Libro Futuro

Advocacy, library education and sociology. Being a librarian in Croatia. Mario Coffa interviews Marija Šimunović

Intervista in italiano

Marija Šimunović is a senior librarian and coordinator at the European Documentation Center at the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Zagreb in Croatia. He holds a degree in Croatian Culture and Sociology and a degree in Information and Library Sciences. She worked as a librarian and sociology expert at the Collection of Official Publications of the National and University Library (NUL) in Zagreb. He is an active member of the Association of Croatian Libraries (CLA), current chair of the Advocacy Commission, as well as chairman of the supervisory board and member of the social media editorial board in the Zagreb Regional Library Association (ZLA) and co -convenor of the IFLA NPSIG (secretary). He participates in numerous local, regional and international projects and has experience in presenting, organizing and participating in many different events and projects. Focus Area: Libraries and social media, advocacy, library user education, and lifelong learning and cycling programs.

Marija, what does it mean to be a librarian in Croatia? Is the profession legally and socially recognized? Also, what is the academic or educational path to become a librarian?

As many other countries, Croatia has some accomplishments and some challenges in the national library field. First, I have to mention that Croatia has a defined library legislation on a national level and a good network of national library commissions also defined by legislation and supported by ministries. This network provides good communication within the library field and professional assistance to different kinds of libraries and librarians around the country. Library legislation has defined the level of education required for library jobs, from high school level to PHD experts. Student in Croatia can enroll courses within librarianship on different level in four different universities in Croatia (Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka and Zadar), and there is a good definition and implementation of national professional qualification license certificated by Ministry of culture (such as Senior librarian, Library Adviser or else). Great deal of professional education and organization of events, national or regional projects

is connected with library associations within the country. Croatia has one umbrella association that gathers all the regional library associations (such as Zagreb library Association, Dubrovnik Library Association etc.) in the country – Croatian Library Association. Also, there are a few library type associations that are very active on national and international level, such as school library associations. We can say that Croatian librarians are very active in promoting library services and advocacy on local, regional and national level with their work within the library association in organizing all library conferences, round table or national campaigns in the country. Last but not least is answer to the question: what does it mean to be librarian in Croatia? From a citizen’s point of view, we are working in non-stress conditions, reading a lot of books and organizing the shelfs in a quiet environment. But from my point of view we are doing an extremely important job at this time in providing a safe place for different kinds of people, providing the relevant information source, fighting the ignorance and fake news on different levels. One big advantage of our job is that we have to adopt, learn and educate ourself constantly to be able to participate in new activities of information society.

The tragic experience of the pandemic has given a strong impetus to digital to compensate for the closure of libraries. How have Croatian libraries responded to this change?

As always in life, something bad like a pandemic brought some positive side effects – it has forced libraries to think out of box and to adopt their services during the crazy times. I can give an example of the university library that I work in – we had a pandemic and a few months later a big earthquake in Zagreb. We had to work from home, and a few weeks later we returned to our workplace and joined our forces to provide more digital content to our users. We had to gain some new knowledge (graphic design, open source software, metadata of digital material, remote communication programs, online exhibition apps, timeline etc.) to create new services such as: Digital Library (digital versions of official faculty

textbooks and other official sources); Faculty of Economics & Business Encyclopedic Dictionary (LEF); Different virtual exhibitions; highlighted activities on social media promoting

digital content on national and international level and increased activities of online education workshops for students and researchers (individual and group ones). On a national level the library has embraced new situation providing the different creative services and virtual content to help their users and citizen’s with information regarding online events on cultural, informational and educational level. Library associations also reacted and transformed from onsite events to online events in a matter of days. In these times of crises libraries have shown their ability to adapt – even sometimes it doesn’t seem that they have a force to do so.

From my perspective – I never would have imagined the option to work from home in a library – now this seems to be possible. What a relief!

In your skills you also deal with advocacy and education for library users. Can you briefly explain to us what it is and what are the tools to make this happen?

