Photo Credit: Rupert Ganzer (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Author: Suman S.
Suman is a freelance writer/editor in the Technical documentation field with over a decade of experience. Suman is our dream reader. She chanced on our project online, and as a true library lover, shared this write up and photographs with us, as her response to the project. May her tribe increase!
I specialized in library, documentation and information science for both undergraduate and post graduate studies. I worked in a higher education library for a year, as an intern. But then, I left the field, disillusioned by the unethical ways in getting placed into the profession in those days. There was this top-notch institute, some bad student-faculty relations and everything going wrong. I moved on – in life, from Bangalore to Mumbai (Bombay, then), and from librarianship to technical documentation. That was in the beginning of the new millennium.
Almost 12-13 years later, I found the love for my subject again. And, it was in Stockholm, the beautiful capital city of Sweden. With its amazing and near-perfect public library network and excellent professionalism, the Stockholm Stad (city) libraries and the librarians there won me back. And ever since, Stockholms Stadsbiblioteket (The Stockholm Public Library) has been my favorite, though I love all the public libraries and the children’s libraries that I visited in Stockholm. I guess, as Stockholm continues to bring back some of my best memories in the last two decades, the public library will always have its special place.
Completely free and open to anyone with a national number, the Stockholm city libraries have some of the best collections I have seen. From fiction to philosophy, mathematics to politics, and from CDs to e-books to audio-books, the collection is all-encompassing. I was bowled over by the fact that I could borrow 50 resources/titles at a time from any stads library in Stockholm, and return the resources at any other library’s counter. Completely automated with open access and high accessibility features, the system ensures that you don’t have to wait for anyone for lending or returning resources. But, if you need help, you always have a friendly librarian there, all ears – always smiling. Though Swedes are fiercely passionate about their language, most of the librarians I met spoke English and even if they didn’t, they ensured you had the best experience.
While most Stockholm libraries do have some English books in their collection, the International Library is the best place if you want to find books in English, your own mother tongue, or any other foreign language. In fact, I read some of the Malayalam classics for the first time at this library. You can recommend books in your language too, and I have seen them make a genuine attempt at procuring them.
Yet another striking feature of the Stockholm libraries, especially the stads library is that they remain at the center of the cultural life of the city. From discussions/debates to movie shows to poetry readings and to lectures, many things happen in and around the libraries. And, with each library having a separate section for children, there are plenty of activities for the children and parents too. And yes, Stockholm has one library dedicated to children – the Rum for Barn or the room for children, which looks more like a kindergarten or an activity club for children. These children’s sections and Rum for Barn are two strong reasons why I fell in love with the Stockholm libraries. With the sole aim of making children read and get into the habit and enjoyment of books/reading, these centers have everything possible to make the experience blissful. Having had librarians stare at you for talking or making sound in the library, I found the Stockholm library experience very different. Children can run around, lie down and read, or even sleep in the comfortable chairs, cushions, mats therein, play around, and listen to stories in the story corner (read by the librarian). Parents, grandparents and caretakers can read to their children. Even adults can just lie on a couch and laze about, or be in a corner and read what they want. No one reprimands you to sit straight, be silent or read. And that is what makes the Stockholm libraries different, I guess, from their Indian counterparts!
I hope to go back to Stockholm someday, and relive the experiences!