The Impact of Romania's Libraries

Jennifer Peterson   / 

[Romanian Translation of this article]

In 2009 the Biblionet program was launched in Romania through the generous support of Global Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By February 2012, the program had trained 2,175 librarians and equipped over 1,500 public libraries with 6,460 computers. From the introduction to The Library Wanderers, a collection of stories from 60 libraries, we get a preview of how the program has transformed communities throughout Romania:

Beyond the numbers, the Biblionet program is restoring public libraries to their vital place in the heart of communities. Rural and urban public libraries are becoming true social centers again. Till recently, libraries used to be a place of quiet reading. Now, people are coming to libraries in order to look for information online, from news to job ads, or their bank account balance. Adults come here for professional training courses, while kids come here to chat online with their parents who are working abroad.

On my recent trip to Romania, I had the great pleasure of meeting the 100 librarian trainers who are most notably responsible for the impact this program is having on Romanian communities. I was invited to do a presentation on webinars at the Librarian Trainers' International Conference, in beautiful Predeal, Romania, which sits in the Carpathian Mountains. Thank you to Biblionet and IREX for inviting me!

Biblionet Trainers

Beginning in 2009, librarians have been selected through a competitive process to serve as Biblionet trainers in Romania's 41 counties. They come to the position with deep library experience and a palpable passion for lifelong learning. Those creating the train-the-trainer model saw early on how important it was not to train in the usual ways. Instead training is innovative and fun and as a result, trainers really have become a team.

[Photo by Bogdan Grigore]

This action-packed one and a half day conference was no exception! I'll try to share some of the magic I attempted to capture in my notes, as there were many, many lessons to learn from this amazing library program.

After some project updates from the IREX and Biblionet staff, one of the trainers, Margareta Tătăruș, in an exercise on PERSPECTIVE, invited the group to reflect on change, thinking about libraries 20 years ago, 5 years ago, and now today. "And the biggest change is here in this room; you are responsible for changing libraries!" She also emphasized their ability to embrace INNOVATION, accepting challenges with originality. And finally she spoke about MOTIVATION. What qualities demonstrate motivation in these librarian trainers? She gathered these responses from the audience:

  • Always wanting to change, to do more, for yourself and for the community.
  • Wanting to see the results of your efforts.
  • Experiencing the power of giving back.
  • Seeing the satisfaction of those local librarians they train.
  • The will to achieve.
  • Being willing to help others.
  • The joy of sharing knowledge.
  • Forcing others to embrace changing perspectives.
  • Satisfaction, my own, and that of those I serve.
  • The patrons/customers...when I see them walk in the library, I see my salary!

Then Margareta invited the 14 trainers who have formed the Romania Training Work Group to come up to the front. She shared a Romanian tradition, that on a baby's first birthday, a tray of objects is presented to the child, who then chooses an object which predicts the child's future occupation or aspiration. These key trainers were asked to select an object from the tray and then Margareta shared their meaning. I thought this was a fantastic excercise to use to forecast roles in the group's important work. Here are the objects and meanings shared by my translator:

  • a flashdrive - this person will keep information in order
  • a catapult - to throw ideas out into the group
  • a music CD - to keep the group entertained
  • a music box - for delicate issues
  • a notebook and pen - for the task master
  • a cell phone - to organize communication
  • a flashlight - to be a guiding light
  • a camera - to document progress
  • a joke book - to keep them laughing
  • a key - to unlock mind and soul
  • the sun - to ensure they sleep and can wake joyfully

As we all know, the best stories of library impact come directly from our community members and patrons. The next set of presentations told the impact stories of 4 libraries and, in addition to the librarian,Mircea Pîslaru and Antonela Sofia Barbu the conference supported the attendance of a patron impacted by their library's training. The conference coordinators provided an English translation of these Romania Library Success Stories, but I can't emphasize enough how powerful this segment was for all gathered! The librarians were truly honored to be invited to attend the trainer's conference. It gave me a glimpse at how highly respected these trainers are among the library community in Romania, and I have great confidence in the sustainability of their reputation as outstanding trainers. And the patron stories were so powerful! Mircea Pîslaru shared his story, and how he benefited from training provided at the Municipal Library of Mediaş in Sibiu County by the librarian, Antonela Sofia Barbu.

“Thanks to the internet and this course, my life is different. I used Facebook announcements to sell nuts and I talked with my daughter who is away. I became friends with many people and, although I have to travel 15 km for these courses, BuniNet is a second family to me. A family of beautiful people."

Additional patron testimonials came from a boy who had learned how to cook at his library, and another from a thirteen year old girl who has learned technology and life skills at her library, where she gets adult support she lacks at home, as her parents work abroad. I encourage US libraries to bring your patron stories to library conferences!

Before lunch, the other Global Libraries grantees who were in attendance shared presentations about the great work they're doing in their libraries. You can see the slides from these presentations from Bulgaria, Botswana, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine (parts one and two). They of course have equally as many lessons to share and I want to thank all of them for the many conversations I shared with them! WebJunction will continue to feature international libraries and we look forward to sharing your stories.

Following lunch, we rotated through four twenty minute speed-training sessions which touched on a number of soft skills crucial to successful training. One session addressed how to deal with difficult training participants, and another walked through how to do a training needs analysis. Another explored Stephen Covey's work on interdependence and a final session provided a number of physical (and fun!) exercises exploring partnering and teamwork.

We wrapped up the sessions that first day with an "Ideas Fair" for the seven regional Training Centers to showcase the accomplishments of the work in the 41 county libraries. There were examples of training for librarians and community members, of successful partnerships and best practices in programming and marketing. Lots of ideas were exchanged and you could really sense the pride in the work they've done. Be sure to check out the many photos of the Ideas Fair that I've posted on WebJunction's Flickr.

Not only has Biblionet done a fantastic job of connecting these trainers to the stories of their impact, but they've also been able to connect to key corporate and governmental agencies in their country and throughout Europe. Luminiţa Corneanu and JenniferAn honored guest at the conference, Luminiţa Corneanu from Romania's Ministry of Culture, proudly shared the success of their PR, advocacy and marketing project, The Library Wanderers. Bibilonet worked with four nationally recognized journalists who traveled to 60 libraries collecting real stories from Biblionet libraries. The project consists of a website, and a published print and ebook with the stories. An English version of complete ebook will be available early next year, but you can browse many stories already translated, and view the amazing photographs that accompany the book already posted to the site. Luminiţa shared that the book filled with stories has been and indispensible tool in demonstrating the impact of Biblionet. She has shared it with members of Parliament and in local governments around the country to show the importance of libraries in Romania.

The project team shared some of the plans moving forward including innovative programs for libraries to reach further into their communities. One project will enable libraries to train rural doctors in basic technology skills so that they can access additional medical training opportunities, which would then allow them to provide online services to patients in remote areas who are unable to travel for health check ups. I look forward to the coming year and know that Romania will most certainly benefit more from the great work of their libraries.

Mulţumesc, thank you, to all the librarian trainers I met! You have much to teach libraries and librarians around the world!

Learn more about Biblionet: