Advancing Digital Empowerment
of Libraries in Europe

ADELE LTTA in Sofia: Trainings, cultural activities, and cats*!

Hosted by Global Libraries – Bulgaria Foundation, 19 library professionals from across Europe spent a week in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, attending the third ADELE Learning Teaching Training Week (LTTA). The activity took place between 24 September and 1 October 2023 and consisted of a lively exchange of experiences, encounters with the local Balkan-European cultural spirit, and gaining of insights to the shared challenges and devotion towards keeping each library as a source of diverse possibilities.

Presentations by participants

The attendees of the Learning-Training-Teaching Week (LTTA) represented various organisations from Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Norway, and Slovenia. At the beginning of the week, they were each given a platform for a 5-min presentation of their local experiences related to the digital transformation of libraries, thereby acknowledging them as a community and providing the basis for further professional discussion.

Training sessions

The rest of the programme for the Sofia LTTA balanced learning and training sessions with visits to libraries and an introduction to the cultural context.

Four prominent Bulgarian experts were invited as speakers to cover four different aspects related to digitisation and the empowerment of libraries. Val Stoeva discussed the topic of Reading and Literacy Promotion, sharing her experience of devoting her professional practice to increasing children’s reading by involving their parents. Justine Toms, in a presentation and workshop, reminded everyone of the need for libraries to employ effective Digital Communication, also noting the importance of introducing media literacy to both library staff and users. Ana Lazarova presented an overview of the continuously updating field of Copyright in relation to Libraries in the Digital Era. Marina Encheva situated the digitisation and development of libraries within the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and explained the achievements of local libraries in this area.

The third ADELE Webinar, organised by Public Libraries 2030 on the theme of Digital Skills Training Activities in the Public Library was also part of the LTTA Sofia programme – juxtaposing participants’ experiences with those of their Croatian and Belgian peers.

Cultural context

To ensure a solid understanding of themes introduced on a teaching-learning axis, it is crucial to be familiar with the Cultural Context. In this spirit, the LTTA group took a Sofia Literature Walk led by Alexander Shpatov. Mr Shpatov is a writer and core team member behind the Chitalnyata project, a reading room in City Garden Park, which in 2015 took over a formerly abandoned public kiosk and revitalised it with books and a calm and inviting interior. Enlivened with memorable anecdotes and local gems, the Literature Walk wove a broad story of Sofia and Bulgaria, its politics and culture, and everything in between related to books, writers, publishing, and libraries, leaving its mark on the LTTA attendees who kept recalling their enjoyment of the walk over the following days.

The LTTA Sofia group were also offered the chance to attend the annual Night of Literature event which presents European writers to Bulgarian audiences. Even though all of the book readings were from the Bulgarian translations of each book and not in their original languages, the LTTA participants joined some of the sessions.

A visit to the Sofia City Art Gallery included two retrospectives which, taken together, highlighted historically parallel insights into our shared European identity. One presented the work of Genko Genkov (1923-2006), a significant Bulgarian expressionist painter with an independent approach to art, who eventually clashed with the Communist regime and was interned in a concentration camp and then committed to a psychiatric hospital. The second exhibited the work of the German photographer Barbara Klemm (1959-2004), one of modern Germany’s most prominent chroniclers, with over 120 silver gelatin prints featuring politics, culture and economics, shot before and after the reunification of Germany.

On their last day in Sofia, the group visited the National History Museum, housed in an example of Socialist Modernist architecture at the foot of Vitosha mountain. The mountain is also the city’s biggest park. The group was introduced to the full breadth of cultural and social artifacts uncovered in the territory of modern Bulgaria, dating from the Neolithic Age (6th millennium BC) through the development of Thrace during the Roman era, the subsequent period of Ancient Antiquity, and the medieval period (7th-14th century) beginning with the establishment of the Bulgarian Khanate and including the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet in the 9th century.

Library visits

The library visits within the week covered a diverse selection, each one offering a different perspective in terms of size and function of how the local library system operates. Participants saw how each library builds relationships with their communities, how they organise data, their collections and infrastructure, and also their wider visions and goals.

The first place visited was the Sofia City Library, where the daily sessions of the LTTA were held. Beginning with the American Corner, recognised for its successful involvement of young children and teenagers through regular STEM activities, participants were then guided to the library’s rare book collections, put together from the personal collections of prominent Bulgarians to the library. Some of the oldest books in the library were displayed to the group together with the cleaning machines used for their preservation.

A second library visit was to the New Bulgarian University in the Ovcha Kupel district, with its cozy yet tech friendly library spaces designed for the specific needs of the students and their tutors. The group later visited a small nearby branch of the Sofia City Library, to get a sense of community-dedicated libraries at a smaller scale.

The library exploration continued at the University of Library Studies and Information Technologies and, naturally, to its library and tech room. Participants were welcomed to view the library’s eclectic collection of books, pop-culture memorabilia, and use of space. Last on the list of visits was the St. Cyril and St. Methodius National Library which was holding an exhibition of its manuscript collection of mathematical writings in Arabic. “Mathematics and the Orient” shed light on individual moments in the development of medieval arithmetic, algebra and geometry and their connections with other sciences such as astronomy. After that everyone enjoyed browsing the library’s original paper card catalogue.

Full of new memories, the librarians posed for a last group photo with the LTTA coordinators from the GLBF team – Dr Aneta Doncheva and Vanya Grozdanova – and waved goodbye.

To follow the complete LTTA stories, you could recall how the two previous LTTA weeks held in Brussels (Belgium) and Nocera Umbra (Italy) went, while anticipating the final fourth LTTA week to happen in Dublin (Ireland) shortly ahead.

*During the Digital Communication session, Justine Toms introduced the group to the clue that cats are always very helpful on social media. We decided to check.

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