Collection days in Slovenian public libraries and museums

In Spring 2012 the public libraries and museums in Slovenia organised three collection days devoted to  the 1st World War as part of the EuropeanaAwarness project. These were  quite new initiatives to the library and  museum community and  arose a lot of enthusiasm amongst  visitors as well as  organisers.

During these events families and individuals were invited to bring their memorabilia and tell us their stories,  whom they belonged to,  their attached meaning, their life.  The overall aim was to digitise the collected objects, record their stories and publish them on-line, thus safeguarding them from lost or destruction.

Overall, 90 visitors brought 570 items to the collection days at the Public Library Nova Gorica, the Public Library Celje and the Military Museum of Slovenian Armed Forces. The objects  were digitised and published on the web site of the Europeana 1914-1918 project. Participants brought with them any sort of objects including photographs, postcards,  letters, documents, maps as well as grenades, bullets, wooden leg prostheses,  artificial eyes.

Many people first came just to have a look. Then, once re-assured  about  the  seriousness of the project and having felt the incredibly nice atmosphere created by the people involved in the initiative, they came back with their objects and told us  their stories.

Despite the hard work, all staff and volunteers, involved in the collecting process showed a great enthusiasm and interest  in  contributing  to saving a piece of history from oblivion. In some cases the interviews lasted for several hours and the sharing of memories and experiences of visitors with us created a sense of intimacy and solidarity.

Some librarians from Kamra, the Slovenian portal for local cultural history, were involved in the organisation of the first three collections days as well as the subsequent ones. As a matter of fact, Kamra’s purpose and working method is very close to the collection days:  the portal  publishes online digital collections from the local community, presenting their attached stories. The Slovenian collection days, whose primary purpose was the collection, digitisation and publication of local materials on the web had a much greater impact than expected: the extensive promotion made by the involved institutions and the professionalism and enthusiasm of their staff contributed to raise awareness of the important role played by libraries as well as museums within their local community, to strengthen relationships amongst their staff  and increase their motivation  at work.

The success of the collection days encouraged the librarians from Kamra to start thinking about expanding their thematic areas, considering that the same concept and working method could be easily applied to different topics.

In 2013, the public libraries of Logatec and  Žalec and the Ljubljana city library organised other collection days always on the topic of World War 1 while some libraries and museums in the Gorenjska region decided to organise collection days focused on industrial history. In the Gorenjska region many big factories have been closed and people nostalgically still remember the 'good times', having kept photos, documents, brochures and posters of the factories where they used to work.

Since the materials collected under themes other than World War 1 could not be published on the Europeana 1914-1918 web site, we faced the need to publish new content on Kamra, which indeed proved to be an ideal place for providing access to stories from the past. Moreover, we started to think of a way to enable individuals to publish their personal memories online, without the help of our librarians.

In 2013, a new module called Album of Slovenia was added to Kamra. The basic concept of the album is that individuals can easily self-publish their photos, documents, images, and write their stories. They can also add their own comments, thus  complementing their stories.

In 2014 some Slovenian libraries selected a number of topics for their collection days, which included new ones in addition to those devoted to the World War 1 centenary:

  • Ljubljana surrounded by barbed wire during the World War 2 in City Library Ljubljna (May 2014)
  • World War 1 in the public library of Celje (May 2014), public library of Novo mesto (March 2014), Public library of Koper (Autumn 2014) and in libraries and  museums in the Gorenjska region (September 2014)
  • Industrial history in the public library of Maribor (May 2014)
  • Memories on school days at the 150 anniversary of the first school in Domžale in public library Domžale (February 2014)
  • The history of vine growing in the public library of Novo mesto (Autumn 2014).

Collection days provide an ideal opportunity for intergenerational collaboration:  youngsters are familiar with technology, elderly have materials and know what they represent. Some schools, where discovering private history is either a voluntary activity or part of their curricula, have undertaken activities whereby students have interviewed old people in hospices and published their memories in the Album of Slovenia.

Collecting memories events are attractive, high media profiled in terms of concept and method, establish relationships with library users, promote intergenerational cooperation, show the library as a space for meetings, discussions and treasuring local history, which with small stories of everyday life contribute to complete the puzzle of the official history of nations.

Carrying out activities to boost local studies is one of the most important functions of public libraries and collection days are 'live' local studies, supplementing traditional collection and storage of materials on the local community.



Breda Karun, Director, Zavod za razvoj knjižnic