Old Dilemma – the cultural magazine that I’ve already talked about – had as theme for this week’s issue: “How we used to read in communism”. With a big question like this, addressed to Romanian students and intellectuals I was curious to see the answers. I already knew about informal networks that existed in Romania back then that circulated the books. Everybody respected a “good” book and was desperately trying to get one for their own library.  A visit to the house of a middle class Romanian in Communism would surprise any Western visitor. The center piece of the living room was always a library. The number of volumes differed, but my guess was that there was no direct connection between income and number of volumes. Having a library was setting a social status.

In Dilemma  intellectuals, mostly writers, expressed their thoughts, shared their experience about reading during Communism. While reading about them, I realize that books were valuable not only because of their content but because of their potential anti Communist content. A book was more popular and was sold right away if there were rumors that it had difficulties with the censorship or if the author was not popular with the regime. After books that were said to be “good” and were nowhere to be found in bookstores, the black market would start making profit out of them. A policemen would confiscate a book who’s author was not liked by the regime and wold sell it on the black market.  I was very little aware of the economic role of books back then.

Anyway, the public or school libraries are mentioned briefly in this issue of Dilemma about reading in Communism:

Mirel Banica presents public libraries as places where one could get books only in cases of “extreme emergency. There [ in libraries] it was cold, dirt, dusted books. But what wander me away from there was the deep hate that comrades librarians had for us, they were profound disturbed from their hibernation by our request […]”

When in high school Radu Pavel Gheo wanted to read Marx’s The Capital so he went to the library. (Of course this was not a “good” book)

Mihai Dinu Gheorge mentions libraries as places where people could find books. However they come only third  after Book stores and Second hand bookshops.

Vintila Mihailescu was very disappointment to discover, after 1990 that intellectuals from West did not have their own huge library but were borrowing books from the library. “And I was dreaming years after years that Them, out there, were spoiling themselves in big libraries, spending nights on endless corridors full of bookshelves…” ( He is talking about private libraries …The idea of a public one, for public sharing is not there)

Where does one start to rehabilitate an institution that existed only for a small number of people in “extreme emergency” situations and had such a bad image. A comparative research with UK or USA libraries would seems pointless( What am I thinking!!!). We are so far from them and yet we (librarians and our public libraries) need to be so close to be able to play an ctive role in our communities.

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