Residents of all Polish cities and towns need a friendly meeting place, a local activities and integration centre.
A library can become an attractive meeting place for informal groups gathering people of different ages, because it is:
- a place where one gains knowledge in a non-formal and informal way (natural meeting place “around a book”,…),
- one of the most accessible places organizing cultural activities,
- a public benefit organisation, which is written down in its statute,
- an institution having professional well-qualified staff that can serve a local community with their knowledge,
- for free!
Taking into account natural potential of libraries, their role in our reality cannot be overestimated. Currently in Poland there are about 8500 libraries (6600 in villages and small towns, often it is the only public institution in a village/town that is open for all people). 9600 of librarians work in villages and small towns (41% of them have university education, 21% - post-secondary education and 96% use computer).
Libraries have institutional potential for and experience in supporting learning of people of different ages. They should be recognized as important providers of non-formal and informal education. In order to develop their educational offer they can and should cooperate with different partners – schools, local authorities, NGOs.
Libraries in the XXI century should be institutions that actively participate in building of knowledge society, learning society and ultimately – welfare society, which strength comes from high level of life of its citizens.
In response to those challenges, in 2009, Poland started implementation of the Library Development Program which aim is to facilitate access of public libraries to computers, internet and training as well as improve access of residents of villages and towns to information and communication technologies. The Program is addressed to public libraries in all rural and rural-municipal communes as well as municipal communes with up to 20,000 residents. The initiative is supported financially by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation in partnership with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is implemented by the Information Society Development Foundation.
Another interesting initiative worth mentioning is LABIB – share knowledge, multiply ideas! (www.labib.pl). LABIB is:
- a network of people to whom libraries are important and active place. It gathers librarians, experts, practitioners from different areas.
- an electronic platform created for librarians who would like to share knowledge, gather experiences and multiply ideas.
- a leadership development program for librarians from the whole Poland, based on cyclical meetings, workshops, conferences, study visits and calls for proposals.
LABIB gathers practical knowledge – ready to use descriptions of projects realized by libraries, ideas for new actions - and at the same time gives opportunity to share someone’s experiences or discuss an important or difficult topic.
Libraries should be centres of social communication. Unfortunately, this role of libraries is underestimated. A structural model supporting implementation of social and cultural activities on a large scale is lacking. Without adequate financial support and especially without including it in the integrated development plan, without broader partnership and promotion, a library will still only:
- have an offer addressed only for certain groups of citizens, usually children,
- be little functional and have weak infrastructure,
- employ staff that have limited opportunities and motivation for professional development. Therefore a library will remain a necessary institution, but more and more archaic.
Thanks to institutions such as libraries a “new learning culture” is promoted, social and civic competencies of citizens are developed and local leaders emerge. Those actions can only be effective if systemic solutions providing constant financing are introduced. Actions undertaken by libraries cannot be ad hoc, lacking of continuity and short-term. This kind of approach requires that policymakers think strategically about education. It also requires a vision and adequate strategy, in which staff of cultural institutions and citizens are not treated instrumentally.
Dr Maria Jedlińska is employed in the Provincial Public Library in Kraków (Poland). Since 2007, she has been creating and coordinating a partnership program „Szkoła @ktywnego Seniora” (www.sas.tpnk.org.pl) which is implemented by the Provincial Public Library in Kraków and the Polish-German Association in Kraków. In April 2015 this initiative was distinguished by the Human Rights Defender in Poland prof. Irena Lipowicz for an effective inter- and intragenerational integration as well as for promotion of lifelong learning idea.