The National Shelf Service
YCI-Fellow Despina Gerasimidou aims at a revolution of library systems in Greece and the Balkans
“From collection to connection, and from connection to creation.” That’s the mantra of Despina Gerasimidou, who is convinced that Greece’s libraries can become beacons of social change. The country, with its chronic public-funding shortage, doesn’t from the outside seem like a promising candidate. But the Future Library initiative, where Gerasimidou is director, has high ambitions.
“We are talking about a revolution here, about the renaissance of the physical library as space,” she says, “More and more libraries are transforming themselves into local hubs, community centers and offering solutions to people’s problems, and services we could not have imagined before: maker spaces, media labs, music studios and business centres.”
Established in 2011 in Veria, Macedonia, to spread the model of the city’s pioneering central library, Future Library now operates across 140 libraries in Greece and the Balkans. Among many things, it has transformed nine into state-of-the-art media labs, and organises librarian training and summer-reading campaigns.
They’re backed by the philanthropic Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which this summer opened a €600m Athens cultural centre; FL also plans to extend the network out into 11 other countries in the region, including Turkey, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Promoting traditional literacy as well as digital-era skills obviously ticks the kind of egalitarian nurturing role that is the purpose of all libraries, and which can be a starting point for greater social mobility. But Future Library’s support programme could benefit one group in particularly dire need: the estimated 60,000 refugees in limbo in Greece.
“Libraries demonstrate a long tradition of attracting and embracing people regardless of their countries of origin,” says Gerasimidou, “They have the power to advocate for the refugees’ rights of access to education and information, but even more than that: free access to education and information is a fundamental right of all people.”
Future Library has mapped the availability of such services in Greece to refugees, and last year organised a multi-disciplinary training workshop in which librarians, municipal staff, social and NGO workers could learn how to help.
It has been a turbulent time for all public services in Greece – part of the reason why a private philanthropic organisation like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation has decided to step in to stimulate an already-outdated library network. Navigating this partnership hasn’t been plain sailing. The National Library will move to new premises in the Athens cultural centre, while the Foundation will only hand over the Cultural Center, the building and the park to the Greek state. In parallel, the achievements across the wider library networks are already significant – the second time a great library-builder has come out of Macedonia.
Future Library director Despina Gerasimidou was attending the 2016 Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators. The original of this article was produced by Red Bull Amaphiko and it can be found here: https://amaphiko.redbull.com/en/magazine/the-national-shelf-service