On November 26 and 27, librarians who came from all over Poland discussed various social groups’ needs, especially those requiring special attention, and the ways of meeting them by libraries in their activities. The discussion took place at the Library Congress held at the Art Factory in Łódź. The special guests of the Congress were Małgorzata Moskwa–Wodnicka, Łódź Vice Mayor, and Dr. Adam Bodnar, the Ombudsman.
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The fact that we are different from each other is proved for example by the fact that we have different fingerprints. And fingerprints were the symbol of this-year’s conference participated by 200 people. The Congress was also an opportunity to present the scholarships awarded in Olga Rok Competition which plays an important role in awakening aspirations and local community development.
The guests were welcomed by Joanna Lempart, the Polish-American Freedom Foundation Program Director, and Jacek Królikowski, President of the Information Society Development Foundation. Joanna Lempart referred to the history of Congresses, recalling their slogans and that way telling the story about dynamics of development of libraries as places allowing for social activity and dialog, where new technologies meet and diversity reigns. In turn Jacek Królikowski pointed to the strength of people active in libraries and how important it is to see the needs of weaker people and minorities. “I don’t know any system of values that would say ‘Turn your back on the others’ (…) I don’t know any legal acts that would induce to discriminate, say that only selected groups of people have certain rights, only selected groups can have access to culture,’ Jacek Królikowski said.
Małgorzata Moskwa–Wodnicka, Łódź Vice Mayor pointed to the fact that Łódź is a tolerant, multi-cultural city whose activities are focused on preventing social exclusion. Ombudsman Dr. Adam Bodnar thanked the Congress participants for their work, and – recollecting his visits to various places in Poland – he said that nowadays a library is not only the place where people can borrow books. Now the libraries are places of meeting which evidently are taking on the role of a part of local community and a space where all social groups can execute their rights. He emphasized three currently important trends – of community, preventing transport exclusion and diversity – which libraries respond to with their offer.
Next, Aleksandra Klich, Editor-in-Chief of High Heels – spoke about the role of books in women’s lives, referring to the history of feminist movement in America at the turn of 1950’s and 1960’s.
At the end of the plenary part Piotr Łoj, founder of Virtual Dream Foundation which applies new technologies and virtual reality to help the weak and excluded gave a presentation.
We have also met the winners of the 8th round of Ologa Rok Competition for Active Female Librarians who were presented with scholarships. Olga Rok Scholarships, financed with the endowment fund created in 2012 at the initiative of Anna Rok, Olga Rok’s granddaughter, support personal development of female librarians who stimulate themselves and the others to look for new solutions and are courageous in changing their communities. This year the scholarships were awarded to the following winners:
- in the “smaller library” category – Justyna Skwarska (Communal Public Library at Czernica, No. 3 branch at Nadolice Wielkie) for breaking cultural barriers and creating an offer of foreign languages and musical classes, as well as an unusual mural attracting readers to enter the library;
- in the “bigger library” category – Olga Wójtowicz (H. Łopaciński Municipal Public Library in Lublin) for a series of Also Einstein Was a Woman exhibitions on the occasion of 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, and organizing Polish courses for citizens of Ukraine.
The Competition Committee awarded also three honorary mentions to:
- Aleksandra Sękowska (Library Branch at Kleosin of the Communal Public Library at Juchnowiec Kościelny),
- Ilona Majewska (Municipal Library in Cieszyn)
- and Renata Cierniak (No. 7 Branch of the Municipal Library in Wrocław).
The Olga Rok Endowment Fund manager is Academy for the Development of Philanthropy in Poland, which promotes the idea of endowment funds under the We Are Here Today, Tomorrow, Forever campaign. The Polish-American Freedom Foundation is its supporting partner, and the Information Society Development Foundation is its substantive partner.
The Congress was also an opportunity to hold workshops on creating the library offers in such areas as respect for equality and diversity, human rights and minority needs. The participants could also learn about a virtual world created with the Google spectacles available at the Virtual Dream Foundation stand, or enter the world in which the autistic person lives, if they visited the Synapsis Foundation stand.
The Library Congress has been held by the Information Society Development Foundation as part of the Library Development Program for 10 years. Over the years 2008-2015 the Library Development Program was implemented by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A total of 3,808 libraries in more than 1,250 communes – that is almost 60% of libraries in rural areas and small towns in Poland – participated in the program.