In both America and Moldova, libraries are racing to redefine themselves and remain relevant in an online world.
Back home, where people now routinely download books and find information on the internet, libraries are emphasizing their roles in providing expertise and bringing people together, whether with story times for kids, study spaces for students or programming for retirees.
Here in Moldova, the transition has been even more challenging. Library budgets and salaries are tiny. Many library buildings are old, with collections dating to Soviet times. There are no resources to buy books, much less comfy sofas or cappucino machines.
Last week, the library where I work in Ialoveni showed how some Moldovan libraries are moving forward despite these challenges. Together with the local Consiliul Raional, or county government, it organized a “library day” to showcase its recent innovations.
Under the leadership of director Valentina Plamadeala, speaking above, the library now has a film animation class, a club that produces crafts from recycled materials, a robotics program and a workshop to teach modern advocacy techniques. It’s organizing a new weekly story time for toddlers that will also provide educational programming for parents and grandparents. It hopes to provide new programs for people with special needs, building on a Braille collection it recently added. The library is reaching out to its community in interesting ways, too, using videos, infographics and social media.
Located near the city’s main traffic circle, Ialoveni’s library is named for Petre Ştefănucă, a folklorist and local hero who died in a Soviet gulag. At last Tuesday’s event, I was moved as librarian Larisa Petcu, above, showed off the small museum that honors his memory, telling local high school students about him. I was also impressed by the presentations from some other nearby libraries that participated in the event. Cătălina Russu, a reporter for TVR Moldova, also attended and produced the video shown at the beginning of this post (also available on YouTube; at 1:35, I speak briefly in English.)
Novateca, a program managed by the nonprofit organization IREX with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with USAID, has been a driving force behind the modernization of Moldova’s public libraries, building on similar programs in neighboring Romania and Ukraine. Since it began operations here five years ago, Novateca has provided thousands of computers and other resources, trained librarians across the country, increased public support for libraries and promoted a more expansive vision of their role in a civil society.
I’ve become a big fan of Novateca’s work and was pleased to see its director, Evan Tracz — himself a former Peace Corps Volunteer, in Turkmenistan — at last Tuesday’s event. (He’s in the center of the photo below, awarding certificates to me and others with Tudor Grigoriță of the Consiliul Raional.) Evan and his team have had a transformative impact. Novateca is now winding down its activities as its funding comes to an end. Many of us hope Moldova’s libraries will continue making progress without them.
I have great respect for the people I work with at Ialoveni’s library. They are doing so much with so little, earning less in a year than some American librarians make in a couple of weeks. They keep looking for better ways to serve the community here without a coffee maker in sight, much less a cappucino machine.