February 23, 2020 – As Google.org announces a second $400,000 for the Croatian Makers IRIM project, TCN talks to Rujana Bakic on empowering libraries and Croatian Digital Citizen 2.0.
I have a very romantic notion of Croatian libraries. When I entered my first Croatian library back in August 2002 in Jelsa, there she was – a beautiful blonde assistant librarian with eyes the colour of the Adriatic. 18 years later, she is sitting across the room from me, preparing a presentation for me for a conference speech, my wife of more than 13 years.
Back then, in 2002, we had a daily routine. As the library was the only place with public internet on her computer, she had to make it available for paying users, such as myself. And so our friendship started.
Romance aside, one ageing desktop with eternally slow internet did not leave me with a lasting impression that Croatian libraries were a potential foundation pillar of digital change in Croatia. But, as with many things in Croatia, with the will and determination of a few good men and women, mountains can be moved.
One of the most exciting projects in Croatia today, planting digital seeds for future and current generations is taking hold not only in Croatia but all over the region, led by Nenad and Rujana Bakic and described thus on the official website:
IRIM (Institute for Youth Development and Innovativity) is a Croatia-based non-profit organization (private foundation), which has developed and implements the largest extracurricular STEM program in EU – the Croatian Makers movement, encompassing now over 150,000 children in Croatia. Although IRIM originates from, and primarily operates in, Croatia, it has transposed its activities to Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, where IRIM and local partners deliver IRIM-designed major projects (with initial funding from IRIM), reaching tens of thousands more children. Some programs are joint regional activities. Such cross-border co-operation is of utmost significance in the region which still suffers consequences stemming from the conflicts in the 1990s.
IRIM donates a large amount of equipment, but only as a foundation for wide and deep knowledge distribution using that equipment, through organized activities, teacher education (more than 3,000 teachers educated only in Croatia), content development etc.
The initial and still the core financing comes from local philanthropists, the Bakić family, but due to developing size and scope of its activities it has lately been attracting additional financing from external sources, including citizens (through public crowdfunding campaigns and general donations), companies, national and EU development funds. At the moment, IRIM employs 10 people, but has developed a strong ecosystem of educators (‘ambassadors’) and rich content platforms, enabling it to leverage its activities.
Partnering with Google.org who dispersed an initial grant of $250,000 to IRIM back in 2018, Nenad and Rujana Bakic and the IRIM team have been focusing part of their efforts on transforming Croatian libraries from static and disconnected buildings which store books for hire to places of learning, innovation and empowerment. Apart from donating equipment, the project – which last week received an addition $400,000 grant from Google for the next year – is also heavily focused on education, training and workshops, empowering librarians with new digital skills to assist their library users.
Empowered and well-trained librarians at the local level are in a great position to assist the local community and develop skills for the future – for all generations – and there have been more than 1,500 workshops just for librarians so far.
More than 13,000 people of all ages have taken part in the project, taking advantage of the technology, expertise and equipment donated to the libraries by IRIM.
The project is ambitious and is expanding rapidly, with greater 3D printer availability and the world’s first ‘makerspaces’ in libraries in the world coming to Croatia soon.
Rujana Bakic was among the speakers at this week’s gathering at HAZU in Zagreb, hosted by Google.org and IRIM, which was attended by the US Ambassador to Croatia, Robert Kohorrst. Rujana hosted a panel talking to librarians and end users on their real-life experiences the IRIM library services.
I am grateful that she found the time to explain the project to us in greater detail on camera in perfect English, and with great passion.
Thank you both, and the entire IRIM team, for this fantastic initiative. Idemo dalje!