Friday, October 27, 2006


I've mentioned before a few of the sources where I find reading material in English here in Krakow. Actually, it's much easier than it used to be. This is the last place--the main public library in Krakow, on Ulica Rajska ("Paradise Street").

This library, which fills an entire city block, has one room of foreign-language books which may be borrowed. About three-fourths of their collection is English, with the remaining fourth being made up of books in French, German, Italian and Russian. I've had a card ever since the foreign-language room opened, although I no longer remember what year that was, which allows me to borrow two books at a time.

Because I brought so many books back from the States with me, I haven't paid a visit to this library until quite recently. A couple of weeks ago, I thought it was about time I made my way back there and took the familiar walk to the main entrance, located precisely in the middle of this long building. When I went in, I saw immediately that the familiar sign informing visitors where to find the wypożyczalnia obcojęzycznych ("foreign-language lending library") was painted out.

I didn't like the looks of that at all, but climbed the stairs and walked down the long hall to the familiar room at the end. The door bore a new sign, announcing that the room was a place for making digital copies. But--oh joy!--another placard noted that the foreign-language room was now located on the floor above, and gave the room number. I climbed another flight of stairs and found the correct number.

When I opened the door, I was pleased to see that the foreign-language collection had been given twice as much space as it formerly occupied. I was also pleased that the librarian, who has not seen me for over 18 months, knew me at once. We chatted about the new location, my time in the states, and the age of my baby (she recollected my pregnancy--I was in there weekly during that time, I think).

The books on the shelves are very familiar to me--I've spent a lot of time perusing them, and this is not an enormous collection. I really didn't need reading material (!), but I borrowed a couple of books anyway--one fiction, one non-fiction. I'll have to make regular visits to the library now, which is no hardship.

I'm really grateful that they only moved the foreign-language room, and that it was not closed. I've had that unhappy experience before. Formerly, the British Consulate maintained an English lending-library in the main library belonging to the Jagellonian University (the one that's been existence for centuries, where Copernicus taught). When that library was under construction for expansion, part of the library, including the English library, were closed. I waited months and months for them to reopen, and I remember the sinking feeling I felt the day I discovered that their sign was no longer posted by the door.

I learned that funding for these foreign libraries had been reduced, and the one in Krakow would not reopen. I was terribly disappointed, but fortunately it was about that time that the main public library opened their foreign-language room. Later I learned that some thousands of books had been donated to them by the British Consulate Library--the majority of their fiction collection--while most of the non-fiction books (which had featured mostly British history, biographies, and travel literature) had been donated to the University library.

So, many of the books I borrowed and read from the British library are still there, like familiar acquaintences, on the shelves of the library on Rajska. It's not quite the same as having a local library in the US. They offer very little for children--not much fiction, and virtually no non-fiction. They do not buy new books as they come out. As far as I know, there is no budget for increasing the collection at all. They accept donations of books, and I have taken some there when I needed to thin our shelves a bit. The collection is small by any American standard. And yet, it is there--a library to browse in, with tables and chairs for reading, and a friendly librarian.

If a second English lending library had been closed here in Krakow, it would have been dreadful! But that wasn't the case, and I'll do my bit of patronizing the library to give them a reason to continue existing.


At 7:02 AM , Blogger Phyllis said...

How neat! I like the street name, too. :-) Think about our daughter's name (Raia), and the Russian-Polish similarities. . . .


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