What exactly is a community library?
It works like this: We are a public institution and are financed by the market town. That means that the staff is paid by it and we have a certain budget available every year for purchasing media. The whole concept goes back to a law that says that every citizen should have access to every book. And that's why, as everywhere in Germany in the 1950s, a library was created here.
Actually a nice principle!
Exactly, that also creates a certain equality of opportunity. And we really still have it very well here. Since we opened, we only have dunning fees here, and they are at a very low level. With us there is no membership fee or annual fee or the like. Because we also do a lot with schools, the children don't have to pay any fees. Well, that really simplifies things. But I think we are now even more obliged than perhaps fifty years ago to make access as easy as possible for those who live on the lower edge of society.
It's also nice if there is an offer that may work apart from trade and marketing. Also simply to have a certain selection that is not linked to the financial reach. A library of course can do that much better.
Yes exactly. I guess that already many who use the offer ... But I also recently made another statistic: We are sixteen thousand residents here, and here in the library we have 2328 active readers. In my opinion there are not that many. The last few years have been around two and a half thousand, most of whom are pupils. And you can see from this that many buy their books.
Yes, I can well imagine that. But maybe many are not even aware that this library exists?
That's probably right. Although we are really present in public places. We hold events, readings or even a flea market. But of course there might still be many who do not know that the library exists.
At this point I have to admit that I had long forgotten that the library existed and had to look for something until I found it again in the center of the village. A very nice building, by the way.
Yes, it's very comfortable here in the old schoolhouse. Also from the square, with the two floors. Especially now during the restrictions imposed by the virus.
What does a normal day look like? Most of the time students come by, I assume?
So well We have now set up two branches, because although the elementary and middle schools are not far away, it simply means a certain amount of effort for the students to come to us. That's why we just set up a school library in an empty classroom. Of course, with a slightly reduced inventory. And in the elementary school in the neighboring village we have set up a reading workshop that was financed by a foundation at the initiative of the teachers there. We are there once a week and do the loan with the students. So it's almost like that, we go there sooner than they come from. Yes, the offer must also be kept as accessible as possible for the teachers. It's just easier to go two floors below. This was still possible in smaller groups with the hygiene measures recently. But of course we usually also do active reading promotion, so read something aloud and do handicrafts, and then the classes come to us here. Tuesday and Friday we are also closed in the mornings, when groups, elementary school classes and preschoolers come. Hopefully that will happen again soon. It feels like thirty years ago: Come on, take your book and go! It really was like that back then. But now, or for twenty years now, the concept has been moving in the direction of a meeting point, a place of communication, where I also meet others. We often have three or four mothers here with their children. They might then sit down in a corner, read something to their children, then borrow something. Or our reading café, with over 60 subscribed magazines per month. People sit down and leaf through the newspapers with a cup of coffee next to them. Something like that is really ideal for some people, who then sat here all afternoon. We really see ourselves here as a communicative meeting point. And of course as an educational institution: we go to schools, provide teachers with literature, advise them on what they can read with their students. We have whole class sets that you can borrow. Really a lot of cooperation with the school.
It's really nice when a library like this is not just a, well, lending facility, but maybe also a meeting place.
It is really wanted that way. In the past there were simply grants from the state, not too much, but at least. That changed ten or fifteen years ago, you only get something when you do a project. So it is also politically wanted: Get involved, do something! Our current concept is also corresponding.
How do you communicate to the outside world when you do something?
Yes, I might even call that our weak spot. We hand out leaflets, but of course people have to come here for that. Then we always have a small advertisement in the daily newspaper whenever we have any events, which are mostly readings. We do a lot of readings for the schools, but that is in camera. There are authors who are currently on a reading tour or whom I am arranging. I then discuss this with the teachers, who come to the schools in the mornings. And in the evening, maybe accompanied by a little music here. This is often communicated on the artist's website, or in the newspaper or in the community's newsletter and in the calendar of events on our website.
As a communication designer, that's always a difficult question for me. How do you reach those for whom it might be interesting?
Of course, I also have a certain pool of interested parties, so I usually also send a circular email. And we have also simply found in recent years that the best way to address people directly. We do that quite intensively here in the library. They might then get a handout with information about what is happening when and where. Some of them come to us with the request to let us know when something happens again. There is simply a personal connection to the library.
