For years public libraries (biblioteki publiczne) in Poland have played an important role in the development of knowledge, provided space for cultural and community interaction, while also being a means to obtaining access to the latest news and information for lack of other media sources. Over the communist era following World War II newly issued books were difficult to come by, with production quotas imposed by the authorities due to paper shortages. This meant that most young people had to turn to libraries for help getting their compulsory school reading, while adults could take advantage of up-to-date newspapers or newsmagazines. Some also offered foreign publications, which meant that the population could read foreign content (provided they knew the language, of course) and get an understanding of the situation from a very different perspective.
However, as the situation in the country changed dramatically with the onset of democracy in the early 1990s and the full availability of any title you could wish for, libraries became somewhat obsolete, with people not having the time or the drive to spend time at libraries, especially in larger cities. In rural areas libraries became even more of an administrative burden for the local governments as these were required to maintain unprofitable premises and staff that hardly anyone cared about.
It was not until much later that people finally started to understand that reading a newspaper or lending a book from a library was probably a better way to manage their expenses, especially when faced with a tough economic situation. Thus they turned back to the libraries, but it soon transpired, however, that libraries in Poland could not keep up with the pace of technological developments, and were unable to offer what most people would be looking for, such as Internet access or video/music rentals.
With these challenges facing the local communities and governments libraries were stalled in their antiquated approach until the Library Development Program was implemented in the late 2000s thanks to the global initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Polish American Freedom Foundation, which offered help to all rural and rural-municipal communities with populations not exceeding 20,000. The objectives of the Program include better access to computers (with free software provided by Microsoft), the Internet and training, at the same time preparing librarians to run their libraries in a modern way, organize interesting events for the local communities, secure additional extra-budgetary funds, and promote the exchange of cultural information.
Today most Polish libraries are well-equipped and have Internet access (dostęp do Internetu). Book and other publication catalogs (katalogi książek i innych wydawnictw) are available both as cards and online. Members are usually issued barcode cards (karty członkowskie z kodem paskowym) allowing the quick identification of members and their borrowed (pozycje wypożyczone) or overdue items (pozycje przeterminowane). Repeat offenders can expect fines (kary za przetrzymanie) while evaders may be handed over to professional debt collection companies (firmy windykacyjne) – not worth the try as the penalties may get multiplied.
As far as the book resources are concerned (zasoby książkowe), smaller district libraries (biblioteki dzielnicowe) in larger cities or rural area libraries (biblioteki wiejskie) may only provide a basic book offering, mostly including compulsory school reading, with some of the rarer items available from larger municipal libraries and reading rooms (biblioteki i czytelnie miejskie) where books can only be used on site, university libraries (biblioteki uniwersyteckie), only available to students and the teaching staff, or the National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa) in Warsaw holding at least one copy of each book ever published in Poland, and more.
Librarians (bibliotekarze) prefer that readers (czytelnicy), as they are mostly referred to, remain quiet while perusing the shelves or the books they choose, so make sure you oblige while others do the same for you. Miłego czytania! (Happy reading!)