When it comes to the recognition of Croatia as a whole, not many people have heard of Prelog in Medjimurje County. It is even less likely that they’ve heard about Prelog’s library, considered to be, and awarded as – the best library in the country. The Director of Prelog’s library, Maja Lesinger, sat down with us to tell us just how this unassuming little place achieved such a title, and it seems it was all down to the help of an amazing community of members and the inhabitants of this small city of around 8000 citizens.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I grew up in a library. My mother was a librarian and she worked in the library where I work now. Even though my path appeared it was going to take me another way, all the time, deep in my heart, I knew that my love for reading and libraries meant that I had to finish my studies to become a librarian, and I did. Now, here I am in the place I’ve always wanted to work.
Could you tell us about some programs in the library which you think are very successful?
We have many different programs in the library, from fun ones to educational ones, but the biggest stars are the dramatised story telling ones, which we have in cooperation with the city kindergarten ”Fijolica” as part of the national campaign ”Read to me” (Čitaj mi!), then ”Party of letters” in corporation with Prelog primary school and Prelog high school. The most popular is our trivia quiz which we provide with different associations for different age groups. The latest (and the one I really love) is LegenDra – the festival of fairytales and myths from the Drava area.
With the story telling, we managed to attract new family members and we educated a huge number of parents. When kids on the street call out your name, referring to you as ”auntie storyteller” and know exactly where the library is, then you know you’re on the right track!
With ”Party of letters” we motivate even the most unmotivated reading group – teenagers, so this is already a huge success.
The Trivia quiz was made as an alternative to sometimes boring quizzes and general knowledge exams. We wanted to make competitions more fun and relaxed, and we didn’t get that wrong because people are very satisfied with this activity. Now all age groups participate, even retired people. The atmosphere is fantastic, close, relaxed, and fun, and that was our final goal.
I’m not insinuating that the library should became a fun park or that new members should be attracted by it being something that it isn’t, but you do need to find a balance and offer at least one innovative activity for a wider age group. Activities do depend on your target audience. Something that is working very well in our library perhaps wouldn’t be well accepted in some other place. Everything depends on [respective] interests, but also from the librarian’s personality and from knowing your target audience well.
What do you offer to attract members to your libraries – book lovers, skeptics, youngsters, business people, people in retirement…?
The hardest thing is to attract someone to the library, especially today when you can find all kinds of information on the Internet. That’s the problem all libraries have and the problem is bigger if you have fewer employees, less finance, and little space. Being a small library in a small community has both its good and bad sides.
We give our best to offer people a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere in the library. Of course, we promote our activities via free channels (social media), through interesting posters, but mostly we attract people to visit us by inventive and creative activities and services. We’re always trying to survey the thoughts and needs of our members because we’re here for them. For us, it is very important to involve them in the creation of activities and services, not only to get them to come to the library, but also to make them feel that the library is theirs. Since the community is financing us and we depend on them, it is only fair to work at a high quality for our community so as to fulfill all their requirements and expectations of us.
How do you measure the success of your library? Could you tell us some numbers?
The librarians really love statistics too. To us, the most important thing is the pleasure of our members, so we use surveys, positive reviews are our favourite measurement because they’re honest and they comes from the first hand experience of the people for whom we do all that we do. Of course, we love constructive criticism too, because then we are able to make things we didn’t do well at at first better, or adjust activities to make them even better. I have to say, we are very emotionally connected to the library. We love to go to work and do what we do. We’re privileged because the whole story around our library allows us to express our creativity. Members and community react well to our innovations and at the end it motivates us to keep working with the personal perfecting and developments of our library.
In 2016, we had 13017 visitors and 26752 books were borrowed and returned. 121 events and public activities were organised for library users and more than 5000 people attended them! From services we offer each day, last year, 1566 users worked on our computers. The numbers are really huge for one small library but they clearly show how much we work to attract people to us.
What are the biggest problems you have and how do you solve them?
I think our problems aren’t much different from those faced by other libraries. Small space is always a huge problem, not enough funds for procurement and activities, a small number of employees… Luckily we have the support of our founder, who supports us as much as can within its financial capabilities. Good words from our members go far, so our city mayor and other [administrative] bodies support us too. It wasn’t easy to get their support, but we managed it. It’s always hard to get that support for a non-profit organisation, especially in the context of the socio-economic situation in the country. It’s not perfect, but I can’t complain. Things can always be worse!
As far as procurement is concerned, we’re very thankful for the many donations we receive from our members, so we do manage to plug some holes in our funds. We even managed to start figuring out the problem with employees and we got a librarian who works part time here. We hope Dominika will get a full time job so we’ll be open to our users for the whole day. Most important changes require a lot of time and patience, and persistence more than anything else.
We simply learned to ask for what we need, even though at first we got refused, and they thought that we were in the wrong. In that way, we managed to obtain many donations in material and furniture, and also mentioned new workers and an increase of our budget. I can’t say that it’s just us [who work in the library] who are responsible for its success. People are the key to success. The community makes us successful and with the help of the community, we can resolve many problems.
How many citiziens of Prelog read?
Next year we’re celebrating 115 years since the opening of our very first reading room in Prelog so we can say that we really do have a very long tradition of reading. It is very important to say that each 10th citizen of Prelog is a member of our library. At the moment, we have 860 members. People mostly read according to their mood and their amount of free time. In our region many people still work in agricultural jobs so we can say that during winter and summer, people tend to read the most. Our membership price is pretty low, we have free categories and family membership so our membership is varied and we have stuff for all different tastes.
What exactly should libraries concentrate on in order to stop the trend of losing their users/members?
I think the answer is in the question – on their users/members. Throughout the world, the transformation of libraries is a huge trend. Libraries want to become a third space, a meeting place. Libraries should open their own doors and delete the stereotypes which are still alive, such as – a library is a place where you go to just borrow and read a book and someone will tell you to be silent or give you a dissatsified look if you laugh too loudly. To work in a library, you need to be a complete person. You have to be a librarian, a teacher, a scientist, a leader, a manager, an animator, an actor, a graphic designer, an organiser and even, if necessary, a waiter and a janitor. Some people can’t do it all. There are always some volunteers who will help. Active involvement of library users, to animate their interests and address their needs is the key to success. You need to be courageous and crazy at the same time. You need to try new things and not to be afraid of failure because even from failure, you can learn something useful!
What plans and wishes do you have after winning this award for the best library in Croatia?
We joke about it at work. If we achieved this, what is next!? Only the sky is the limit! With or without this award, we’ll keep developing our programs and giving support to our community and keep trying to accomplish the needs of our members as much as we’re able to. We have some projects which, with this award, will see us financed much more easily, more people will hear about us outside of Prelog, so we’ll be able to find partners for eventual cooperation a bit more easily. Our wish came true, we got recognition and for our small library, that’s a huge thing. I think it would be bad to stop now and live on old fame. Honestly, we are not fully aware of what a huge thing we’ve achieved. We’re modest and this award makes us happy because of our members who are very proud of their library, as they know that their contribution was the key. If we were asked about who we’d dedicate this award to, we’d say to our members and to all the small libraries who work at exceptionally high quality despite huge problems and obstacles that lie in their way.
Home away from home!