October 19th, 2015
American Corners are entities created by the United States in collaboration with an institution in a host country. The U.S. Department of State supplies the funding, the host institution supplies the staff and payroll, and location and rent. In the case of the American Corner in Belgrade, they are housed in the Belgrade Youth Center, and staffed by the Belgrade City Library and the University of Belgrade. The Corners serve as a library and program venue, holding events like: English tutoring, workshops, exam preparation, book clubs, and so on. There are 8 American Corners in Serbia. http://serbia.usembassy.gov/american-corners.html
I really like the idea and concept of the American Corner. To be able to spread the English language and culture including American authors in a positive helpful manner is a great concept. I was impressed with the staff and the positive attitudes that they all appeared to have. It was great to see how much they could do so what appeared to be so little resources, and again I think the positive attitude helped in that task. I also liked the connection the library had with the community center. I wish we had more of that in the United States. I was thinking the
Boys and Girls clubs in the United States could be a good partner with many city and county libraries.
I had not heard of the American Corner before this trip. By that, I mean I heard we were going to the American Corner, but I did not know anything before we walked through the door except that they are not allowed to buy books that are not American authors. Once we walked in and Sandra, our host, explained who they are and what they did, I understood. The US Embassy sponsors them, so their budget goes to American authors, but if a book is donated, they are more than happy to take it. They have a mission, or theme, that changes each year or so and their budget goes towards those themes. Speaking of budgets, they have a very small budget to work with, and they know how to use it! Seeing what they are able to do with the budget is inspiring.
Sandra and the other employees at the American Corner were so kind and generous with their time, asking us questions about ourselves, answering any of our questions, showing us around for places to go to lunch, and offering us drinks and snacks. I really enjoyed learning about the American Corner and having a chance to meet and speak with the women that worked there.
I also had never heard of the American Corner libraries before this trip. I was very impressed by how much the Corner was able to do within their limitations (as their projects, focus and budget are set by the U.S. Department of State, rather than something the Corner is able to define themselves). I believe they said they serve 20,000 patrons, with 5,000 new patrons every year. They provide 50 programs a month, and that is with being closed Sunday and Saturday only a half day. All of that in a space which is quite small. It was quite impressive! I was surprised that there was only one publisher in Serbia who is currently doing e-books; what that means for the American Corners is that focusing on e-readers and e-books is not really a feasible option yet. It was also interesting that the American Corners are the only free libraries in Serbia, most other libraries have a membership fee that roughly equals the cost of one book per year.