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“We Need Books”: Library with 14,000 books in 30 languages in downtown Athens

“We Need Books” is an NGO that functions as a library and, more broadly, a multicultural space in Kypseli, a vibrant and culturally diverse neighbourhood in the centre of Athens. The library features 14,000 books in over 30 languages and at least 6 alphabets, and also includes a children’s library. Its aim is to treat all languages equally, and to provide a meaningful service addressed to everyone.

As stated in the vision behind the creation of the library, cultural and linguistic diversity can contribute to innovation, creativity and peaceful coexistence. Multicultural books and spaces also strengthen the Greek community by making it more inclusive. They also help immigrants and refugees to to familiarise themselves with Western lifestyle, thus promoting mutual understanding.

In the words of Emma Raibaut, the French librarian of We Need Books:

“The library offers a certain “empowerment” to its users, because it is an open and free space where one can evolve autonomously, but also because by valuing books, one values languages and their speakers, as well as their place in Greece and in Athens.”

Our sister publication, GrèceHebdo, interviewed with the founder of We Need Books, Ioanna Nissiriou, about all that the unique library does, the challenges the project faces as well as the impact the library has on the community.

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Do the users of the library follow a particular profile or are do they come from many different backgrounds?

The We Need Books library was created to bring together, through a common love of books and the need for personal interaction, people who live in the city of Athens but who would otherwise never meet. It is the only library in the Kypseli district and the only multilingual library in the capital.

The library is there to serve the community, as is the case with modern public libraries in Europe and the USA. It is therefore a sign of its success that it does not attract users of a specific profile, given that neither the residents of Kypseli, nor the citizens of Athens in general, fall into a particular category. We welcome children who come by after school, neighbours who come to talk about their news, people who come here to work on their laptop, read in the garden, borrow books, attend our activities and language courses or simply enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee in a multicultural environment. Our visitors are men and women from a wide range of backgrounds and origins. However, from the moment they enter the premises, all visitors enjoy the same level of respect and have equal access to all our services. And it is precisely these discussions that give rise to our initiatives: our remedial courses were a result of the anxiety of the parents whose children missed most of the distance learning courses last year; our workshops are owed to the lack of creative activities for children in the neighbourhood; our Greek language courses are prompted by the need for social integration and the improvement of the living conditions of immigrants and refugees; and the multicultural programmes for children and adults originate from our own lack of knowledge about the others. Our library is proof that people from different backgrounds can coexist harmoniously and creatively.

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How can one get involved in the project?

Our library has recently started to offer a book lending service. About 17% of the books are already available for loan and many more are added to our catalogues every week. You can become a member of the library to borrow books and support its work, and you can also participate as a volunteer in cataloguing, teaching a language, implementing an action, etc. In addition, you can participate in social network actions, such as our workshops on stereotypes. In cooperation with us, you can offer books together and help us to enrich our collection on human rights and climate change. And above all, you can visit the library and then talk about it in your social circle to raise awareness about Kypseli as the home of the multilingual library of Athens, a beautiful and inclusive place that always has something to offer to its visitors.

Read the whole interview in English here.

WeNeedBooks website in English here.

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