I am 39 years old and have worked at the National and University Library of Republica Srpska since 2005. Currently I work as a reference librarian and professional assistant for English language and literature. From 2005 to 2019 I was a director of the American Corner Banja Luka and during this period I was involved in several continuous adult learning projects, such as organising and/or leading events for English language teachers, people with disabilities, arts, information technology, and ecology activities, etc. My colleague Ognjenka Savanovic has graduated from the Department of French Language and Literature at the College of Philosophy of the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. She has worked at the National and University Library of Republica Srpska since 2000, where she catalogues library holdings, organises cultural events and coordinates the adult learning project.
The importance of libraries for adult learning
Libraries are institutions that support lifelong learning and contribute to a better integration of an individual into a local community. The National and University Library of Republica Srpska offers a wide spectrum of services for various audiences in order to provide learning and support for the development of creative skills. Therefore, last autumn, with the aim of improving current services for our visitors, we started a series of workshops held once or twice per week. The workshops focused on conversation in foreign languages (English, French, Italian, Serbian for foreigners) and on information literacy for adults. They are all free of charge, open to the general public and led by professional librarians.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, the library was closed to visitors, but we continued to provide our services thanks to the fast adaptation of the employees to online work. Even though they were unprepared, our team of librarians decided to transfer the three most popular programs online:
- conversation workshops in English
- Serbian for foreigners
- the English book club.
A challenge during the Coronavirus pandemic for most of us was how to use Zoom software because we had never used it before. We were also concerned about how to organise the workshops and what content to offer to our participants. We advertised the workshops online regularly on both the library website and Facebook page. It was mostly the existing participants who continued to attend their online workshops with the librarians for two and a half months. The online meetings were usually attended by between five and ten participants. However, even if only one participant showed up we still ran the workshop.
Giving up was never an option for us.
It is worth noting that our participants come from various professional backgrounds and most of them are not technology experts. Apart from Zoom, we also communicated through our Viber group, in which we would post links and videos for language learning and support our members daily. As the virtual workshops were held twice a week, one for English and another for Serbian for foreigners, the Viber communication added the extra benefit of being constantly connected and sharing ideas and preparation for the live online workshops. This online learning was a positive distraction for the participants as it helped them to maintain social interaction from the comfort of their own home. As a result, they felt motivated to regularly attend the workshops to learn something useful but also to take part in creating their own creative learning content. This included the talent show, compiling PowerPoint presentations on the books they read and Kahoot quizzes. The latter was another completely new way of learning for all of us. We librarians were impressed by how our participants in these live video chats were able to adapt quickly to playing the interactive quizzes using the Zoom platform, and at least one additional device, that was either a mobile phone or tablet. Some of the Kahoot quiz topics that the participants of that English conversation workshops were interested in were English grammar and technology and its impact on our lives. Nonetheless, we faced some technological challenges too. For instance, we had to learn ad hoc how to use Zoom and at the beginning it felt rather strange communicating online as you cannot clearly see other people’s face gestures or ascertain their feelings. Furthermore, we realised that Zoom calls can also be tiring.
Despite these challenges, we understood that there are several valid reasons for keeping online learning going in the foreseeable future.
These are accessibility to knowledge from the comfort of one’s own home, which saves time and allows us to interact with each other safely. Also, online work enables those who are not from our city or even state, to stay connected. And last but not least, we must continue implementing aforementioned and similar educational activities in all available ways because recovery is not possible without investment in education and culture.