4th May 2022

Moldova’s libraries in the context of the refugee and asylum seeker crisis

The libraries, still not fully adjusted to the “new normality” brought by the COVID-19 virus pandemic, found themselves brutally thrown overnight into another “new reality” ruled by the refugee and asylum seeker crisis.

The situation imposed by the refugee crisis is a huge challenge for the country, for all citizens and, obviously, for the libraries. The pressure is enormous on all state structures, but also on the citizens. It is estimated that since February 24, more than 430,000 people have entered Moldova from Ukraine and nearly 100,000 have stayed (https://www.businessinsider.com/moldova-is-hosting-the-most-ukrainian-refugees-per-capita-2022-4).

The first reaction of the Moldovan librarians could not be other than a message addressed to the fellow librarians in Ukraine expressing whole compassion and support during the hard times. Over the years, as good neighbors, Moldovan and Ukrainian librarians have collaborated on various national and international library projects, trying to support each other on the road of democratic development of the  society.

At the level of the Association of Librarians of the Republic of Moldova, some libraries or some individual librarians have volunteered making acts of charity, which throughout the country have taken unimaginable proportions, a fact highly valued by  the international bodies and the community.

On March 11, 2022, the National Library of the Republic of Moldova, with the involvement of the Minister of Culture, organized an online meeting for the library managers from national, departmental and territorial library centers with the title “Libraries to help refugees”. About 100 librarians participated in the discussions.

The managers from the National Library of Republic of Moldova (NLRM), the National Library for Children “Ion Creanga”, the Municipal Library “B.P. Hasdeu”, the district public libraries Ungheni, Orhei, Rezina, Telenesti reported about the experiences of involvement in helping refugees and asylum seekers. The specialists from the NLRM presented a range of information resources that can facilitate refugees’ access to the quality information and that librarians from all libraries from Moldova can use for the activities and services for refugees.

The materials presented during the meeting were collected in an ePortfolio and distributed to all libraries from the National Library System. They can be accessed as well from the National Library of Moldova’s website.

Given the fact that the refugee phenomenon is absolutely new for the country’s library community and that there is no experience in managing a refugee crisis with such a large number of persons, the National Library of Moldova together with the Association of Librarians of the Republic of Moldova organized an online session with the title: “Empowering Librarians to Support Refugees and Asylum Seekers: A Psychological Context”. The activity was designed for senior managers from the  national, departmental and territorial library centers, for those who are in charge for the activity of libraries within the public authorities – people who have to work with the network of librarians and respectively, together with them, with the end users – refugees and asylum seekers.

There was invited Sergiu TOMA as an expert – a psychologist and psychotherapist with over 10 years of experience in psychological assistance, the president of Public Association “The Institute for Family and Social Initiatives”.

The topics discussed were focused on the behavior of the people in crisis situations and the psychological counseling in such situations.

For a wider involvement of all librarians, the National Library of Moldova has developed  recommendations on the topic of involvement of the libraries in helping refugees and asylum seekers, entitled “Libraries in aid for refugees and asylum seekers: Guidelines”. The material can be used by all libraries and will be of real use for the development of their own action plans.

The general principles of the the activities for refugees and asylum seekers, which are part of the guidelines, can be as follow:

  • Sharing ideas and resources;
  • Have an impact on the social inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers;
  • Involvement of competent refugees (to be able to communicate in the native language);
  • Activities for refugees in transit has to be different from those for asylum seekers;
  • Supporting the work of the authorities for community cohesion and social inclusion;
  • Knowledge of international legislation on refugees, on their status;
  • Initiatives among the librarians in relations with  local public administration;
  • Activities for refugees, especially those for children, must contribute to maintaining the emotional balance, to the psychological rehabilitation.

An essential way to help refugees is to give them access to the Internet and to the information and communication technologies available within the libraries. Out of 1307 territorial public libraries, 1126 have computers and 1103 are connected to the Internet. The information and communication technologies available in libraries are an enormous source of information that needs to be put on service of the refugees. Libraries could not do this in the event of a pandemic, because the physical spaces were closed, but now the situation is different.

The concept of a public library as a community space acquires a special significance in the conditions of the refugee crisis, given their living conditions – in temporary shelters without technical equipment and Internet. Libraries can eliminate excessive bureaucratic obstacles. The library cards can be issued free of charge, as well as the necessity of presenting the official documents can be waived. The library can be used for individual and collective learning. Here people can exchange experiences and make contacts in a safe and less stressful atmosphere.

In the days since the refugee exodus began, the libraries have gained important experiences of involvement; librarians need to learn from each other, to take on the successful activities, because there is no time for experiments.

To begin the work, there will be performed the distribution of the quality experiences, the exchange of quality practices on refugee activities, sent by e-mail (for library centers), trough the Facebook social network, the public group on Facebook LecturaCentral, which has almost 4000 members.

As for their main part, the refugee services and activities are those already experienced by the libraries for members of the communities they serve, but this time they focus on refugees and their needs.

Most of the recommended activities can be done within existing budgets. However, there are also activities for which additional funding is needed. These would include:

  • Sets of materials for refugees;
  • Information resources in paper format, etc.

The phenomenon of refugees and asylum seekers has brought to the forefront of social life the need for partnerships, the involvement of volunteers, the promotion of activities and services and the cooperation of work with various humanitarian organizations.

The diversification of library services under force majeure is possible only through donations, sponsorships and additional public funding. Volunteer assistants are indispensable for all of these activities. Therefore, libraries cooperate closely with existing or emerging humanitarian organizations as a necessity of the new reality. There should be mentioned the Office for Migration and Asylum, the Red Cross, etc. The volunteers include many refugees. They can count on public libraries, where they can receive support, including the skills development.

The range of services offered will range from general services to individual activities or interest-based group services.

All materials of interest to refugees can be accessed through the National Library of the Republic of Moldova website   (see the file “Bibliotecile în contextul crizei refugiaților și a solicitanților de azil”): http://resurse.bnrm.md/ro/for-public-libraries/resource-center

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