Libro Futuro

Library for all and learning for a lifetime! Mario Coffa interviews Jasmina Ninkov

Intervista in italiano

Jasmina Ninkov has been successfully running, since 2009, the Belgrade City Library, the biggest public library system in Serbia. She is also member of the Management Board of Parent library Community of Serbia and Management Board of Association of Publishers and booksellers of Serbia. Member of the professional team of the Institute of Standardisation in Serbia in the field of information and documentation etc. She is one of the leading Serbian experts in the field of librarianship, an active member of national and foreign professional organizations, working groups, committees. She was participating and presenting on numerous IFLA Congresses and was the member of the Standing Committee of Metropolitan Section of IFLA in two terms (2013-2017). Jasmina Ninkov demonstrated active participation and leadership within Serbian Library Association, where she was member of the Management board for 4 years (2007-2011), and President (2011-2015) with a proven ability to build networks and professional relationships. She was participating in INELI project cohort 2 for library leaders funded by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and INELI Balkan project as Ambassador for Serbia, in a very important regional project which had established a network of library leaders in the region and Europe. As a director of Belgrade City Library, since 2009, she demonstrated the capacity to achive all the goals and to move into an international leadership role working in several european projects related to using of IT in libraries, life long learning etc. She has a depth of understanding of issues that have a current or expected impact on the library and information services sector on a global level. She demonstrated relevant knowledge and experience to work on key strategic projects and proven ability for creative thinking and innovative ideas and has written and oral communication skills. Ms. Ninkov earned her MA degree at the Faculty of Political Science (Department of Journalism) and a title of Library advisor. Ms. Ninkov has considerable experience (over 20 years) in managing domestic and international projects, including EU large-scale projects. She has published a book: 21st Century Libraries, and numerous articles.

The first question I want to ask you concerns one of your works published on the net that talked about a topic that is talked about “too much” little despite its extreme importance and whose title read: “Library for All! The role of the library and the building of an inclusive community, programs and services for people with disabilities”. Can you tell us about this project?

I strongly believe that public libraries retain an important role in ensuring a literate information society.  Public libraries are a force of public good. They are access points open to everybody who is in need of information to meet the challenges of their life.  By defending and promoting democratic participation, the public library supports groups with special needs and prevents exclusion of socially marginalised individuals. Public libraries have a unique culture: they are accessible, civil and enjoyable places. They provide a unique mix of resources and services and embody the values necessary to contribute to a socially inclusive society by being a secure, risk-free and supportive place that welcomes all on equal terms. They are a gateway to knowledge, a monument to diversity, a driving force for learning and a catalyst for change. Belgrade City Library (BCL) promotes the full inclusion of persons with disabilities into our society by becoming accessible to them (both physically and virtually). With variety of programs and services through its wide network covering the whole city, BCL has one of the key roles in creating cultural and social life of the community. In addition to fostering the cultural and educational mission, the library, as a socially responsible institution, pays much attention to people with special needs. Its services are available to everyone, which is the basic principle of a public library and thus, BCL puts much effort in connecting these people with library’s services and programs and has got a wide  network of its libraries throughout the city and organizations that deal with these groups of people are located in each municipality, so all our libraries have long established cooperation with them at the local level, knowing that social integration of people with disabilities is best achieved through cultural integration.

And, additionally, for some years, BCL library has successfully cooperated with the National Employment Service and  through this partnership, BCL employs persons with disabilities.

Initially, this cooperation was based on humanitarian free membership, and in the last few years, special projects and programs for people with disabilities have been designed and implemented:

The project “Inclusion through Art – Promotion of Inclusion through audio-visual arts” has been successfully implementing since 2017. The use of different music therapy techniques contributes to the fact that it can be applied to all persons, regardless of physical, verbal or mental abilities. The workshop is led by a music teacher, and the participants in the workshop are lower grade students from Belgrade elementary schools and users of the “Day-care Centre” for people with autism. Children with and without disabilities participate together.

In the BCL’s children’s departments, from 2018, a joint interdisciplinary program “Sign Language Workshops” for pupils of regular primary schools and pupils from special schools (children with hearing impairments) is being implemented. The workshop was designed and implemented by a court interpreter for sign language in cooperation with the librarians of the Children’s department. The children in the workshop learn the alphabet in sign language and try very hard to learn all the letters and words of the language used by people with hearing impairments, and children with this disability help them. An obligatory part of the workshop is the presentation of fairy tales in sign language, which are well accepted by children without and with disabilities. A special contribution of these projects is the direct inclusion, which is realized through joint participation in the program of children from regular primary schools and children with disabilities.

