ISSN 1759-2836 (online)
Once upon a time there was a Little Library…
Veljko Žižić is a man with a mission. A trained economist, Veljko came to Britain in the 90s and found himself helping to teach at the Sv Sava Sunday school in London. He soon realised that their efforts were hampered by a lack of teaching materials – books in particular - so, with help from the Church, community, parents, teachers and a National Lottery grant, he raised funds to start a “little library”. Situated in the crypt behind the Church, the Mala Biblioteka grew quickly and now boasts thousands of children’s books and an impressive DVD collection and cinema.
Not content to rest on his laurels, however, Veljko was inspired to expand the library still further and offer its resources not only to London, or indeed Britain, but to the whole world, using Internet technology.
Sizing up Mala Biblioteka
The site is one of the most polished on the srpska mreža, quite a match for anything on the web. Think BBC and Apple usability. It is not a language course but offers hundreds of items for children, all in Serbian – story books, readings, games, videos and more. There are both Latin and Cyrillic texts for children up to 14, interactive cartoons for pre-schoolers and a theatre featuring performances including Peter Pan, Ilijada and Olja vila najbolja. Top authors have signed rights for their lavishly illustrated stories, including audio readings by the authors themselves.
If you are wondering how eBooks compare to “real” ones, the answer is: surprisingly well. Of course, children love the iPad-style page turning effects, and eBooks cannot be lost, ripped or smeared with peanut butter. Change computer, move house or travel abroad, your eBooks stay neatly stacked in the Mala Biblioteka. Still not convinced? You can always print them if you really must.
We accept Visa, Mastercard, Am-Ex...and marbles
Purchasing books in Serbia brings a nasty shock at the check-out. Typically, children’s Serbian-language books cost rather more then their English counterparts; availability is restricted due to small print runs of only hundreds rather than thousands, the result of the demise of a single Yugoslav publishing market and decreasing disposable incomes. As modern Serbian literature threatens to fall into decay, Mala Biblioteka quietly offers an answer.
Books at Mala Biblioteka cost just one euro each, a marble if you will. Children can browse books for free before buying, and some material is completely free. Authors get more readers and precious earnings. Serbian readers get books at less than Poundland prices. In particular we, the Diaspora, get western quality, previously inaccessible srpske bajke.
Has Mala Biblioteka saved Serbian literature?
Give it a chance, it only started this year! However the site boasts users from over 70 countries from Dubai to South Africa...oh, and quite a few from ex-YU. Some 10,000 in total and counting. As the children’s catalogue continues to expand a second site for adults is in the pipeline (featuring literature, audio and film).
Anyone serious about teaching their children Serbian cannot ignore Mala Biblioteka. Try it once. You will return, again and again.