Okay now I would like to hear something about where a library finds its media. How do you actually choose your books?
First of all, we have a trade association that gives us lists of new publications. I also have a good little bookstore nearby, so I order a lot because I want to support them locally. Of course, I am also well advised. They then tell me that there is something new or pack me a box with the book series. Also recommendations from the field of novels that may not be so common. And then of course we also get a lot of book requests from our readers. We also have notes for this. They write it down and we buy it. Of course we do something like that, also a lot for students who then read a series of books. It should be here especially for the readers. Even if it doesn't necessarily suit my taste (laughs). Of course we also look at what's new on the Internet. Or we do research when, for example, a teacher comes to us with a certain topic. We make sure that the stock is always renewed. We also have a standing order from a library supplier, Spiegel bestseller list for example, where we get the bestseller from the Spiegel list every week. Something like that is fine. And of course we can also order books from any Bavarian university library. Which even students use well for their seminar work. Also for adults who are interested in topics outside the mainstream. We order a hundred to a hundred and fifty books from the university libraries
And what do you think makes a good children's book?
A good children's book? That's really difficult. Because there is really a lot, well ... I think that where a lot is happening is in the non-fiction books. They have gained a lot lately. We all have them together on a shelf at primary school age. And they have really increased lately, especially in terms of design, but also in addressing the various performance groups. That you really prepare a topic, the most important printed in large or specially highlighted and then also information for those who like to read on or want to deal more with it, a little smaller. Some then look at the pictures and only read the big things, everyone can decide for themselves, I think that's really very nice with non-fiction books at the moment. And that is why a lot of emphasis is placed on the design elements. You just have to offer something other than the Internet. Some of the picture books too. I also find it important that a children's book still has complete sentences and is grammatically correct. With the children themselves, it is the case that they read a lot of comics, Minecraft, Fortnight.
Oh, yes, I always hear a lot about that, and that it also causes some dispute.
That is also this computer game. There are also really well-made non-fiction books on how can I increase my level there or what am I doing there and so on. And then there are also small novels and stories to accompany them. Well, I think something like that doesn't necessarily need it, not particularly educationally valuable or something. Then you just do a little balancing act. (laughs) But now I don't want to play too much, to decide what brings you further and what doesn't. I often get inquiries from worried mothers that my child should read something clever. Yes, I would say we also took a step back, be happy if your child reads anything at all, I often answer.
The last time I looked around in a library in the children's and youth department, it seemed to me that there was really only fantasy standing around, and not exactly of higher quality ...
We notice that too. We have three shelves full of Fantasy. In other categories that we have like animals, sports, tension, there is less to be found. From the latter one could probably rearrange a third to Fantasy. Yes, that's the way it is.
Okay, to conclude, a last difficult question: Why should one read at all?
Why should one read? Well, I'll put it this way, in elementary school it is just important that you learn to read. It doesn't have to become a hobby now, even if it might make things easier. But you definitely have to be able to do it. I don't know where it's all going. Maybe you can do without it. I think it will be difficult. Our world is not getting any easier. How not reading affects our intelligence might be interesting to know. Perhaps that is also a question of intention. Some would find it useful if some people could no longer read and thus understand less of our complex world. How can one come to knowledge if one cannot read it? Do you only hear it then, do I look at pictures? Can one understand connections from this? I dont know. In any case, my position is that every child should learn to read as best they can. I have already noticed that the children who cannot read intelligently also have worse chances. That makes it difficult for them. But of course, who knows what will be in a hundred years. In the meantime, however, a lot of programs are read to you.
I do also think it is quite probable that the written word will accompany us all for some more time...
Yes, I think so, too. Maybe a little simplified. I noticed a certain lack in the diversity of language or however you want to call it, which has increased over the last few years. When I read books to children fifteen, thirty years ago, there are classics that you can still read. Even in the picture book area, then I notice that there are now words in it that a child can no longer understand today, that you explain, that you have to ask about. In the books that are now appearing, it doesn't even appear anymore. And of course, language is something alive that changes, but you can already tell that it has become less.
This is a sad but true conclusion. I personally hope that there may arise even as many new words for that matter. Anyway, thank you very much for the valuable talk. And I hope to be able to visit the library in person soon.
My pleasure, Good bye.