The Slovenia Times

Library on wheels brings books to remote villages


Like stores and pharmacies, libraries are places that people in urban areas take for granted. For most it is unthinkable what joy a mobile library can bring to those living in remote villages, even in the digital era.

Slovenian libraries operate 13 bibliobuses or bookmobiles, which tour various parts of the country to bring books to readers who cannot visit a library themselves.

Finland has 150 such buses and Austria has two, while the Netherlands has the largest ones and Sweden has electric bookmobiles, Tjaša Mrgole Jukič, librarian in charge of the Ptuj bibliobus, told an STA journalist who joined her and the driver for a day on tour of north-eastern parts of the country.

Sporting the image of Slovenia's oldest town and its internationally-renowned mascot Kurent, Tjaša says that the Ptuj bibliobus is one of the finest. It is marking its 20th anniversary this year too.

Once inside, it is like magic: hundreds of books catering to all tastes and a nook for children with soft toys and paper snowmen hanging from the ceiling. The library is not a small affair either, measuring over ten metres in length.

Tjaša will be on the bus visiting more than a dozen communities around Ptuj almost every day, along with fellow librarian-cum-driver Bojan, who also poses as a cleaner, especially on a day when it is all wet with snow like the time the STA joined them on the bus.

"It's not all fun and games," Tjaša says. It is cold in winter and hot in summer because the doors would often be left open to welcome the visitors during stops.

"Not everyone can do this job. You've got to be healthy and in good shape." Sometimes there are problems with the basics "such as when you need a coffee or a loo".

The librarian, who in the past chaired the section for mobile libraries at the Slovenian Librarians' Association for 16 years and served as director of the Ivan Potrč Ptuj Library for several years, is a living encyclopaedia.

The first Slovenian travelling librarian, Lovro Stepišnik (1834-1912) would take books from a Maribor library and carry them in a wicker basket on his back to bring them to people living in the Pohorje hills, and the first Ptuj travelling librarian Simon Petrovič carried books in suitcases.

The first motorised library on wheels in the region was introduced in Croatia's Rijeka in 1953 and the next year Koper got its own bibliobus. Ljubljana and Maribor followed suit soon after.

Modelled on the Little Free Library project that she came across abroad, Tjaša initiated Ptuj's own project to put up 16 little houses around Ptuj where people can find books.

The little houses and the bibliobus played an exceptionally important role during the Covid-19 pandemic. "This was the time when people were constrained to their municipalities and 20-metre-long lines of readers waiting at every stop, thanking us profusely."

Librarian Tjaša and young readers inside the Ptuj bibliobus. Photo: STA

The bibliobus makes stop outside 42 public buildings, mostly primary schools and kindergartens, and from this year at care homes as well. Operating four times a week, it makes four to five stops every day. Each stop gets a visit once every three weeks.

It is schoolchildren who are especially happy when the bookmobile comes around. This time too; at the first stop at Ptujska Gora, a group of local pupils come aboard. Reluctant to speak for the voice recorder, they are eager to borrow books, some of them admitting that they like to read comic books.

The younger ones are listening to a story told by the librarian, while their teacher Barbara Rajh explains how the children learn to borrow books and handle them as well as manners on the bookmobile.

Apart from schoolchildren, who start missing the bibliobus in about a week, pensioners are the second largest group of visitors. A retired entrepreneur called Anica likes the mobile library because she can visit it on foot and has a broad range of books and friendly staff.

Having visited its final stop at Sestrže, the bibliobus heads home, which is outside the Ptuj library. It is dark already and the librarian Tjaša is proud to announce that they have lent 480 books this day.


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