Public Libraries Supporting Social Inclusion
The Slovenian Public Libraries Association
Slovenia is one of the EU countries with the lowest degree of inequality; but unfortunately, this is changing rapidly due to the global and regional economic crisis. A number of public libraries offer services for socially excluded groups of citizens such as the unemployed, people who live below the poverty line, economic immigrants from former Yugoslav republics, seniors, ethnic groups like Roma, homebound people, foster parents, mental or physical handicapped people, etc. Libraries help socially excluded groups of people to improve their lives and better integrate into society. They usually do this work very enthusiastically, but far from being in the limelight: aside from the people that are directly involved, these services are mostly unknown to the general public and even less to policy-makers.
The Slovenian strategic documents for the period 2014-2020 designate an ‘inclusive society’ as one of the priority areas, but the term appears more on a declarative level and not as an operational plan on how to combat this huge problem. We are still waiting for the social inclusion strategy, and we believe that, based on the concrete results of the project ‘Public Libraries Supporting Social Inclusion’, libraries will have a better chance to be recognised as a reliable partner in designing future policies in the area of social inclusion.
The term advocacy is new in Slovenian librarianship. Although libraries and the Public Libraries Association have carried out many activities, like promotion of libraries and their services, dialogue with policy-makers, etc. - which can be considered advocacy - we haven’t called it so until two years ago when we translated the ALA Library Advocate’s Handbook and started to organise trainings and workshops on the management of public libraries.
The goal of the project ‘Public Libraries Supporting Social Inclusion’ is to develop an advocacy model for public libraries and to demonstrate the importance of using impact data for advocacy. Slovenian public libraries have collected quantitative data for many years, but haven’t measured the impact of their services. Thus, a toolkit for public libraries on how to measure impact of services and how to use it as an advocacy tool will be developed.
The Slovenian Public Libraries Association plans to start a national advocacy initiative to demonstrate the role of public libraries in combating social exclusion as an example of an advocacy campaign. In order to present a good example, we will work with five public libraries, which already offer services supporting social inclusion, to measure the impact of their services and use this data as one of the tools in their advocacy campaigns at the local level. The Association will use these good examples for the advocacy campaign at the national level.
At the same time, the Association wishes to correct the common understanding that libraries are exclusively about culture. A Slovenian survey among users and non-users of public libraries in 2011 showed that 97% of respondents support public libraries, although book lending services are better known and more widely used than the variety of other services libraries offer for various target groups.
We believe that we can show the important role that public libraries can play in combating social exclusion, which can have an influence on the change of perception of public libraries by the general public and policymakers. Most of all, it is important for people to know that the library can be the first place to visit when they feel as second-class citizens and don’t know how to deal with this. The project will also raise awareness among librarians and library management that they need to demonstrate the value of their services and speak loudly about their achievements.
5 library services that we will assess:
Public Library Brežice regularly conducts free computer courses for seniors and job-seekers. The purpose of the courses is to train participants to independently use computers, as well as the integration and networking of people and thereby improvement of the quality of their life.
Labour exchange in the Ljubljana City Library is the information service of the seventeen-year tradition, open to job-seekers, such as unemployed workers, students and pensioners. It offers individual career coaching as the additional support for job-seekers.
In the project “Slovenian language for foreigners” the France Balantič Public Library Kamnik teaches foreign immigrants the Slovenian spoken language. Knowing the language allows them to better communicate outside their community and thus establish the basic conditions for integration into the local environment and society.
“Intergenerational Reading” is a joint project of the Public Library, Gymnasium Fran Miklošič and Home for the Elderly in Ljutomer. Volunteer students read aloud to elderly home residents who due to illness or age can’t read themselves.
The Miran Jarc Public Library implements a program of additional assistance in reading and understanding Slovenian for Roma children. The program aims to achieve autonomy in reading and understanding the Slovenian text, so that Roma children are able to follow the learning process better and integrate more easily into the school and wider social environment.
Here is an update on the progress on our Facebook page. The video contains presentations of all social inclusion projects that were central in the project. Click here to watch the video.
Another update on our Facebook page with some pictures to illutrate the various services on social inclusion that public libraries offer. If you would like to see videos about each of those services, please clisck here.