I visit Germany about 3 times a year, a week or two, each time. Specifically I visit a small village of 2,700 inhabitants, where my husband comes from. Located nearby is the town of Friesoythe. We often go there during our visits for shopping and visiting relatives.
Since last year, we also go there to renew his library membership for his online library books.
Being the perfect match for a librarian, my husband loves to read. However, since we live in Asia, non-English books can get pricey, and the selection is limited. Living in a small condo does not leave lots of room for us to store (show off?) books that we have read. Also the hot and humid climate we live in ensures that books do not have a pleasant, or long life, but one filled with mould, insects and yellowing pages. Although we have access to an outstanding, world class library system in Singapore, the books are mostly in English, with a smattering of Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin.
Unsurprisingly, reading in his mother tongue, German, appeals to him. The Goethe Institut offers a free membership to both print and online books, and the German school has an shelf outside the school library where donated print books are exchange freely. Being the ever practical and well-read German, he prefers the online books for ease of access, lack of storage concerns and lower prices. For this reason, he was really happy to find that he could get a membership for online books from the library in Friesoythe for a mere 12 euros a year.
So on a sunny, and warm Sunday in July we went off to renew his library membership, as they were open for 2 hours. The public library in Friesoythe, is located in the centre of the town, and attached to the church. The Bücherei St Marien Friesoythe, has a very informative, fun and user-friendly website that you can check out for more details.
Unfortunately, the library staff told us that they could not renew the membership, as it could only be done upon expiration. I did get to borrow a couple of book on my favourite hobby, besides reading - cooking. I even found a great book on pizzas!
As we were flying home on Wednesday, I had to return my library books by Tuesday. This time the librarian, Birgit Meyer Beylage, was there. She renewed my husband's membership for him. Another year filled with online German books! Happy husband, happy life. Hurray!
I was lucky enough to chat for half an hour with Birgit. We are both librarians. I work in Singapore, she in Germany. I work in an international school in the centre of city that defines urban density (albeit well-planned). She works in a public library in a town of 30,000 inhabitants that is collaboration between the church and state government. However, we still face the same challenges: to make our roles valid in the digital age, to provide evidence of why libraries are still needed, to cater to a variety of ages, from preschool to seniors, to blend the print with the online, to make the most use of limited space.
I was most impressed by the library, but I'll be honest. I've been visiting Friesoythe for about 17 years, and I never once set foot in this library, but I did this time. What I saw was a highly efficient use of limited space over 2 floors, a friendly space filled with natural light that welcomed a wide variety of patrons, and a summer reading program.
Most, if not all, of the free standing shelves were on wheels so that the space was flexible, and could be used for other public events to accommodate larger groups or an audience. Shelves were also designed to allow the natural light from the plethora of windows to flow through the library, with a variety of heights, depending on if it was a children or adult section. I found it had been only renovated in May 2018.
But don't be deceived by it's friendly and modern looks alone. The services offered by this library pack a real punch. Book clubs for adults and for students, and a collection of ebooks and audio books in German. Much like its English counterpart, Overdrive, you can renew and reserve books, as well as create wishlists. As we live overseas, and travel regularly, this is invaluable source of books for my husband, who prefers to read in German.
So that is the gem of a library I found in Germany. It's inspiring to know that all librarians want the same thing - a welcoming library that is appreciated and used by all ages.
Oh, and we want everything on wheels too...just saying.