National Library Week-Slovak Style

By Michael Dowling, Director, ALA International Relations Office

What’s National Library Week like in another country? In Slovakia it means everyone visiting the Nitra Public Library is welcomed as an honored guest with the traditional welcome of bread and salt (Chlieb a soľ in Slovak) with the bread placed on an embroidered towel (rsunik).

Thanks to the generous support from the U.S. State Department I was able to participate in Slovakia’s 14th annual National Library Week, March 18-22, 2013, which was modeled on the U.S. National Library Week. After a pleasant meeting with U.S. Ambassador Ted Sedgwick on Monday morning, who by the way is a past member of board of the prestigious Folger Library in Washington, D.C., it was over to the University Library of Bratislava for the Opening Ceremony for National Library Week, which included TV cameras and heartfelt words by the Minister of Education, Dušan Čaplovič, about the value of libraries. They were echoed by representative of the Ministry of Culture. I along with the presidents of the two major library associations were interviewed. Fun to see my short comments voiced over into Slovakian on that night’s national television broadcast.
The University Library of Bratislava is actually an independent, universal, research library, which serves the general public nationwide.

The University Library of Bratislava is actually an independent, universal, research library, which serves the general public nationwide.

University Library of Bratislava

Situated in a beautifully renovated building right in historic Bratislava, the Library’s goal is to serve the general public as well as safeguard the Slovak cultural heritage and vast documentary wealth for future generations. Its Basagic Collection of Islamic Manuscripts, one of the most precious items in its holdings, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List ‘Memory of the World.’ The library is also home to one of the three InfoUSA centers in Slovakia, part of a world-wide network of American Corners.

Just as in the United States libraries across Slovakia created special events and programs for their National Library Week. When I visited the Trnave Public Library there was International Poetry Contest going on, with local teens dressed up in various attire reading poetry in other languages (English, German, Russian). Very impressive. Normal programming was also taking place, and I had the opportunity to say hello to a class of seniors taking basic computer training.


Michael Dowling visits University Library of Bratislava


And if you are ever in the city of Banská Bystrica make sure to visit the State Scientific Library which also includes both a gallery and literary and music museum. Try your luck at blowing some notes on a Fujara, Slovakia’s version of a didjeridu, which were used by shepherds to communicate. It was then over a winding mountain road to the National Library of Slovakia, which is located in Martin, which was the center of the Slovak national emancipation movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. National Library Director Katarína Krištofová graciously stayed late into the evening showing me some of the treasures from their collection. The National Library is currently leading a huge digitization project that cuts across all sections of Slovak culture and heritage.


University Library of Bratislava visit


Academic libraries used the buzz around national library week to create exhibits or to showcase resources to faculty and students. And for a few lucky second to sixth grade students at QSI International School they got to spend the night at the library, complete with a visit and stories from Hans Christian Anderson.

In addition to making a couple of presentations on how ALA and libraries celebrate National Library Week in the United States, I also discussed how ALA and libraries are transforming to serve the needs of their communities.

Michael Dowling


The Slovak Librarians Association just joined the Campaign for the World’s Libraries so I provide examples of how associations in other countries have creatively used their campaign’s to raise awareness about the value of libraries and librarians. In addition, I participated in a two-hour strategy session with leaders of the Association.

I’d like to thank all of my Slovak colleagues for their warm hospitality (and treats). I would especially like to thank Slovak Librarians Association President Silvia Stasselova for inviting me to be part of National Library Week in Slovakia.