On 13 and 14 November 2023, the eighth National Forum for the Global Libraries network of 1008 public libraries was held in Sofia. The event was organised by the Global Libraries Bulgaria Foundation (GLBF). The Forum focused on public libraries as centres of their local communities, on the theme of Partnerships for Sustainability. The event also marked the tenth anniversary of the establishment of GLBF as the successor body to the programme, “Bulgarian Libraries – places of access to information and communication for everyone”, (better known as the “Glob@l Libraries – Bulgaria” Program) implemented between 2009 and 2013.
Forum participants were addressed by Toma Bikov, Chairman of the Committee for Culture and Media in the 49th Bulgarian National Assembly, who argued that the state is indebted to libraries and must rethink its policy regarding culture and education for society to prosper. Deputy Minister for Culture, Victor Stoyanov congratulated GLBF on its tenth anniversary, noting that he was proud of his role in securing national co-financing in 2013 for the new Foundation, allowing it to grow into the modernising organisation that it is today. Emilia Lazarova, Deputy Minister for Education and Science, emphasised how libraries’ role as educational environments will become more important for increasing literacy and the love of reading. Minister of Finance, Asen Vasilev, who attended the GLBF Annual Awards Ceremony on the evening of 13 November, spoke of how “the work of librarians is not a profession or a craft, it is a calling”, adding that, “the librarian’s job is very difficult because you have to ignite a spark in children so that they become interested, curious, and find fun in something that is not sexy, or modern, that’s not designed to grab their attention like the Internet or television, but that develops imagination, develops thinking and makes them creative individuals”.
30 speakers and panellists participated in the Forum’s general and parallel sessions and discussion groups.
The Forum participants heard from representatives from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) and Stichting IFLA Global Libraries (SIGL Foundation).
- Due to a last-minute complication preventing travel, IFLA Deputy Secretary General Helen Mandl was unable to attend but gave a video presentation welcoming the participants on behalf of IFLA President Vicky McDonald and IFLA Secretary General Sharon Memis. She began by highlighting the Foundation’s 10th anniversary and remarked on the huge strides in Bulgarian libraries’ and librarians’ capacity to improve and benefit the quality of life in their communities. Ms Mandl presented IFLA’s efforts to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the participation of libraries and the Library Map of the World (a tool which shares stories of libraries implementing the SDGs). She also highlighted the opportunities for citizen science provided by Open Access and open science, allowing public libraries to involve their local communities in various aspects of science and data collection such as measuring water quality or the number of birds in suburban gardens.
- Hella Klauser, Vice President of EBLIDA and president of the German Library Association emphasised that in Europe there are over 65,000 public libraries, connected through various networks in terms of their goals. Ms Klauser underlined that today EBLIDA works for libraries that strive for sustainable, inclusive and democratic societies, library legislation, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, changes in EU library policies, and access to various sources of funding. Specifically, she singled out the EU Work Plan for Culture 2023-2026: Priority B – Culture for the People, and the EBLIDA / Council of Europe Recommendations for Library Legislation and Policy. Another major highlight in her speech was the upcoming European Parliament elections in 2024 and the role libraries can play in disseminating information about the elections and the importance for European citizens to exercise their right to vote. Libraries can also use the electoral process to advocate for themselves by contacting parties and candidates with the issues that concern them and ensure their place on the agenda of the post-election Parliament. Ms Klauser believes that if libraries develop and communicate a common message then the power of their voices will increase.
- Inga Lundén, board member of the SIGL Foundation, talked about her organisation’s work at the international level, especially in partnership with IFLA, to empower libraries to improve people’s lives and support sustainable societies. For SIGL, it is particularly important to create the conditions for the development of leaders working at the regional and international level, who advocate for the interests of citizens and make visible the activities of libraries implementing SDGs through the Library Map of the World. To close the presentation, Ms Lundén invited the participants to take a moment to reflect and share with the people around them what they had initiated most recently in their libraries that had helped or impacted the lives of their communities.