The users of the Living Together“ association come to the Children’s Department where librarians, in cooperation with educators, design and organize puppet shows, reading classes and art workshops, and actively participate in inclusive creative workshops organized by this association. Also, there is a cooperation with the “Day Centre for People with Special Needs” traditionally, the Library organizes “Socializing on Wednesdays” for their users. Within that program, several different activities were organized. Most successful are the workshops of making wooden objects, decoupage, making objects from natural and recycled materials, calligraphy, jewellery making and art workshop.

The project “The Same in Diversity” in partnership with the “Handy Centre Colosseum Association” and the 14th Belgrade Gymnasium. The aim of the workshops was to sensitize and educate high school children about the rights of persons with disabilities, to prevent violations of these rights and the specific needs of persons with disabilities, which contributes to the development of greater tolerance towards persons with disabilities and their integration into society.

Then, cooperation with the Day-care Centre “Kornelije”, which belongs to the category of social services established by the local community and daily accepts young and adults with autism from all over Belgrade. The focus of work with these users is on the modification of behaviour and socialization through creative, work-occupational and recreational activities, so the librarians  in agreement with therapists, realize reading classes, educational and art workshops, film screenings etc.

Also, a long and successful cooperation with the “Association of the Blind of Serbia”. The members are very active and involved in cultural and sports-recreational programs, and their exhibitions of handicrafts are organized in the Library. Library cooperates with the humanitarian association „Child Care Sopot“ through the design and implementation of the „Library for all“ workshop. Every Wednesday, young people from this association, accompanied by a special educator, visit the library, where they read songs, draw, recite or talk during the workshop;  workshop “Small school – great people” for young people with special needs from the association “Child Care Sopot”. The users of this workshop are interested in reading poetry, fairy tales, in talking, drawing, making exhibitions, etc.

The project „Wednesdays at 10“, the library has been successfully implementing since 2000 in partnership with the „Mladenovac Centre for Social Work“, and with the Association for Help to Mentally Challenged Persons “Dolphin” and with the Centre for Children and Young People with Disabilities in Belgrade. The greatest quality of the “Wednesdays at 10” project is its flexibility and adaptability, which has led to its successful implementation through various activities for many years. It started with the “Let’s read” program, which aimed to develop the habit of children to read and is intended for preschoolers and first graders, but librarians have adapted it for children with disabilities. The realization of the program for people with disabilities continued through the multimedia project “We travel with a fairy tale” and the project “Drama workshop”, intended for elementary and high school students who have talent for acting, writing, stenography and costumes, creating posters, dancing. So far, over 800 participants have passed through this workshop.

Every year, BCL participates in the “International Day of Disabled Persons” on December 3, with various programs in cooperation with institutions and organizations that deal with handicapped persons.

Another work of his that struck me was entitled “Public Library and Lifelong Learning”. We know that this is the main mission of every library and   especially of public ones. What is your thought about it in a historical moment in which there is the need to reaffirm the social role of our libraries?

The modern concept of a library that has been created at the beginning of this millennium defines a library as one of the main organizations of informal education, as cultural and educational center of a local community. Exceptional importance of libraries in development of local communities goes far beyond traditional understanding of this institution as a place for book preservation and lending. Modern library – library of the 21st century – is a place for community gathering, informing, education and meets its cultural and other needs.

Belgrade City Library is the largest lending library in Serbia with a network of 70 branches covering all parts of the city. This institution has over 230 employees and approximately 150,000 members. The Library organizes more than 3,000 cultural and educational programs annually, free of charge for all citizens, both for BCL members and non- members. The two main mottos of the BCL are “The Library – Cultural Heart of Belgrade” and “The Library – A  Place for All”. This shows us that BLC’s desire is to lively participate in cultural and social life of the city, as well as that it is open to all types of services and activities, to every need of its citizens. Mission and vision of BCL is fully in line with above mentioned modern library trends. In professional and wider community, BCL is being recognized as a library which brings changes and innovations in the Serbian librarianship. Our motto “Library – place for all” speaks much about openness and desire for providing various services to all citizens, paying special attention to the vulnerable and marginalized social groups.

