Peace Corps in Libraries: Kherson Oblast Library for Children in Kherson, Ukraine

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By Laureen Maloney

Originally appeared in the May/June 2010 Issue of the PaLA Bulletin, a publication of the Pennsylvania Library Association (http://www.palibraries.org/ ).

Last July, Mary Garm forwarded an e-mail to me that she had received from a library in Ukraine. Mary was not sure it was legitimate but asked if I wanted to check it out. It turns out it was from an American Peace Corps volunteer named Deborah Garofalo working in the  Kherson Oblast Library for Children. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I was intrigued. Most volunteers I knew worked as teachers or in the health education field, but not in libraries! I’m always up for an adventure so I e-mailed Debbie. I was curious how she came to be a volunteer in Ukraine – not usually a country one thinks of for the Peace Corps.

Debbie made contact with us on behalf of the director of the Oblast Library, Ms. Bardashevskaya, who manages 35 children's libraries and 435 children's departments within libraries in the region. Ms. Bardashevskaya was interested in sharing information and ideas between Lackawanna County Children's Library and Kherson Oblast Library for Children by establishing a "sister library" relationship. The director wanted to correspond on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, through e-mail and/or Skype, to discuss the most current programs and methodologies utilized in both Ukraine and the United States.

In 2009, the Kherson Oblast Library for Children celebrated its 85th anniversary. It is continually developing new and innovative programs to serve the region's children. Its departments include Periodicals and Publications; the Art Department that oversees the Theatre Club and Club Palette; the Reading Hall, with Argument and Fantasy clubs; the Department for Preschoolers and Young Students; and the Department for Students that runs the Library Assistants Club.

The Oblast Library received a grant in 2001 from the US Embassy in Ukraine for LEAP -- the Library Electronic Access Project – that enabled the library to create an up-to-date Internet Center for children. In 2004 it was awarded a Peace Corps grant that assisted in the creating of the Department of the Literature in Foreign Languages. Housed within this department is the Children's Window on America program, an English Club, and a Polish Club.

Debbie sent me a rather lengthy questionnaire with things the Ukrainian librarians wanted to know. How many children’s programs do we have? How long can the children stay on the computers? And, the most basic, how are we funded? I answered all of their questions and gave links to our Web sites, blogs, and even sent PowerPoint presentations for programs and workshops we have done. Debbie used the information to make a Power Point presentation at the Oblast Library for a library summit in September. The summit was a great success and the librarians who attended were interested in the current trends in American libraries. They hope to use many of the programs in Ukraine.

The communication with Debbie laid the groundwork for a face-to-face Skype conference. We had our first session in February, 9 a.m. our time, 4 p.m. Ukraine time. After a few glitches we made contact.

Russian cover of TwilightWe met Debbie, two of her directors, and Lena, the translator. It was an interesting conversation. We talked about general things like programs, books, and staffing. We told about some of our programs including baby programs, the Danger Club, and our Wii competitions. They had never heard of Wii and don’t have gaming systems in the library or in their homes, for that matter. Their programs seem to be more humanities related --  the Theatre Club, Club Palette, and Argument and Fantasy clubs. We spoke about the different ages of children we see and their likes and dislikes. We talked about favorite books for teens and guess which ones popped up? The Twilight saga! We had the subject of our next Skype call -- an international book discussion in real time!

The Skype book discussion took place on Sunday, March 28. The hope was to have Scranton teens come to the call and talk about the Twilight series. But the library doesn’t open until two on Sunday and there is a five-hour time difference, so we couldn’t have the call at the library.

Then I thought of my 12-year-old daughter, Maggie, and her friends who are diehard “Twilighters”. I invited two of them to sleep over to get ready for the 9 a.m. call. Eight Ukrainian girls about 15 years old and met my girls. Two of the girls who spoke English very well were the translators and did most of the talking. Both groups were a little uneasy at first but they became more comfortable as they asked each other questions. The Ukrainian girls are Team Edward and the American girls are Team Jacob! They all laughed when Maggie said Edward was too white and too hairy. Lily was pleased when she was told she looked liked like a vampire with her dark eye makeup, and even more pleased when she was told she looked like Alice!

When the girls finished discussing the books, the talk turned to Easter, coloring eggs, Pysanky, hanging out with friends and school. The Ukranians had off for a month because of the swine flu If you think our winter was bad, try Ukraine. It was a wonderful experience for both sets of girls who are not really that different. In the Reading Hall you can find answers to your difficult questions in encyclopedias, reference books, and dictionaries. New literature is also displayed here.

Debbie and I are working on some other kinds of programming. I think it would be great if we could Skype a storytime with our puppet show, do a Mother Goose program, or a Battle of the Books. The time difference is always a problem, but if there is will, there is a way!

For more information about the Kherson Oblast Library for Children, look at the library's Web site, www.library.kherson.ua, click on Інформація Про Бібліотеку, which takes you to an informational page, then click on “About the Library in English”.

Laureen Maloney is the head of children’s services for the Lackawanna County Children’s Library, and Youth Services Division chair for PaLA.

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