The speeches were followed by panels moderated by journalist Milena Yaninska. The first panel was made up of library specialists, Nadezhda Grueva (Director of Zachary Knyazheski Regional Library, Stara Zagora), Valentina Terzieva (Director of Penyo Penev City Library, Dimitrovgrad), and Sonia Parvanova (librarian at the Hristo Botev 1898 Chitalishte, Rila). The panellists discussed how their libraries have participated in various GLBF activities, and the benefits of professional development training on topics such as information and media literacy and social media communication. In particular, the Erasmus+-funded Biblio project was highlighted for its focus on creating new job profiles in the digital library environment and new services for users. As a representative of chitalishte libraries, Sonia Parvanova emphasised that the Foundation’s early small projects grant scheme was extremely useful for small libraries, allowing them to develop and offer programmes for certain groups in their local communities. At the European level, Erasmus+ mobility projects have enabled municipal library professionals to visit other libraries throughout the EU to learn, exchange experiences and then creatively apply what they have learned in their libraries.
The second discussion panel was made up of library advocates and supporters. The panellists were Alexander Shpatov from the Association for Urban Reading Rooms and co-founder of the Reading Foundation; Valentina Stoeva, Chairwoman of the Children’s Books Foundation Reading Foundation, an ambassador for libraries, and the creator of the Children’s Reading organisation; and Elitsa Barakova, advocate and Executive Director of the BCause Foundation, which supports chitalishta throughout the country. Looking at the focus of GLBF activity over the next few years, Mr Shpatov and Ms Stoeva emphasised the need to work towards more reading and more literacy, which gives people opportunities to be informed and make choices, for economic development and a sustainable society. Ms Barakova argued that given libraries’ proximity to people in their communities, they should be actively seeking opportunities for cooperation with and support for local causes.
The final panel was made up of the three chairpersons of the GLBF Management Board since 2013. Ginka Chavdarova was the first chairperson and is the long-time executive Director of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria. Ms Chavdarova played an extremely important role in the early years when the proposal for financing was submitted to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the national government. Ventsislav Velev subsequently led the Board during the period when the Foundation became a member of national and international partner networks and began to work more actively on projects. Mihail Boyadjiev, the current chairperson, has been a member of the Board since the beginning and was nominated for Chair of the Bulgarian Library and Information Association. Mr Boyadjiev advocates for closer cooperation between libraries and local authorities to develop networks that provide services and pieces of training to the public. This last point is considered essential to the future of GLBF. In addition to discussions on how the Foundation has conducted joint work in the past, and remains the only NGO of its kind in Bulgaria that works with the participation of ministries and other NGOs, the panellists all agreed that the future direction of GLBF should be to deepen and expand public libraries’ partnerships, especially with local authorities, because regardless of size libraries are the closest institutions to the people.
The second day of the Forum was divided into three parallel sessions.
The panel, “Libraries – partners in education” was moderated by Valentina Stoeva and included librarians and other professionals working in the sphere of formal and informal education. Krasimira Dimitrova from the Human Resource Development Centre shared the opportunities open to libraries to apply for the Erasmus+ programme and how to obtain accreditation. Iglinka Ivanova from the Coalition for Media Literacy talked about the Coalition initiatives held on Media Literacy Days and also about material which will soon be available in Bulgarian on the Coalition’s website.
Iya Petkova and Asya Blagoeva spoke about the Muzeiko Children’s Science Centre, which became a Sofia Municipality Cultural Institute at the beginning of 2023. They discussed an educational project which they are developing with several libraries in the country for next year and expressed their willingness to work in closer partnerships with libraries in the future.
Two very successful sustainability projects from libraries were presented as part of this panel. Over the years the Lyuben Karavelov Regional Library in Ruse has been teaching financial literacy to children and adults alongside the Financial Literacy Initiative Foundation, with funding from GLBF, UniCredit Bank in Ruse, and Erasmus+. These programmes have involved training librarians and setting up educational platforms. In Stara Zagora, the Zachariy Knyazheski Regional Library and Institute of Modern Psychology have developed a sustainable training program for librarians which includes bibliotherapy, a creative arts therapy based on literary text and speech. The bibliotherapy counselling project is the first of its kind in Bulgarian libraries. More than 350 librarians from Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia have been trained in the Bulgarian Library and Information Association courses for bibliotherapy consultants.
