Engaging Citizens at the National Library of Greece

Everyone took Classical Studies at my mixed comprehensive school in Scotland in the 1970s – to understand how the Greeks and Romans shaped western civilisation.  Career options for small town Scottish girls seemed limited. The world  moves on… this week I was working with the senior team at the National Library of Greece in Athens, developing ideas about engaging citizens with their archive. 

resizeHazel and Mike (Open Change) with Fillips Tsimpoglou, Director of the National Library of Greece

The National Library of Greece, home to a treasure trove of documents on which much of western civilization is built, is moving. Director Fillips Tsimpoglou explained that not only is the library culturally significant, it is undergoing a massive  transformation. A traditional, quiet home to scholars will become an outward looking, user-facing organisation co-located with Greek National Opera in an iconic Renzo Piano designed building – the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).

The logistics of moving a priceless collection of fragile artefacts from the centre of Athens to a new location in the south of the city is complex. The library has taken this opportunity to begin digitising the collection and consider how citizens can interact with the collection in new ways. This makes the most of the opportunities offered by the move – rather than simply recreating the existing library in a new location. It does however require new ways of working and building new internal and external relations.

National Library of Greece - 1

We spent an energetic morning with the Library’s Transition Team introducing playful methods of engaging users with the library experience.

The session was mainly a hands-on Rip+Mix workshop where staff worked in small groups to think of new ways to develop the library experience. A large number of ideas were generated and the staff talked of building their ‘creative confidence’ using the Rip + Mix method as a ‘game’.

We discussed the £1.6 billion Schools for the Future project currently underway in Scotland and the importance of prototyping activities in new spaces to empower staff to use them with confidence. We shared our experiences of ethnographic research and stakeholder engagement work with Abertay University Library and V&A Dundee.

Thanks to the Director and his team and to Stephania Xydia and Vasia Christoulaki for making the connections.

In this post-Brexit world, we need to find new ways of connecting and finding relevance. If the National Library of Greece can demonstrate how the foundations of democracy resonate with citizens, we’re on a sound footing.

Post by Hazel