MORE THAN BOOKS: MODERNIZING GEORGIA'S LIBRARIES
Georgian libraries are slowly adapting to their new roles as places for collective knowledge and community.
Georgian libraries are striving to modernize, like this facility. Open space and open access help citizens utilize the best information tools.
Georgian libraries are struggling to meet the needs of their communities; with dated collections, dilapidated infrastructure and few resources, they lack the means to attract new readers and provide modern services. Several new projects, however, are trying to modernize libraries in the capital and the regions.
The concept of libraries has changed over the years, evolving from a quiet place where people seek books, to something akin to a community center for collective knowledge.
Today, libraries around the world strive to reflect the needs of the communities they serve, be they places for reading, gathering, sharing information, training others or just entertaining.
Out of the hundreds of libraries in Georgia, however, there are just four "modern libraries" in the country.
Building a Place to Learn
A joint project between International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) and the Public Service Development Agency Project, called Public Libraries for Local Development, sought to fill that gap.
The project, which ended in 2015, looked for new approaches in library management.
Four libraries in the regions that participated in the project were given a modern makeover, and now provide services beyond the traditional functions of a library, according to Giorgi Kekelidze, the head of National Parliamentary Library of Georgia (NPLG), which was a partner in the project.
"They are integrated with local Community Centers, a project of the Ministry of Justice, and provide different legal services like issuing certain documents, property registration and so forth. You can find more computers in such libraries and special spaces for children," he said.
"The aim of a modern library is to give every opportunity to a person who wants to get information and improve their knowledge. Libraries should be cultural and educational centers that help each member of society to be more active and involved in the process of civil development." IREX and the Public Service Development Agency work on re-concepting more than 14 libraries in regions of Georgia, noted Salome Chukhua, the project manager from the Public Service Development Agency. The proejct should end by April, 2017.
But these modern public spaces make up a very small part of the libraries in Georgia. According to Rusudan Asatiani, President of the Georgian Library Association, 900 public libraries serve the communities in the country's regions and 36 serve the capital city of Tbilisi. "Most of them have infrastructural problems like damaged buildings and old storage areas, and staff that do not have competitive salaries," she said.
Libraries in Georgia are decentralized, so there is a different level of funding for each municipality. "I know librarians in Georgian villages whose monthly salary is equal to $35, but some of them have good income, too. It depends on the region's local budget."
According to Kekelidze, the NPLG is also helping regional libraries, including the Books for Every Village project. Another idea, called Internet for Every Village, belongs to the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili. IREX was one of the donors for the project, which equipped 48 libraries in the Kakheti region with a computer, printer and internet. The staff also received additional training on how a modern librarian should work. Every villager can use the equipment, Asatiani said.
What about Libraries in Tbilisi?
Tbilisi's local government runs 36 libraries across the city—and just two are categorized as modern libraries. "Mediathek," also known as Tbilisi Media Center Union, is a project initiated and funded by Tbilisi City Hall.
100 people join the libraries each month, and the project includes "a reading space for children and adults," according to the Mediathek webpage.
Other libraries in Tbilisi have more or less same problems as libraries in the regions, says Kekelidze. But unlike village libraries, they do not receive assistance from projects focused on the development of public spaces. Libraries in Tbilisi are receiving some help, however.
Georgia's Innovation and Technology Agency, in cooperation with the National Information Society Agency (NIA) of South Korea, is going to renovate one of the city's libraries in Tbilisi and equip it with innovative technologies, such as an internet access center. The IT lab at the library will be accessible for people with disabilities, as well. In addition, the local government has a strategy on how to develop libraries' infrastructure, according to Nutsa Abashidze, Spokesperson of the Department of Culture at the Tbilisi's Mayor Office. "The government's plan covers three main areas, such as the infrastructural development of Tbilisi's libraries and establishing social-cultural centers, converting to an electronic library management system, and providing other innovative services, such as mobile libraries for the disabled.
At the same time, we are renovating old libraries and transforming them into something modern. For instance, a special space for children and additional rooms to organize presentations or conferences was added to the headquarters of the Tbilisi City Library in 2015," says Abashidze.