The “Technology in Libraries” panel consisted of a diverse group of practitioners and experts in the application of technology in the library environment. It was moderated by the creator of the Az Cheta (‘I read’) website, Alexander Krastev. As part of the discussion, Neli Nedelcheva from the Ministry of Culture described how Bulgarian cultural institutions can benefit from funding under the national Recovery and Sustainability Plan. Alex Rizov from Microsoft presented the company’s ideas for changing libraries through a digital transformation in their interactions with readers. Petar Andreev from the Workshop for Civil Initiatives Foundation demonstrated how Tech Soup, the platform for donations and discounts from technology companies for NGOs, can facilitate the work of libraries and save on software costs.
The final part of this panel was dedicated to good practices. Radka Kalcheva and Silvia Pavlova, Directors of the regional libraries in Varna and Vratsa, and Kamelia Koneva from the American Corner in Sofia City Library gave several examples from their institutions for how processes and projects, both large and small, can benefit readers and save time and resources for librarians. Among the examples discussed were: the virtual ‘Eli’ librarian who frees up 16 working hours per day in Varna; the book podcast from Vratsa; and the various STEM activities offered by the American Corner in both the City Library building and mobile libraries throughout the Sofia region.
NGO organisations, business representatives and public libraries participated in the panel “Libraries in implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals” moderated by Spaska Tarandova. Tsvetelina Neshkova, Chairman of the Board of the Bulgarian Platform for International Development spoke about the Platform’s partnership with 16 national non-profit organisations working in the fields of social justice, Bulgarian and EU development policy, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and global education. She paid particular attention to “Gaming the Goals!”, a project that has developed a series of online materials on global education for different age groups, which libraries can use when working with children and students. Ioana Tsoneva from IKEA presented cultural and educational projects supported by the company over the years since the construction of the first “Room for Early Childhood Development” in Sofia City Library in 2013. Representatives from the Green Balkans Wildlife Rescue Centre and Stara Zagora Regional Library discussed their partnership project, funded by GLBF, to form a responsible attitude towards animals, and more specifically birds, that live in cities and share space in the ecosystem with children and students. The Director of the Peyo Yavarov Regional Library in Burgas spoke about their experience constructing the new library building and their nomination for the IFLA “Green Library” award in 2022. This was in keeping with their tradition of working with students on the responsible treatment of natural resources and limiting the effects of plastic waste. Kalina Ivanova, Director of the Petko R Slaveykov Regional Library in Veliko Tarnovo, spoke about a project related to the implementation of the 5th Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality, presenting how, through literature, European teenagers are brought up as readers and creators. The G-Book2 project is a continuation of G-Book1, financed under the Erasmus programme.
Throughout the Forum, participants explored new opportunities for future cooperation at the cross-border, transnational and European levels, with a view to how libraries may develop further as information intermediaries and centres for the sustainable development of communities. Participants discussed the topics of better Internet access, information services, lifelong learning, the development of creative and entrepreneurial skills, increased citizen participation in public life, better integration of disadvantaged groups, and digital, information and media literacy. These are all important activities undertaken by modern public libraries in partnership with various businesses and other organisations.
More than 150 participants attended the Forum, representing public libraries from all over Bulgaria, academia and the business sector, executive, legislative and local authorities, non-governmental organisations, and representatives from international library organisations.
On the evening of the first day, there was a ceremony for the 7th annual Global Libraries Bulgaria Foundation awards, presented in four categories.
The media partners for the 2023 Forum were Bulgarian National Radio and Bulgarian National Television, as well as the online sites As Cheta (‘I Read’), Detski Knigi (‘Children’s books’) and Kafene.bg. The event was held at the Toplocentrala Regional Centre for Contemporary Arts.
 The Association for Urban Reading Rooms was the winner of the GLBF Facilitator Award in 2017.