September 23rd, 2007 08:35 EST
The Librarian Who Loved Books
The librarian is not a profession you would normally associate with adventurism and entertainment. Locked in his book sanctuary for eternity, his old, worn-out body morphs slowly into a faded page of some medieval manuscript. But not Tadeusz Glowinski. The 63-year-old Polish pensioner contradicts this popular belief every day of his life. To say that he is an ordinary librarian would be a sweeping generalization. Again, Glowinskis` Library is nothing like the libraries you usually visit. Looking at the tenement house which hosts Mr. Glowinski`s beloved child " " Glowinskis` Library " you understand the meaning of the old proverb: You can`t judge a book by its cover. " It requires a vivid imagination to guess that this dilapidated building in the center of the small Polish town of Olesnica hides one of the most amazing collections of paperback and hardcover books ever assembled by a single man. There are no signboards, no posters displayed to advertise the place. Passers-bye, who throng the nearby streets every day, may never realize that the wooden and scratchy doors guard the entrance to the world famous library.
Financial problems, " says the founder, Tadeusz Glowinski. Despite the lack of funds, Mr. Glowinski has been able to fill the room`s old, rusty shelves with almost 6,000 books for children, adolescents, and adults in 35 languages, including Zulu, Nepalese, and Catalonian. And the collection grows every day. One part of Harry Potter alone is available in as many as six languages, in case a tourist from Holland visits Olesnica, or one of the town`s 30,000 residents wants to find out how the famous wizard`s name sounds in Norwegian.
States Mr. Glowinski, Foreign languages and the idea of exchanging thoughts between people from different countries and continents have fascinated me since my youth. Having known librarians around the world I decided to build such a collection. Later this collection transformed into a `real` library. " When I ask him how a 63-year-old former teacher with no additional income but his meager pension has managed to gather so many books, he only smiles. Apparently, the word impossible " does not exist in Mr. Glowinski`s extensive vocabulary. When most of his colleagues were thinking about retirement, he enrolled in a training course for future librarians in order to realize his dream and avoid being no one among professional librarians. " He even taught himself how to use the computer and surf the Internet, which, eventually, became another of his hobbies. Then he turned theory into practice.
The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. First, Mr. Glowinski searches for librarians and writers on the Internet. Then, when the quest is completed, he sends a letter explaining his situation and asks for help. Neither language nor distance is an obstacle. On the contrary, Mr. Glowinski loves receiving letters in foreign languages " raging from Czech to Spanish to Dutch, which he later tries to decipher. I am learning 10 foreign languages and I am trying to absorb several more, " Mr. Glowinski says modestly. Then he adds, In the times of trouble, I always ask myself: Would you have so many books now if your correspondents did not understand you? "
Hundreds of letters and emails sent by internet users from as far as Spain and the United States show that the Polish librarian is, indeed, understood by people all over the world. Not only do they grasp his words at once, even if written in less than perfect English, but individuals also seem to share Mr. Glowinski`s passion for literature. Among them, there is Kathleen Bart " a world famous writer and illustrator of books for children. Our organization may help you with many other children`s books and what ever may be good for you. Please email me back as to what way we can help you and perhaps we can send some over, " read the letter signed by Bart. Mr. Glowinski, who taught himself English, translates Ms. Bart`s stories so kids in Olesnica can also enjoy her works. "
Another warm letter arrived from Spain. Dear Taduesz, " it began, after summer holidays we are going to do a campaign here in Matadepera addressed to everybody in order to collect books for your library. " Several months later, a mail carrier knocked at Mr. Glowinski`s door, holding a huge parcel with wonderful books. " Usually modest, Mr. Glowinski can`t help bragging about the number of similar stories. Each new delivery makes my hands shake and heart bump when I `m opening the box, no matter if inside I find one book or more, or just a single illustration, " he says. In fact, most of the letters Mr. Glowinski has received are written in a corresponding tone " full of understanding and compassion " containing a promise to send some books.
