Libro Futuro

Libraries, music, young students and the profession. Being a librarian in Poland. Mario Coffa interviews Magdalena Gomułka

Intervista in italiano

Magdalena Gomułka works at the Silesian Library in Katowice, Poland. She is senior librarian in the Consulting and Training Department and coordinates the work of public libraries in the Silesian region. Magdalena is a member of the Association of Polish Librarians and organizer of the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG). She graduated from the University of Silesia (Scientific information and librarianship).

Magdalena, to start, can you tell us what you do and what prompted you to choose this wonderful profession?

In my work I am concerned about public libraries. As librarians, we know how diverse our job is: buying, cataloguing and lending books as well as conducting activities for readers of every age. In turn, we are close to the local community and offer a space to find information, spend time and meet people. In this library world, I am on the other side and try to support librarians in their daily work. The Silesian Library has the status of a regional library and exercises substantial supervision over the network of 168 municipal libraries in the Silesian Voivodeship. Therefore, my tasks include organising workshops for librarians and directors, managing networking projects as well as writing reports about public libraries to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in Poland. And last but not least, my department “advises”, which means that librarians can ask about everything and my task is finding the answer. Questions usually are about funding, library law, contacts with popular writers and even about advocacy for libraries. Every day gives something new. Working with librarians makes me learn new things and find out more about cultural institutes. So, why did I become a librarian? Libraries have always been in my life. When I was a kid, I visited a library branch with my brother and sister. Then I used to borrow books from schools and academic libraries. These places help to improve our education and make our future better. This positive attitude prompted me to choose a library as my work place.

What does it mean to be a librarian in Poland? Is there a legal and formal recognition of the profession and what is the educational or academic path to become a librarian?

I see Poles like librarians. On the one hand, many people know what librarians do for the young generation, how they encourage them not only to read but also to learn coding with robots. And also for seniors – librarians help them to develop new hobbies and find out more about new technologies. On the other hand, many of my colleagues are active in NGOs and it really shows that we are open and enthusiastic in our work. It definitely contradicts a librarian stereotype of a calm lady working between shelves with books. When you want to work in a Polish library, you do not have to graduate from a librarianship but it is appreciated. In special libraries, such as museums or musical libraries, it is important to be educated in other areas such as art and music. When you decide to study librarianship and information science, you will find this study at many national universities, ex. in Warsaw, Cracow, Wroclaw, Olsztyn and Gdansk. There is a bachelor degree (takes 3 years) and master degrees (plus 2 years) as well as postgraduate studies. Students usually have a lot of internships in various types of libraries, which is really useful. I remember it helped me to make a decision which kind of library I would like to work in. Keeping to legal and formal aspects of our profession here, it is worth mentioning a career path. This system includes degrees of professional promotion from “young librarian” to “senior curator”. You start from the beginning and then, over the years, you can achieve a higher degree if you are active in the library field, for instance you coordinate projects, write articles, or have presentations at conferences. The system of career path is not obligatory but more and more library directors offer this path to employees.

Thanks to your role at IFLA, you have an international vision of the library landscape. After the Covid experience, do you believe that both the digital contribution and the good practices adopted by many libraries and fellow librarians have contributed to compensating for the forced closure of the structures in these years of pandemic?

During the covid-19 pandemic librarians became more active in social media and got in contact with new users. Therefore, even if they had not accepted the power of the internet, the 2020 year showed that virtual space could be a possibility to keep reading, learning and attending cultural events. With that in mind, reading e-books was more popular than ever. What’s interesting, the Silesian Digital Library had the highest number of visitors and documents opened during the pandemic. Some librarians might be worried that people would not return to libraries and stay on the internet. In my opinion, there is exactly the opposite. Many of us missed contact with other people, spending time in public spaces and libraries, as a third place, were given this opportunity.

Unfortunately, especially in your country, a new war-related emergency will now be faced. In addition to the generous contribution of the Polish people to Ukrainian refugees, how are libraries moving in this direction?

When Ukrainian refugees crossed the Polish border, libraries reacted quickly. Research conducted by my library among Silesian public libraries shows a variety of different activities organised by librarians and the fact that 94% of the cities host refugees. Since March 2022 librarians have started organising free language courses where Ukrainians could learn to speak Polish. In the language group in the Municipal Public Library in Jaworzno were doctors who, thanks to intensive lectures, could start working in the City Hospital quickly. But there are more examples here. Libraries are also places for organising information meetings with layers as well as having online classes with schools in Ukraine. Offering integration activities such as art, musical and coding lessons help children and teeneagers to forget about the war. Additionally, library buildings were adapted to foreign users by hanging information plates and translation of websites into Ukrainian language. Thanks to cooperation with Ukrainian publishing houses, the Polish Book Institute gave books for children and teenagers written in Ukrainian to Polish libraries. Polish librarians also took part in raising money for the Ukrainian Library Association. These funds will help our colleagues in this difficult time but everybody from us can help as well. More info you can find on the ULA website

( podii/novyny/5002-financial-assistance-to-ukrainian-librarians).

You contributed to a wonderful IFLA project entitled “NPSIG Music Contest”; Do you believe that libraries can open up to the “outside world” even with activities not strictly related to books and reading but also involving the public with collateral initiatives? Libraries, can they also be this?

I truly believe in the statement that libraries can open up to the “outside world”! Libraries are for everyone and it is not only for lending books. To “NPSIG Music Contest 2021” we got 70 songs from 17 countries! Many video clips were prepared with readers that showed that they liked this idea. And, it is not a rumour, I have heard last time that our contest inspired library bands to play music more! Coming back to my colleagues from the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG), they know perfectly well that librarians are also brave and can do amazing things. For example, during IFLA Congress new professionals organise a flashmob, a spontaneous and quick activity connected with libraries in the host city. If you plan to come to IFLA WLIC in Dublin please join us. We are preparing something special!

You have participated and offer your contribution also to the LIS Students section for IFLA. What would you recommend to a young student who would one day want to become a librarian?

This profession can broaden your horizons. You are close to culture and knowledge. Furthermore, you can work with people who trust in your skills and want to manage tasks with you. Be proud of it and keep doing it!



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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