Laura Caplea, Biblioteca Județeană “Panait Istrati” Brăila, Trainer în cadrul Proiectul „Agora Culturală @ Biblioteca Ta”
“Cultural Agora @ Your Library” has been my first experience as a trainer, a huge
opportunity for me to acquire new abilities and to outgrow my limits. I am one of those
people who have a deep respect for learning, be it given by trainers, teachers, lecturers or
mentors. However, there are few jobs which offer such opportunities. I am one of the lucky
ones as I can twine my work as a librarian with the trainer position. Many people assume that
being a librarian is boring but I can come up with counterarguments, that being a librarian
nowadays is a real challenge, since such organizations are in a continuous change.
I have always admired people around me who form and train the others. This project came up
when I was trying to step out of my daily work routine, looking for new methods of “spicing”
my job. Although my schedule is strained and every day is different from the previous one,
the opportunity to work with an amazing team on a new project has appealed to me a lot. It
has been a year since the start of the project, but my enthusiasm has remained the same as at
The lecture hall is more like a great school, not only for those who attend but for me as a
trainer as well. It is one of those places where one can develop steadily, finding out useful and
interesting information from different people in different fields.
At the beginning, I could not imagine that a project which promotes the cultural diversity
could become a smooth, up-to- date representation of the Romanian society. Being in contact
with different participants, either members of ethnic groups or Romanians, I have realized that
their stories are made from bits of their lives. All the stories describe real events and
experiences which have left their mark in one way or another on each of them. The stories
may be nostalgic or cheerful, successful, remarkable, childish or simply, some beautiful
memories worth being shared.
Braila boast about the fact that it is a multiethnic, cosmopolitan city, where tolerance towards
other nations has been one of the best values. In Braila, there is an equitable number of ethnic
minorities so that they are an integral part of the society without causing interethnical
conflicts throughout its 600 years of history. Along with becoming part of the European
Union and the appearance of multiculturalism, it can be asserted that Braila is a cultural,
ethnic and religious mosaic, a role model of the various existing communities. Dozens of
people, members of these ethnic groups, have attended the „Agora Culturală @ Biblioteca
Ta” Project which took place at the County Library of Braila.
My favourite stories have been those of the Lipovans Russians who have described traditions
sacredly kept in their families. Their history and their ancestors are being looked up to and
they try to keep hold of the Old Christian tradition from an early age. The Christmas and the
Easter customs, the food and the traditional suit (worn mandatory on Sunday at church or
other special occasions) have managed to surprise me many times. Such a united community,
involved in conserving the customs which define them as an ethnic group I have only seen at
the Greeks in Braila .
To me, the Greeks form a special ethnic group, as they managed to steal both my heart and
rounds of applause, including some “Opaaa” cheers during their dance shows along with the
bouzouki (an instrument resembling the guitar). Due to this project, I have discovered that
they are cheerful and hospitable people, proud of their traditions and authoritative when it
comes to upbringing their children in a Greek manner. They are friendly to those who love
their culture and very aware of their historical hallmark on our city. Besides “Kalimera” and
“Xronia Polla, Elada!” I hope I will acquire one more thing from them: their stubbornness in
keeping and showing off to the world their values and their identity.
On the other hand, I cannot say the same thing about the Roma people. During the project, I have
noticed that they live on the border of two worlds: a traditional and a modern one. I have met school
mediators who want wholeheartedly a bright future for their youngsters. Their customs are beautiful
indeed, worth being known, are charming and mirrors very well their lifestyle. However, despite the
efforts of fitting them in, their lifestyle hardly adjusts to our society nowadays.
I have worked with two kinds of Roma: those who have fitted into the majority population
and those who are still part of the traditional family. The ones “assimilated” go to work, take
their children to school, get degrees from univesities, live in blocks of flats, are part of mixed
marriages and do not follow their traditions anymore. On the other hand, I have come across
teenagers who still belong to their families, where illiterate parents advise their daughters to
get married as early as possible instead of continuing their studies, send their children to beg
for money and do not offer them the elementary education at home.
