European Solidarity Centre Library, Gdansk – Underground resistance archive in award winning museum

Written by Olena Waśkiewicz (Twitter @byolena), currently working in an academic library in Winchester, UK. For how to contribute to Library Planet look here: https://libraryplanet.net/contribute/

[This is our library number 100 on Library Planet since we started – wow, thank you for all the wonderful library stories from around the world. You willingness to share the library love has been utterly mind blowing.  We are looking forward to the next 100. Hugs and high-fives, Christian & Marie]

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I love Gdańsk! I grew up in this beautiful city and coming back, even for a short holiday, is always a treat. It’s full of life, dynamic, outward-looking and a bit rough around the edges – just how I like it. Nestled on the shores of the Baltic Sea, its history goes back over a thousand years to the 980s when it was built king Mieszko I. In the Middle Ages it was one of the main shipbuilding ports of the Hanseatic League, the commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns around the Baltic.

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But one of the things that Gdansk is probably most known across the world is the Solidarity movement, which in the 1980’s played a crucial role in fight for freedom in the Eastern Bloc, culminating with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Lenin Shipyard was the epicentre of the wave of strikes which started the chain of events leading to the first free elections in Poland in 1989.

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Solidarity centre building, in the foreground the monument to the shipyard workers killed by the police during the protests.

The European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarności) opened in 2014 to celebrate and document the history of Solidarity and other independence movements in the Eastern bloc. It’s based in a stunning new building erected right next to the docks. Designed in a neo-brutalist style, with rusty metal cladding, the museum walls evoke the hulls of ships built at the Gdańsk Shipyard, creating an ominous presence.

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Inside the building is organised around the spacious inner courtyard, with bold, dynamic lines and the rusty colour mirroring the outside. In places, asymetric design and slanting walls evoke a feeling of oppression and create a start contrast of darkness and light.

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The museum has a permanent exhibition of over 2,000 items and runs educational activities, conferences and temporary exhibitions. And of course, a LIBRARY.

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The collection comprises of around 100,000 books and documents, including a unique archive of underground press, the so called ‘drugi obieg’, (known as samizdat in Russian) – books and journals published outside of state controlled, censored media during the Communist era.

Out of all the Eastern Bloc countries, Poland had an exceptionally thriving independent publishing scene. In the 1980s, at any given time there were around one hundred independent publishers in Poland who formed an exceptionally vibrant segment of the black market. Books were sold through underground distribution channels and hundreds of regional periodicals were published, with weekly “Tygodnik Mazowsze” reaching an average circulation of 60,000 – 80,000 copies. It’s estimated that close to one thousand journals and book titles were published every year, along with audio cassettes, videocassettes, posters, postcards, calendars, postal stamps and badges.

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The archivists are working on digitizing the collection and large part is already available online.  But it’s not just the researchers and students who can join, as the library is open to the general public. It stocks general interest periodicals and books, and the librarians are very friendly (aren’t we all?). When I visited the space was relatively quiet, perhaps as it was the summer holidays. There were plenty spaces to study, dip into a current affairs periodical, or just relax on a beanbag with a good novel!

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Link to website: http://ecs.gda.pl/

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more library travel tales!

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