BCL offers a wide range of services and realizes many programs of all kind, projects and trainings for adults. Among the most popular is “Information literacy 65+” – courses in computer skills for persons older than 65 years. These courses have been held for almost 10 years. Computer courses are also being realized for many other target groups. For example, within the project “Information literacy – family package “developed in partnership with National Employment Service, we organized courses for the unemployed and members of their families. We also educate adults in the field of digital literacy through projects implemented with the support of Wikimedia Serbia. The Wiki senior project – education of seniors for writing articles on Wikipedia is already underway.

BGB made a big step forward in adult education through libraries with the project “Strengthening Citizens’ Financial Literacy”, which was implemented with the support of USAID. Within the project, more than 50 financial literacy workshops were held for citizens of Belgrade and an educational website was designed. For this project, BCL won the EIFL Innovation Award – one of the most significant worldwide library awards.

Digital and online educational services are also something that BCL is developing intensively. Through the project “Technoteka” BCL has created a space where citizens are being educated using digital tools – Lego robots, 3D printers, 3D scanners, virtual reality glasses and more. We also provide a series of online services, such as portal What shall I read (the first national library portal with recommendations of books to read), the AVA.Doc platform (On Demand films; the development of online platform of the best documentaries) and application Ask a Librarian.

You are an IFLA member: what do you think are the prospects and objectives that IFLA should achieve to consolidate the role of libraries and above all to define the role of our profession for the various governments? Put simply, how do we finally say loudly that our skills, that of a librarian, are essential in our society to protect and promote information and education?

For 25 years, I  have been working with public libraries all over the world. I have been developing and strengthening the position of public libraries in Serbia since I was appointed the director of the Belgrade City Library, working nationally and internationaly with different types of libraries and library organisations. My profesional interest and my goal as a librarian is to support IFLA. My organisation is an institutional member for years and I would like an opportunity to participate in their work in the new Regional Division for Europe, to connect with other profesionals and advocate for more members from this region. We have to be united globally in our mission, goals and values. And have an active role as a professionals on local and global level. As the motto say We are all IFLA.

Libraries but also librarians: in your opinion, how can we better certify to our governments the role and competences of this profession, as we all know, which is fundamental for the proper functioning of libraries? In Italy, for example, there is still a lot of work to be done…

Public libraries are changing fast: but they need to change even faster. It is likely that this is a response to a variety of phenomena including access to information via the Internet, an ever-expanding quantity of cultural media forms and content (digital TV, computer-based activities etc.) and an increase in the number of people who buy rather than borrow a high proportion of the books which they read.

However, public libraries retain an important role in ensuring a literate information society. Support for reading and maintaining awareness of printed literature remains a crucial goal: the power of IST and the World Wide Web can be harnessed to this end. This is perhaps especially important for children when so many competing stimuli are available, but where the richness and scope of what is available in printed form is not available online.

The increased availability of remotely-provided information services and Internet use for information-seeking could well lead to a decline in the number of physical visits to public libraries. Yet there remains an enormous need for friendly on-line services which meet user needs and which are accessible to all. Public libraries are well-placed to play an important role in their development and provision. Many of children are now growing up with a well-developed and intuitive knowledge of the Internet and IST use. But there remain many excluded adults and children who have neither access nor skills to make use of these services. Public libraries may need to focus more intensively on the needs of such specific groups.

Advocacy, advocacy and especially international advocacy for the library sector is essential because of that the level of the development of the library sectors is different in the countries. International and national associations can help in development in the cases where level is not so high and also influence to the position of the culture and vice versa to the position of the libraries that impact is more than necessary.

We are in the midst of the Digital Revolution and the tragic experience of COVID 19 has further consolidated the need to use digital channels and tools that are now fundamental for our lives. What role do libraries play and will they have in this sense?

I believe that the role of libraries and the role of IT professionals, as well, will continue to transform due to rapid developments in the world – especially now, during the pandemic, which has forced mankind to rapidly adapt and learn from one another.  The COVID-19 pandemic has a deep impact on all the spheres of society, including librarianship. The Belgrade City Library tackles the situation in the best possible way, aiming to make an optimal balance between giving services and keeping the health of patrons the employees safe.





Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.


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