People make our libraries. People make us believe in the present and in the future of the libraries, without ever forgetting the memories of the past.
We have long been rethinking the role of our libraries in society and are now focusing our attention on what they should look like after the pandemic. We are confident that libraries should become a hub of democracy, doubling down on and promoting community engagement, developing our work around lifelong learning (presential and online) and contributing with services and activities as stated in the Sustainable Development Goals.
People need a library that is open and welcoming because they need to have a sense of belonging. It is our belief that in order to do this, our democratic values have to be in place. We believe that the role of our libraries in democracy is to allow for conversation and an open participation of all, fostering respect for each others values, feelings and opinions. In order to do this we need to start listening to people, include them in our decision making, and this can easily be done through world cafes and focus groups, so as to encourage community engagement. With community engagement people feel free to advocate for the importance of the libraries in society.
Libraries are a friendly neutral ground where non judgement is the rule and people feel unthreatened and open to engage, to stimulate their curiosity, their need to gain knowledge, acquire new perspectives and develop critical reflection. In our libraries, there is a place for people to present, for the first time, their work in theater, music, and exhibitions. There is a stage where young people can show their technological productions such as through video games and youtube. There is a space where people with low literacy level can develop their literacy skills and achieve success boosting self-confidence.
Another of our concerns is that in an era where we are bombarded by information, very often misinformation and sometimes downright fake news, the library should become a breath of fresh air. Because of this we make press reader available to everyone who has a reader card. More than 7.000 magazines and newspapers in Portuguese, English, French, Spanish… is accessible to all our readers. Keeping people informed is our concern and we want to provide them with a wide range of sources. Besides this our uses get the opportunity to read in their own language, which increases the sense of belonging.
Libraries have a strong impact in people’s lives. But this can only be achieved through dedicated multidisciplinary teams contributing with different experiences to our visitors keeping in mind the mission of the public service. Never wavering to go the extra mile. Their dedication was clearly felt now during the pandemic when people complained about the closing of the libraries because they felt the need to be there. They missed the support of our staff to study, to research, but very often, and particularly among our elderly visitors, to just have a friendly ear that would listen to the story of their lives, memories of their hometown. This simple gesture of listening curbs their loneliness and keeps their minds active and builds relationships. In some neighbourhoods the library is the only safe, trusting, credible and cosy place to be, the only place where no one is set apart, where everyone can express their interests, their needs, their dreams. And very often simply to provide a roof over someone’s head during the day, to rest in silence, even if they have to go back to their harsh reality after the library closes. This is only possible because our staff are true to their mission.
People make our libraries – everyone is involved in the running of the libraries – our users, our stakeholders and our teams.
Susana Silvestre, Head of Library Network Department