I have to say at the beginning that my professional development started to rise exponentially when I became a member of the library association. There I had a chance to learn from the best colleges in the field, to work on interesting projects and to get to know the situation in librarianship in general. Option to participate at one special library event – Cycling for libraries 2013 (Amsterdam-Brussels) has open my mind to different possibilities within library field and option to be volunteer and newcomer at the IFLA WLIC in 2017, Wroclaw, Poland has infected me with positive energy and gave me force to be the change in my community. As I had one-year experience in working at high school as a teacher, I realized the importance of knowledge transfer to our colleagues and patrons. At the beginning of my library career one of my colleague commented: I do not understand today’s users – they do not know anything and they do not know how to ask anything. When the gap between librarian and the user is so big if they do not need us and we do not understand them – something has to change. We have to stop using the library language and we have to use common words and point out patrons; need for some service – when they find it useful the story will change and they will ask more and more. Until the time that we will have to search and educate ourselves to help them. For me this is the best moment in my professional life when I have to educate myself to help patrons. During the pandemic I held a workshop on free digital graphic tools/aps Canva within the Training Center for Continuing Education for Librarians in Croatia for the librarians. These workshops were so popular and many librarians had their first contact with these kind of tools and we had such great feedback from them. My point is that we have to help each other in gaining new skills and sharing knowledge and the only way to do so is to provide our time and expertise and create some extra effort to make it happen. Award will be priceless – good communication with colleagues, satisfied patrons and feeling of accomplishment. Regarding advocacy – this term sounded so distant from real life to me. I had to learn the definition to describe it to someone. But when I got involved with some projects and activities on a national and international level – I got it. Advocacy is a way (there are tools for different situations and levels of advocacy) to raise the importance of libraries in society. It is not a one-time act, it is a constant work (different activities) and constant talk to community and stakeholders to emphasize the importance of the libraries in the society. When you, as a professional, believe in the library as a service to the community you will need just your story and this will be your personal advocacy.

Example 1 – all of my family knows that I’m a librarian, they know that libraries are working on different projects and they know that they can ask for my help with any informational issue they have – they use it often.

Example 2 – I use promotional library bags (the one you get or buy at conferences) on a daily basis – promoting the reading, national campaigns, library services, funny text or else. It is a good fashion conversation starter within the community. When you love your job, it is easy to advocate for the libraries!

In your education you are also a sociologist. In your opinion, how can a library respond to the needs and requirements of the reference community?

Yes, I claim that libraries and librarians are essential to the community.

I can explain this statement with the few facts:

  1. We are living in a society where you have to pay for everything – libraries are free!
  2. We are living in the society full of discrimination – libraries include!
  3. We are living in the society of fake news – libraries can provide primary sources!
  4. We are living in a noisy, fast and crowded society – you can find comfort and a safe place in the library.

Everything that a library offers as a service can be paid service and possible business to someone – libraries are one of the last bastions of basic human rights – and librarians are tools that make this all happen. There are many examples how libraries can help people in everyday life from the programs for the homeless people to the language courses for migrants to educational programs for children and youth to the local/regional centers for collaboration with NGOs and different events. If we just wrote down what we are doing in our own library we can just imagine how big the impact is on national or international level (we do not have to imagine that just check the IFLA page – Librarians need some education in self promotion because we are in general very humble people.

What would you recommend to a young student who would one day want to become a librarian?

From my point of view, I think this is an ideal job, very creative and it forces you to learn new skills and stay young in heart and mind. During your work time we are surrounded with positive people, people who like to read, discover, research and in general a good atmosphere among colleagues and patrons. There are few options for different job positions within librarianship so my advice is to find out your interest and apply for the job. I would mention few beneficiaries:

  • High information literacy level;
  • Different options for the lifelong learning;
  • Option to be at the information source;
  • Option to work with good people and good patrons;
  • Option to be quirky and be accepted;
  • And option to work from home, in the future.

In the end my advice for newcomers in the library field is to engage in one of your library associations and you will have help from colleagues and you will gain good experience with the international library field. It is a privilege to be a part of the library community.





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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