Libraries in Armenia Embrace Digital Age to Expand Community Outreach

The Charentsavan Library has made successful strides (from armenianlibraries.com)

YEREVAN—The Civilitas Foundation continues targeted support to regional libraries, within the framework of its “Libraries as Centers of Civil Society” project, funded by the US Embassy in Armenia.

A number of on-site consultation visits were carried out throughout last week, steering donations of books and equipment to regional libraries of Charentsavan, Armavir, Ararat, Gyumri and Ashtarak. The activities culminated in a full-day training event on March 17 at Ani hotel for library directors and librarians, led by an expert librarian from the US, as well as representatives from the National Academy of Sciences, US Peace Corps and the Information Resource Center of the US Embassy.

The on-site visits identified a range of problem areas. On one hand there are the obvious needs for improved working conditions, including heating and sanitary conditions. On the other hand, libraries lack financial stamina to address administrative and technical issues, such as salaries, training and professional development.

The Armavir Library (from armenianlibraries.com)

“[They] need to weed their collections, automate and be able to access them from outside the library,” said Ani Boyadjian. Boyadjian, an expert librarian invited by the Civilitas Foundation, brings 20 years of experience in working for libraries both in the US and in Armenia. She currently works for the Los Angeles Public Library and has headed the Papazian library at the American University of Armenia for two years.

To her, the regional library in the city of Charentsavan “stood out as a beacon of hope.” “Not only did they do wonderful renovations, but have great programming and are doing what most libraries in the West do successfully with very limited resources,” explained  Boyadjian.

Many Armenian libraries stand out for their internal and external outreach programs. Charentsavan library, in particular, carries out a variety of events, hosts speakers, pays classroom visits, and tries to engage the community into their work. They also have a profile page on Facebook where they regularly post pictures and videos of their events to reach out to other publics.

Boyadjian also spoke high of Charentsavan library Director Anahit Khechoyan’s proactive and commendable efforts to act as a strong advocate of her library. While Khechoyan’s background is in musicology and she does not have professional training in library science, “she understands well how her library should look and function and constantly strives to bring new things – and thus new life – into her library space, despite many challenges.” The library recently had an Interactive theatre group perform a theatrical presentation. They also have artwork painted by children on display, which creates a very healthy and inviting atmosphere for users.

The March 17 brought together 10 librarians and directors to discuss their needs and vision, learn about technological updates in the field and how to use them to catalyze library outreach and community building. As an overview of main challenges that Armenian libraries nowadays confront, Boyadjian noted the importance for libraries to have computer and Internet access as well as a nurturing and inviting setting for users. She encourages library staff to work together to clearly define their vision and mission in their community to be guided by it.  Participants agreed with her on the importance of being integrated into a unified network, which will enable them to track and catalog resources to avoid duplication. On their part, librarians called for an increased and more active role in their development by the National Library Association. Very often they felt neglected by professional organizations in their field and resort to support from local government bodies instead.

The library director of the National Academy of Sciences Tigran Zargaryan introduced participants to Openbiblio software package developed by the Academy, which helps libraries in cataloging. Participants discussed the advantages and shortcomings of the software. Zargaryan also talked about the Library Science master’s degree program of the Academy.

Head of the Information Resource Center Nerses Hayrapetyan and Avetik Petrosyan from the US Embassy in Armenia presented the American Corner website and talked about the advantages of having Internet presence for libraries. He explained how libraries can create their own website using the package from American Corner, which does not require special IT knowledge. He also elaborated on what kind of information should be posted on the World Wide Web, how websites are managed and the importance of regular updates.

During the second part of the training, US Peace Corps volunteer Barbara Hurrington talked about her experience in working with Shirak regional library and how Peace Corps volunteers are involved with libraries throughout Armenia. Amongst the multiple activities volunteers help libraries to install and use OpenSource software for cataloging, assist with grant writing to steer donations, help with restoring books and implement various reading challenges and clubs, such as arts and crafts, movie clubs, TOEFL, creative writing and study abroad clubs, Internet training, Saroyan short story clubs and numerous other interesting initiatives. Together with Fulbright scholar Jane Greenwood, Hurrington encouraged libraries to request volunteer and scholar placements to help them bridge the gap for more human resources and needed professional training.

It became evident at the end of the day that libraries need a cultural shift to break from their current working routines to embrace change. “I am hopeful, that this is the beginning of continued aid to our rural libraries in particular, who need not only financial help, but direction and moral support,” noted Boyadjian in her concluding remarks.

“Our partner regional libraries now strive to break away from the conventional “place to read a book” view to emerge into welcoming environments that host literary events and presentations, offer news and information, and serve as a meeting place – in other words, act as true centers of civil society!” said Civilitas Director Salpi Ghazarian. Among other partners that the project is proud to have worked with relatively recently is Ernst & Young Armenia. The leading auditor firm kicked off its charity program by funding fully-equipped children’s corners at two public libraries in Armenia—in Charentsavan and in the Nor Norq community public library in Yerevan. The goal was to help the libraries attract more children and become a place for children to spend their leisure time and learn something at the same time. “Civilitas Foundation will continue to leverage support from the US Embassy in Armenia and other partners to further work with libraries on their development,” said Ghazarian.

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