National Library Week in the Czech Republic

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This week is National Library Week in the Czech Republic. Olga Szantova looks at the current situation in Czech libraries.

Local libraries have a very long tradition in the Czech lands. They date back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the struggle to keep the Czech language, its culture, and its literature alive in a German-speaking environment. You could find libraries even in very small towns, even villages, and the local people were proud of them. The library served as a kind of cultural centre even after the Czech language became the official language after World War I when the Czechoslovak Republic was created.

But after 1989, when economic conditions changed and libraries could no longer depend on state funding to the extent they had been used to, it seemed that they would be facing a difficult period. Another equally serious problem is that people seem to be reading less and less. There were, and for that matter, are, more and more different attractions for young and old alike.

But, it seems, the good news is that local library branches have not only survived, but seem to be gathering new readers. Take the library in the outskirts of Beroun, a district center west of Prague, for example. Its readership exceeds 400, including some one hundred children. The librarian, Ludmila Svecova, says that while grown-ups mostly read novels, the younger generation is mainly interested in literature about computers, and books dealing with nature. Of course, the library does have its problems like any libraries throughout the world, the main one being people who forget to return the books they borrowed. They owe the library quite a sum in fines, but Ludmila Svecova says she is willing to forgive them payment if they bring the books back during National Book Week.

The local library in Nove Straseci tackles the lost-book problem differently. If a reader doesn't bring the borrowed literature back after having been notified twice, the library contacts the police and a policeman calls on the offender to deliver a polite reminder. Librarian Jitka Helebrantova says this approach works wonders.

As fast as they can, local libraries are changing to comply with the general interest in modern technology. Free access to the Internet is available in more and more local branches, a real attraction in smaller towns, where the Internet is still very rare. And so, it does seem that local libraries have overcome their problems and are certainly here to stay. Quite a promising situation, in this year's National Library Week.

Author: Olga Szantová
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