Books for Libraries

By , May 16, 2010 3:45 PM

A proposal from Evaggelos Vallianatos

There are practical things we can do: Donate books for a public library.

Greece, regrettably, has very few public libraries, especially in the countryside. My own village in Kephalonia has a small building for a public library without a single book in the building. I remember in my high school the only books were in the Principal’s office and those of us who liked books had to buy them.

  • Each of us can donate, say, five or ten books in English or Greek to a central office set up by HEC management -or-
  • Send HEC the equivalent in money, for example, $ 100.
  • HEC then would donate the books / money to an existing small public library on our behalf.

    If such effort succeeds, we can institutionalize it.

    Background and Purpose: We have our PhDs primarily because of books. All or nearly all of human knowledge is in books, the standards of culture and civilization. We are very connected to books because books as we know are primarily the legacy of our ancient ancestors. The Greek Library of Alexandria dated around late fourth century BCE was for several centuries the greatest library in both Greece and the world. Third, the Renaissance of the fifteenth century was born from the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts. These texts published became our modern books and gave birth to our science, making our world. The Turkish occupation of Greece in 1453 cut off Greece from Western Europe and the Renaissance. As a result Greece is still trying to catch up with her Western neighbors, even in matters of culture, including books. We have an obligation to donate books to establish public libraries in the country of our birth. That way we show our sincerity and willingness to do our part in the revitalization of Greece, helping her to have her own Renaissance.

    Books for Libraries donations go to a specific collections bucket to be used ONLY for that purpose.
    Your donation is tax deductible as per US IRS code 501(3)(c) non-profit organizations.

  • 3 Responses to “Books for Libraries”

    1. Eleni Phufas says:

      THIS is a superb idea..and one that should be supported by all. Not anynone can purchase hard cover books. And not everybody can afford an Ibook or Kindle…and few places have access to WIFI. “While an average 93% of Europeans can enjoy access to a high speed online connection, the figure is only 70% in rural areas, and in some countries (such as Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania) high speed broadband internet networks cover just 50% or less of the rural population” (from EUdoc). Very sad Greece!
      It is amazing that so far nobody until now has considered a project like this considering that so many thousands of Greek Americans who visit Greece each year have not started this project yet.
      It is expensive to ship books. I read one idea about a cara-Van library visiting village to village lending books. That is wonderful. But we should also consider the idea of collecting thousands of books in one reading machine such as a Kindle. These kindles (ipads) could be shared, lent, and used too.

      Just a thought…

    2. I appreciate knowing that people are thinking about the lack of public libraries in Greece. I think we can all agree on the benefits of free libraries to all people, toddlers to life-long learners. There are reasons public libraries haven’t caught on as much as they could in Greece, but it seems a waste of time to worry about the reasons. The fact is that the young people of Greece deserve an opportunity to move forward with the rest of the world, and in order to do that, they will need to have free access to information throughout their lives, not only when in school or university. The problem is simply that they have not had the experience of having such access … they don’t know what they are missing. This is what needs to be addressed. How? By creating good public libraries and inviting people to use them.

      Last December at the Second Annual Public Library Conference in Maroussi, I learned that Portugal’s government mandated public libraries in every town and village as a way to address that country’s decline, something the Greek government could consider. Bill and Melissa Gates donate ten million dollars a year to providing free computers and internet access to public libraries outside of the United States; they simply need to be asked. As part of the requirements for membership, the EU has mandated and set aside funds for life-long learning. Again, it is a matter of applying for those funds.

      I know of a few truly public libraries in Greece, most notably in Veria, where almost every man, woman and child takes advantage of and appreciates the treasure of their public library. They have learned to appreciate it … because it is there!

      Eighteen years ago I began spending a couple of months every other year or so on Skopelos Island. I began donating books to the local high school, and to find others interested in the idea of creating a library in the main town of Skopelos. There seemed to be enough interest and resources for such a venture. My hope was that if the library was in an easily accessible location and offered free computers and internet connections, over time young people and eventually all would come to appreciate and support the library as a community center. It seemed a reasonable investment for young people and a way to keep them from being so anxious to leave the Island.

      Unfortunately, I now understand how foreign the whole idea of a free library is to many Greeks, (even those in this country. In 2007, I brought to Skopelos Town an invitation from the Niarchos Foundation to apply for a grant for a public library. It was to be in a perfect location in the middle of town, in a building donated in the will of a resident of Skopelos as only to be used for a library. The municipality is renting the building to a local doctor and the bottom floor is the local DVD rental business. The Mayor and his council are challenging the will and refuse to consider a public library. They don’t want to lose the small rental income from the building.

      In 2005 I learned of a small library in the town of Glossa at the north of the island, and began to donate books and talk to people there, who over time have proven to be much more receptive to the idea of a library. Since 2007 I have focused on this library. At this point it is merely a room, but climate controlled and accessible by appointment. The local and very active cultural association has added their library to the collection, and academic friends in Athens have begun donating books. Last December I brought four donated laptop computers for the library, on which we are creating a library management program and database of the collection in Greek and English, which will be available online. We hope to interest local volunteers into maintaining regular hours of access, and to interest the local students into establishing a research and homework base. We would like to increase the collection of young children’s books, and have been offered donations from the National Book Council, E.K.E.B.I. We will subscribe to a newspaper and make it available for anyone to read when the Library is open. We have many plans, and I believe it is all just a matter of time before these dreams become realities.

      In a couple of weeks I will return to Glossa, Skopelos to help with the database and library management programs. Our goals this summer are also to get more people involved, find a larger building (something the cultural association is working on), and begin to apply to the national powers that be to become an official public library.

      Rather than form committees, it seems to me that the most helpful thing now is to seek out, focus on, and support groups such as the one in Glossa, to educate people on the value of free public libraries, and to seek and apply for the funds that are available for them. As time goes by it becomes more and more essential to provide free access to information to preserve rich Greek culture while keeping up with the modern world. Public libraries collect, house, and share the thoughts and history of all of humanity. Access to this information allows us to make critical decisions about our individual and national futures with wisdom, rather than by uninformed reactions to local and global events.

      Please continue to keep me informed of your work.

      Thea Montandon

    3. Dear Thea,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful letter and passionate support of public libraries, which I share. I urge my colleagues to focus on this public library idea as a tool for life-long education and the preservation of Hellenic culture. In addition, as you put it so well, public libraries are essential to bring Greece forward in harmony with the rest of the world. And since you are actively helping a village in Skopelos to establish a public library, we appreciate your knowledge and commitment to such a noble goal. Indeed, I hope my colleagues agree you can advise us as to the best way to channel our resources of books and money in support of public libraries for Greece.

      Focusing on Skopelos might be just right not merely because you are on the ground, but also because this experience will teach us useful lessons.

      Have a good visit to Skopelos and let us know how the project is progressing. That would give my colleagues a chance to discuss the opportunity of working with you.

      Best wishes,
      Evaggelos Vallianatos, Ph.D.
      Claremont, CA

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