Serhiy Zhadan: “If I have to pick sides between a librarian and a minister, I would choose a librarian’s”

At this year’s 26th Publishers Forum in Lviv, the International Renaissance Foundation organized several events, including a discussion on libraries as cultural and educational centers in Ukraine.

The discussion was attended by:

  • ● Serhiy Zhadan, a Ukrainian poet, novelist, civic activist. He is the author of the novels “Depeche Mode”, “Voroshilovgrad”, poetry collections “Book of Quotations”, “Ethiopia”, among others.
  • ● Andriy Kurkov, a Ukrainian writer of the Russian origin, journalist, screenwriter. President of the Ukrainian PEN Club.
  • ● Anastasia Evdokimova, Head of the Reading Promotion department at the Ukrainian Book Institute.

The participants discussed the current status of the libraries versus what the libraries should be like to become attractive for visitors; and referred to several cases of the East Read project.

Serhiy Zhadan said that libraries should be considered not as just rooms with bookshelves, but rather centers of cultural life.

“My favorite library is the library in the city of Druzhkivka. They have more than 50 clubs, and one of the clubs that were opened most recently is fitness classes for seniors”, says Serhiy Zhadan.

In early 2019, Serhiy Zhadan and Andriy Kurkov launched a project “East Reads” due to take place in Donbass region libraries. The project organizers were the Serhiy Zhadan Charitable Foundation jointly with the Ukrainian Book Institute, with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation. The project participants held meetings in 15 cities of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Andriy Kurkov referred to one of such libraries in Eastern Ukraine. During the period of military operations, which sometimes led to occasional power outages, three women used to come to the library to work in the dark, whereas the locals would come there to read books till very late using candlelight. So in six months the library had become almost like a new world, a shelter for protection against the war.

The participants discussed creative approaches to the activity of libraries and how to organize book drive to fill them with books. Serhiy Zhadan mentioned the Luhansk Regional Library, a part of which was transferred to Starobilsk, as its management refused to acknowledge the occupation regime.

 “They were provided with premises, shelves, books, and now it is a large modern library for young creative people. For example, they might organize a Quiet Party where people gather and listen to music in headphones, while staying tuned to the same radio channel. This is the search for those who are likely to tune in. And this is how I see the perfect library model”.

Andriy Kurkov said the next phase in the development of libraries should be the creation of media libraries, in line with the popular European trend. And the next step would be to open coffee shops and cafes in the libraries, where you can drink coffee / tea. The created comfort would contribute to a significant library traffic increase.

Anastasia Evdokimova from the Ukrainian Book Institute commented on the state of libraries from the point of view of state regulation. The Ministry also calls into question the number of libraries that are simply empty and have almost no visitors: “Does anyone read this contemporary literature that they now bring to libraries?”; “Does anyone go to those libraries?”

Serhiy Zhadan said it is not the case that the libraries with small traffic are bad libraries versus the libraries with high traffic. Yet there is no need to panic, should a decision be made to close some of the libraries, Serhiy Zhadan said.

 “There are some libraries, which I would close myself. To give you an example, one day, new books were brought to the Mariupol city library. We asked if we could borrow them to read. We were told to come “one month later”, because librarians needed to register them. That is to say that the librarians did not care about the new books arrival; all they were concerned about was to follow the procedure: if they are expected to register one book a day, they would do no more, as they simply do not care”.

The discussion within the framework of the 26th Publishers Forum was organized by the International Renaissance Foundation.

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