Sometimes, however, it takes more effort. As Mr. Glowinski recalls, Once I made contact with one author from the USA, who rather decisively refused to help my library. " Nevertheless, the stubborn pensioner did not want to let it go. It took four exchanges of emails between us (eight emails altogether!) until he finally said `OK,` and that he would send me his book! "
It all began with three Spanish books for children in 2000. Many people watched in disbelief as an established teacher, who was soon to retire, gave up his old job and decided to become a librarian. The strong criticism notwithstanding, Mr. Glowinski took a special course for librarians at a university and got a job at the town`s public library. Local newspapers and online services published articles about an amiable teacher who had found his happiness in an old, under-funded library. But with fame, there came problems.
I had been collecting books from all over the world and wanted to give them away to the library, " says Mr. Glowins on toured the country as the main attraction of various exhibitions, until Mr. Glowinski was told to take his books back home. We don`t need them here, " he heard. Whereas most people would give up after their first failure, Mr. Glowinski rolled up his sleeves and began to act on his own. Although he was still working for the town`s library, he devoted his time, money, and health to a new, more challenging idea. He found a shabby room and sponsors who would finance the establishment of Glowinskis` Library. The notice on the library`s doors read: You can rent a book for free. There are no consequences if you damage or lose the book. I highly encourage you to use our offer. "
Little did he know that the first visitors to his library would be armed police officers. As it turned out, the director of the town`s library had changed her mind and demanded the books back. She argued that since Mr. Glowinski had acquired them while being her employee, the books remained the library`s property. She did not say why she needed them. For the 60-year-old philanthropist it was a knife stabbed in his back. He later recalled how, with tears in his eyes, he watched police officers put the work of his life into cartons and take them away.
But it wasn`t the end of his misfortunes. The old man could not accept the fact that a minor flaw in the law was to ruin his dreams. Since Mr. Glowinski wouldn`t hear of any compromise, the case was taken to court. I was fired from the public library " one year before the retirement age! " says Mr. Glowinski with unhidden emotions. I was accused of stealing my own books (...) I lost my health, my good opinion in Poland and elsewhere " they got the addresses of my donors and told them that I was a thief...I was convicted " I got a suspended sentence..., " he goes on. In a short trial, the court agreed with the plaintiff that, in fact, the defendant had misappropriated the books and found Mr. Glowinski guilty. You cannot arrest books! I believe this is a great scandal, " he raised his usually calm voice when the judge was delivering the verdict. Before a police officer removed him from the courtroom, he managed to say: I won`t let it go...the whole world will defend me! "
He was right: his town, Olesnica, was with him. Despite the negative campaign that the town`s newspaper unleashed against Mr. Glowinski, the majority of the 30,000 residents supported the old librarian. I know Mr. Glowinski is a very kind man. The judge and prosecutors should have thought twice before arresting an innocent man, " read one of many positive messages that the town`s online forum had received. The response from his foreign friends was more timid " living thousands of miles away from Olesnica, they could not verify their Polish correspondent`s story " but friendly emails never ceased to arrive. This, as well as Mr. Glowinski`s amazing inner strength and the conviction of self-righteousness, helped him survived the dark period of my life. " Finally, after months of struggling with the public library, the police, and the court, the old librarian was able to retrieve his beloved books and reopen Glowinskis` Library.
I ask him what the source of his strength is. There have been many mentors in my life which changed with my age and experience, " he answers. But for all my life, " he quickly adds, I have been trying to live up to the old adage that one should always remain a human and serve other people. " This is the best description of Tadeusz Glowinski, the founder and librarian of Glowinskis` Library. He has proved that to love something is to be ready for sacrifices. For books, he gave up the respected job of a teacher. For books, he had to listen to sarcastic comments, often made by his relatives and friends. For books, he was prosecuted and found guilty. I`m very happy that against all the odds, against evil, vicious people, I never gave up, " he says proudly.
I would like my library, which is my whole life, to become so big that it could last for generations and become renowned in the world, " he says at the end of the interview. Mr. Glowinski, who is now 63 and lives in a poorhouse, remains optimistic; a smile never disappears from his wrinkled face.
My greatest joy is to go volunteer at my library, to check my email box, to wait for a mail carrier with parcels from people of good will from around the world, to learn foreign languages, and to serve readers, " says Mr. Glowinski, Every day, for 10 hours, including all holidays! "
If you want to correspond with Tadeusz Glowinski, he encourages you to write to: email@example.com ;or visit his website: http://glowinski.olesnica.pl/.
Mr. Glowinski assures that he will respond to every letter.
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