, we have a chance to find out about the advantages and disadvantages of the system. We can learn about the issues they faced in developing and implementing it.

We know what areas each of these libraries excels at and so we can turn to them for professional expertise. For instance, if we need to know about handling special collections or historical printed materials then the Danish Royal Library is the place to ask. They house medieval manuscripts, a collection of historic photography, maps, far eastern literature, a periodical and musical score collection, the works of Danish playwrights and theatre repertoire. If you need an example of how to implement public services into your space, then Aarhus or Malmő is the place to turn. And if you're looking at innovative design then you need to deal with Stuttgart. We had good exchanges with each facility and they are all genuinely interested in cooperating with us.
The Amsterdam Public Library
I'm still travelling, visiting excellent libraries, cultural centres, public and revitalized structures. I recently got back from a visit to the Riga Public Library and in September I'm going to Paris to look at their best public venues. I'd also like that more Ukrainian librarians and others working in this sphere get the chance to study or intern at these centres. Clearly, it will be easier to advance change in our library system if there are others who think the way you do. I don't believe that grassroots initiatives are capable of driving wholesale change; you need State involvement.

Certainly, we'd like to build up our holdings with recent publications, bring in new technologies, expand our range of services and become a contributor in global cultural and library development processes.

We worked together with the Warsaw University library. My colleague visited them again because we had decided to adopt the Koha system—the same automated library system they're using. I'd really like to work with the Dokk1 library and cultural centre in Aarhus where they have an excellent system for evaluating and providing public service.
Photos by: the Sheptytsky Centre
SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER
You may unsubscribe at any time by following the unsubscribe link in the newsletter. We will process your personal information based on your consent.
Data Protection
The British Council complies with data protection law in the UK and laws in other countries that meet internationally accepted standards.
You have the right to ask for a copy of the information we hold on you, and the right to ask us to correct any inaccuracies in that information. If you have concerns about how we have used your personal information, you also have the right to complain to a privacy regulator.
For detailed information, please refer to the privacy section of our website, www.britishcouncil.org/privacy or contact your local British Council office at info@britishcouncil.org.ua. We will retain your information for 7 years from the time of collection.