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Digital Libraries in Bosnia and Herzegovina
A library without a librarian it is worthless

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we look at the world, including travel and everyday life, but also the role of libraries in people’s lives. Libraries have always been extremely important for every community because they are centres of information, culture, and education, and in them we always have access to relevant, recent and verified data. The most important person in all of this is the librarian.

By Ejla Ćurovac

The librarian must be a walking encyclopaedia, they must have knowledge of different areas of human creativity and knowledge, and they must be willing to share that knowledge with others. A library can exist without a building, and even without books, but without a librarian it is worthless. This was proved in this case as well. Library buildings were closed and thus it seemed that libraries no longer provided their services, but that was not the case. A large number of librarians around the world turned to social networks and media in order to continue their communication with people. In this way, we continued to respond to user requests, to communicate with our users, and services were transferred to the online environment. Book have been digitised and provided to the users who need them, avoiding direct contact between librarians and library users.

A library can exist without a building, and even without books, but without a librarian it is worthless

Ejla Ćurovac

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, libraries continued to operate during the pandemic. Even when it was not obvious that they were working, behind-the-scenes work was being done. Many children could not read required literature because the libraries were physically closed, but a number of school librarians decided to create a special group on Facebook where they offered digital versions of books for teachers, who then passed them on to their students. The group has expanded over time, with books being added by many members, and now the online school library has grown considerably and is very useful for students. Given that some students are still attending online classes, this is a great way for them to access the resources they need.

A large number of libraries started to operate via email, Facebook, and Instagram, enabling them to communicate successfully with their users. Even now, when most libraries have reopened, these online services are continuing because more users are now being reached. Many institutions and libraries organised online events including courses for children, workshops, and conversations with writers. This demonstrates the importance of the librarians who have been able to design and offer the whole programme to their users. A large number of librarians worked in their communities, striving to ensure everyone had access to books, information, and the necessary technology to access digital content. They organised the gathering of old IT equipment that was given to students who did not have the opportunity to follow online classes. These librarians showed the importance of activism, and how much librarians can contribute to the excellent functioning of the educational system.

Some libraries, including the Bosniak Institute, directed their activism towards providing basic conditions for people to live a normal life during the pandemic, distributing five thousand protective masks to the National Kitchen. The National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina also worked hard to digitise a large number of old periodicals, as well as newer editions, which they then offered to their users. They also published the Guide to Public Libraries in Bosnia and Herzegovina which illustrates the importance of libraries in this environment. Two extremely important institutions for librarians in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Association of Librarians of the Federation BiH and the Association of Librarians, Archivists and Museologists (BAM) organised the celebration of the International Day and Night of Books and Copyright. The organisers and all participants have adapted their content to the new situation and online environment, and all services and activities are offered online. The theme was ‘With a book around the world’ which aimed to encourage reading and to promote conversation about key topics in world affairs, while pointing out that now is the right time to read. More than ever before, at a time when most of the world is closed and people are restricted in movement, the power of books should be harnessed in fighting isolation, strengthening ties between people, broadening our horizons, and stimulating our minds and creativity.

The Gazi Husrev-bey Library staff were working every day, and during the two months that the library was closed to the public librarians worked and designed content. They offered their users a lot of new content during the lockdown period, including online exhibitions and large numbers of digital documents that could be accessed free of charge at any time. It showed the importance of the online library that was established two years ago, particularly in this situation. Users were able to access the content they needed, and if they had special requests, they could contact librarians via social media or email. The library employees tried to show the importance of the conservation and restoration process in this period and how best to protect the materials from external conditions, and at the same time protect library employees and users who would have contact with library materials. During this period, the library’s website was updated to make it as clear and user-friendly as possible.

Many other institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina have also adapted their services to the new situation. Librarians, more than ever, in cooperation with each other wanted to encourage users to read and offer them the opportunity to travel the world through the world of books and imagination at a time when all borders were closed.