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Serbia — Day 3 — Monday

Hi Folks: 

This was our first day of library visits and a very full one.

After another sumptuous breakfast, we started off walking along the main pedestrian street, Knez Mihailova, to visit the central building of the Belgrade Public Library. Of course we saw lots of interesting things from the library point of view - closed stacks, the use of shelf and acquisition numbers to organize books in very limited space (the central library was once a hotel and book storage is in the former wine cellars, with a great little book lift to get books up to the circulation department upstairs), as well as a slightly different cataloging system - universal Decimal System - and so on. The library has just moved the local Tourist Information office into a small room just immediately inside the front door, a slightly controversial issue, but interesting to hear about and see in action. However, the highlight of the tour was to see the Roman Hall, a room used for concerts, cultural events and so on that features a back wall of the remains of one of the original entrance gates to the Roman fort  at Singidunum, dating from 200 A.D. and complete with aqueduct. The Roman walls are not blocked off or fenced off or even behind glass, so you have the experience of sitting in a room being a part of something almost 2,000 years old. A wonderful experience.

Next we moved on to the Serials Library of the City Library, a division of its Department of Special Collections, which is only two blocks away. We had a most interesting tour of the facility - library problems are truly the same the world over - and learned a great deal about problems of digitizing materials, in particular the necessity for precious resources not to be squandered on multiple libraries/archives digitizing the same materials.

After a brief stop back at our hotel we set off in the other direction for the library of the University of Belgrade, and institution with over 80,000 students. The university library is a Carnegie Library, and was one of three Carnegie libraries built after the First World War in the three cities most heavily damaged by the war, belgrade being one. We enjoyed an excellent tour, including the rare books and manuscripts collection, where we were shown Arabic manuscripts from the early 13th century, the first book printed in Belgrade in the 1560s, various incunabula (early printed books from the late 14th and early 15th century), as well as maps of Serbia and Belgrade from the past 300 - 400 years. We also got a peek at the almost complete renovations of the exterior, and also at a new preservation lab created in the basement, with the latest Italian machines for sterilizing books, cleaning them and other things. The lab is not yet quite complete, so we are really the first people to see it just before it goes into action.

Our final visit of the day was to the American Corner Belgrade, a short walk from our hotel. This is one of 8 American Corners in Serbia, and 400American Spaces in the world, all designed to offer materials and programs in English and to foster relationships between America an other countries.

You may remember we had dinner with the librarians from the Corner on Saturday night, so now we got to see them in their library and hear about their facility, their collections, and their programs. All most interesting, and it was hard to leave, although we had to clear out to allow for one of their programs to take place. 

All in all a very busy and informative day. We only have two visits tomorrow, but they will both be fairly long - to the National Library of Serbia and to the American Embassy.

Everyone is still doing fine, adapting well to Serbian food, and learning a great deal.

More news tomorrow.

Andrew Smith