During the workshops, I had to deal with middle-school Roma pupils who were not able to
read or write and who were helped to write their stories by the accopmanying teacher. They
were able to use a computer although almost everything was new to them: the voice recorder,
the editing software, the relaxed atmosphere, they even said that they could attend such
lectures until late at night. I am well aware that this project is one of the rare occasions when
these children have access to technology, innovation and creativity.
I have a great admiration for the Roma teenagers who attend school under any form, who
want to have a better life, proving that they are not second to the majority population. We
need to acccept the fact that they benefit from a larger support from their families, being
motivated to overcome their parents, who are often looked down for not having degrees. The
formal education cannot replace a parent. The family life makes all the difference.
These being said, the fact that I have met many Roma people and I have discovered their life
stories, has been an unprecedented experience which has improved my view on their ethnicity
in a good way, as previously it was based on prejudices.
Among all the participants, aged from 5 to 70, the most creative people during the digital
stories sessions were teenagers,. Free-spirited, original, with a hand for computers, many of
them approached the fantasy genre, a common theme of the movies and series of their age.
They came up with vampire stories and all sorts of SF characters, imaginary worlds and wars,
most of them carrying an important lesson to be learned. Some of them told us about love,
friendship, volunteering, their dream job, hobbies, talents or remarkable sporting figures.
Also, there were some emo stories, related to the Occidental tendency which worried me. It is
obvious that these youngsters require special attention and communication skills.
The most appealing to the teenagers was the fact that their digital story would be published,
they would get copyrights on it and it would appear on Youtube and Facebook. It is well
known that they appreciate the online communication means, so the possibility of making
their movie known on Youtube felt good for them and made them compete nicely against one
The workshops have offered me amazing opportunities for future collaborations. During the
two days, the participants managed to socialize, discuss and lay foundations of new
relationships. Moreover, the energy created during such a workshop is a really strong one,
suitable for development. Besides acquiring information, it was a pleasure for me to interact
with such a group, to motivate and inspire them, so that we reach our goals and they reach to
the conclusion that the two days were worth the effort.
Being able to give and to contribute to the improvement of something are the most beautiful
feeling I have ever felt. The satisfaction following each session reminds me that success is a
journey, not a destination.
Getting new participants has not been an easy task, as some of them reply fast to our
invitation while others are more difficult to be convinced. The most important thing is that
during the year the project has lasted, we have managed to create over 300 digital stories. We
have created posters, cards and flyers for teachers and pupils, informed them throughout any
means: the library's website, the Facebook page, the local media handouts. We have set up
workshops for 5 or 15 people. The project has served during the opening of various events on
behalf of the library: book launches, guided tours, creative workshops, quests but also in
schools and highschools. There have been many partnerships signed between the library and
the educational institutions in Braila. All digital stories constitute a permanent exhibition on a
modern TV in the hallway of our institution as an endowment for the project. The exhibition
catches the eye of the public and many are curious, ask questions and become interested in the
It is worth mentioning that the librarians have managed to create a permanent Digital
Storytelling feature in the library, making it easier for the public to access technology and
Using images, sounds and colours, the stories become alive, sharing emotions and intensive
moments to the world. Many of them promote the history, the culture or the religion of their
ethnic group in an artistic manner. They are really useful as they facilitate the exchange of
knowledge and ideas on the cultural diversity, being an innovative means to encourage
Braila needs these stories as they represent the past and present events. Each community
preserves its knowledge, its experiences and its remarkable events in its memory and its own
configuration. The collective memory reunites the official/written one with the live, individual
memory, the oral history vital for conveying our traditions and values.
The “Cultural Agora @ Your Library” project has come up with a feature through which the
public library encourages people to contribute to and preserve the collective memory, an
invaluable immaterial patrimony. Losing this common asset it is also a collective process and
this is why we ought to reactivate the cultural memory of the city so that it is not consigned to