I’ve done the math and I think my children and I (and sometimes my mom) have visited about 150 libraries all over the States, in Mexico, and in Europe.
Yesterday we visited Prague City Library. The Prague City Library (Mestska Knihovna in Czech) is in a big, beautiful old building, there’s lots of light, you can just walk in and use the resources, the wifi is free–not even a password–and the librarians are helpful.
And there are beanbag chairs. My children would like to point out that there are beanbag chairs. And Garfield comics in English.
We did have to pay to use the bathroom. If we’d had a library card, we could’ve swiped in for free.
This is in stark contrast to most of the other town libraries so far. Even in London they wanted me to fill out a long form just to register for the wifi. In others they had security at the door making sure no one who didn’t ‘belong’ there got in to say, use the bathroom, look for a job on a computer, or even just stay warm for an hour. That was Budapest, where it took me twenty minutes and a whole lot of backbone to ‘register’ and pay to be a guest. The dour-faced librarian corrected my form three times before giving me a temporary card that would swipe us through the metro-style turnstiles to get in, but would still not connect me to the internet.
The selection of books in English for kids? Paltry.
Sometimes the library decor was lovely, but there was practically nothing on the shelves.
I am a fierce advocate for barrier-free libraries, so this has been disappointing.
Libraries should welcome everyone, no matter if they think they’re just a homeless person looking to get warm, or an immigrant who doesn’t have enough English to fill out the form, and so stays away rather than ask the gatekeepers.
Just open the doors, and have an information desk. With a helpful person sitting behind it, ready to welcome strangers and regulars alike.
But then we got to Prague. Sweet Prague, our Central European library oasis. Know this, you are doing all the things right.
(Except for the paying-for-the-bathroom-if-you-don’t-have-a-card thing. But we forgive you for that, because we’ve been paying to use toilets since England.
Mean librarian in Budapest
Totally unnecessary temporary library card.
Fun blocks. No good books. Budapest, Slovakia
Again, very pretty. No soul. Budapest.
Pretty library. Hardly any books in any language. Bratislava. And everything spine out.
One little shelf. Bratislava, Slovenia
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic.