I had the opportunity to visit the prolific city of Stromstad in Sweden. I happened to receive an invitation from AIR Litteratur Vsstra Gotaland, a cultural organisation based in Sweden to participate in a month-long residency programme in May. During then I met Gunilla Sandin, the Head of Stromstad Library and a former project leader of AIR Litteratur Vsstra Gotaland. Being a dynamic cultural activist she had by that time also served as Head of Programme at Gothenburg Book Fair.
The writer discussed with Gunilla about her present position, previous working experience, aims-achievements along with future plans of the residency programme, social responsibilities of librarians and more.
When was the residency programme first launched? What are the aims and purposes of it? In the journey since then, could you achieve the targeted aims and purposes?
The regional literary residency programme, AIR Litteratur Vsstra Gotaland, was established in the autumn of 2015 and has housed both Swedish and foreign writers and translators. The residency programme is now coordinated by Vastra Gotaland region's Kultur i Vast administration. The aim of the programme is to support literary work, dialogue and exchange and to provide the writes and translators with an opportunity to live and work in a calm and inspiring environment.
Each locality selected to host writers as part of the programme has its own literary focus. Among the four localities- Alingsas is specialised for children and young people; Jonsered for those interested in research; Amal -particularly for Nordic literature and Stromstad - for writers and literary enthusiasts from all over the world. One can apply two times a year, before 31 October for getting a month-long residency between January and June and before 30 April for availing similar provisions between July and December.
Do you have any new plans and ideas about the residency programme?
This is a business under constant change. We discuss everything that includes achievements and contents all the time, thereby facilitating novel ideas. On my part, I think that more promotion is needed to make more cities join the programme.
You were the head of programme of Gothenburg Book Fair, one of the largest book fairs in the world, now you are the Chief of the Library of Stromstad, which has quite different responsibilities, from your former job. How do you evaluate the possible changes between the two jobs?
I started at the Goteborg Book Fair in 1988 and worked there for 25 years, the last 15 years as Head of Programme. We worked very hard and it was not easy in the beginning but the hard work paid off and it was great years! Sometimes I have to pinch my arm when I think of all fantastic writers, translators and others, who had taken part in the fair during that period in one way or another. I am very proud of how we developed the fair from a small literary festival to a big, well respected, international book fair. During the book fair years I lived with my husband on an island called Reso, outside Stromstad. During the days when the fair was held in a year I resided in Goteborg. The experience in those years was enlightening, educational and thrilling for me. However, I have also worked as a librarian for many years and when the vacancy for the Head of Stromstad Library was announced, I applied and secured it. At this age, I'd rather say that I am very happy to have settled in one place now and have never regretted the decision to quit the Book Fair.
How can librarians positively impact their communities? How might you create an inviting environment that promotes learning and reading?
We work with education, reading projects for children and adults, democratic issues, popular adult education, a yearly literary festival, book-circles, storytelling and much more. We have around 50,000 visitors per year and everybody is welcome and it does not cost anything unless you don't ruin the books you lend. We have computers, copying machine and printers. We also help people to download e-books and audiobooks on CD and MP3 and help out with computer issues. In the summer we also function as a tourist office and a hundred other things. Most libraries also function as "public living rooms", you can come here, read a newspaper, have a chat, play chess or just relax. Seeing how our libraries can function to educate and enrich people of all backgrounds from a community any librarian in any part of the world can hope to contribute in similar manner, given the proper facilities.
Tell us about something innovative you have done in your job?
The responsibilities of project leader for AIR Litteratur Vastra Gotaland has been included with my duties as Head of Stromstad Library and I have been serving in both the posts for the last three years. I think that me and my team have achieved the targeted aims and purposes very well during my earlier involvements with the Goteborg Book Fair and present engagements as a librarian.
Gunilla has also twice been in the jury for the August Prize, one of the most celebrated and prestigious literary prizes in Sweden, member of the board of the Reading Movement Sweden and Stromstads Hembygdsochm-useiforening or in English Stromstad Hembygds and Museum Association, which runs Stromstads Museum.