[Women’s Month 2023] Interview with Ljiljana Festini of the Pag city library

a woman at the beach
Ljiljana Festini at the island of Pag

PUBLISHED: 27.3.2023.

With a Master’s degree in Information Sciences, Liljana Festini is a librarian and director of Gradska knjižnica Pag (Pag city library). Gradska knjižnica Pag is situated in the city of Pag on the island of Pag and focuses on tourists in summer and locals in winter. Ljiljana writes her own enthusiastic children’s picture books presenting cultural and historical heritage related to Pag.

As part of our Women’s Month campaign, female-owned businesses and women in leadership in Croatia were nominated for recognition by YOU – our audience. Our independent panel of Croatian professionals selected 4 extraordinary businesses to be interviewed and featured on expatincroatia.com. Ljiljana Festini was selected as the winner in the Woman in Leadership category, deservedly so.

I spoke with Ljiljana on February 24, 2023, during which we talked about…

Read the full interview below…

Interview with Ljiljana Festini of the Pag city library

woman between books
Ljiljana in the Pag city library

Marija: Let’s start at the beginning. You are the director of Gradska knjižnica Pag (City Library in Pag). Did you grow up on island Pag?

Ljiljana: I grew up in the Croatian Zagorje region and was born in Zabok. I have been living here in Pag for over 35 years now. I’m glad you contacted me, not only because of myself but also because it’s good for small communities to gain some visibility.

Marija: Wow, we are neighbors – Zabok and Bedekovčina [these two places are 10 kilometers from each other].

Ljiljana:  I didn’t know that you were from Bedekovčina.

Marija: Croatia is a small place. So, you earned a master’s degree in Information Sciences, which is usually a prerequisite to becoming a librarian. When did you discover that working in a library is your calling?

Ljiljana: I used to regularly go to Zabok’s library as a child. It was located in buildings commonly known as the Vatican. For a while, I even chose the most damaged books so that I could assemble, glue, and repair them at home and ultimately return them in a better condition. Of course, I also read them.

The most beautiful story about all of this is that there was a lady who worked there, a Croatian language and literature professor. After about 30 years, I returned to the library, which had already moved to a Chocolate Skyscraper. She had moved there too and remembered me from when I was a child. It was incredible! 30 years later. Even back then, I knew that I wanted to work in a library or have a similar job.

Marija: Wonderful, so it all goes back to childhood. When I was a child, my mother would borrow books from the Zabok city library (she’s from Zabok too). At some point, the librarians didn’t know which books to give to my sister and me because we had read everything. That love from childhood always somehow brings you back because it stays with you. Where did you study?

Ljiljana: I studied at the University of Zadar, at the Department of Information Science, which is just a prerequisite for a library director position and for working in a library. However, it’s not the only requirement. For example, hiring a Croatian or literature professor or an Italian or history professor is a winning combination for us. They know those narrow areas very well and are useful in our IT department, which is very important to us, in addition to the lending of course.

Marija: Another coincidence – I also studied Information Science, but in Zagreb. So, the island of Pag has a relatively small population of year-round residents. What would you say, what role does the library play in your island community?

Ljiljana: Well, it is a specific environment – an island community. Although I don’t see it that way because we have a bridge. In one hour, you are already in the larger city of Zadar. However, as an island, we live our life throughout the winter.

In the city of Pag, we have a city library in addition to two school libraries, one at the elementary school and the other at the high school. We have a hospitality school and a gymnasium. On the northern part of the island, in Novalja, there is a city library and a school library. Between us is Kolan, a city with a municipal library.

As the city library of Pag, we are expanding our network of libraries. For two years, we have had a library station in Povljana. These are tourist destinations that are very popular in the summer. In the summer, we focus more on tourists, and in the winter, on our communities. We adjust our content accordingly. As a city library, we have members from babies to adults to retirees, and we adapt all of our content to them.

Pag city library

Marija: Do you offer any special programs for tourists?

Ljiljana: Yes. We actually call the tourists who are our members “weekenders.” These are people who have some connection to Pag or who have simply bought a house in Pag and come every summer. We have a special membership fee for them. Because of them, which is very interesting, we don’t go on vacation in July and August. Moreover, we extend our working hours until 21:00.

Marija: It’s nice to hear that people who are just passing through are so interested in the library.

Ljiljana: Yes. They are eager for a lot of content, especially local – from people who live or who have written about our city, history, and culture, in any way. So, we tailor such content and prepare events and gatherings for them.

Marija: Nice. How is your library evolving in a world that is becoming more digitized and focused on social media by the day? Do you feel the challenge of inspiring young readers?

Ljiljana: We try to keep up with modern libraries, although we are a small library in a small town of only 3.200 inhabitants. As for the digital aspect, I have been the director for only one year. We still don’t have a website. In Croatia, there are libraries that don’t even have a phone. We will do a website this year.

We started using digital membership cards last year via Stock, where you can put all loyalty cards together as one – from BIPA, DM, and the library. It is an interesting story of how young people rejected it while the older library members accepted it. And now I wonder, you say “digital”. We older people may be more flexible and easier to accept those novelties than young people. They just want to have that tangible membership card.

Marija: Well, that’s very interesting. As far as I’ve seen, you write children’s picture books. Who are Kulik and Solinarka, and what makes them special?

Ljiljana: That is unrelated to the library. I published them on my own. Solinarka and Kulik are the narrators of our stories, and they tell us about the rich cultural and historical heritage of our town. Solinarka is an endangered fish that was brought to Pag and settled in the pools, and the bird Kulik is also an endangered species.

[Read: Endangered animals you might see in Croatia]

These picture books are intended for preschool and early school age. Not many years and centuries are involved and there are no historical facts. But we try to explain some historical events in each picture book in an interesting way. So far, we have published 17 books.

None of it would have been possible without my true friends, who became collaborators. My first picture book was financially supported by Darko Tomek, my childhood and school friend.  That’s how it all started. The first two books were published in Croatian, while the third was already in English and Croatian. I asked my friend Maša Maye to translate for me and the collaboration continues today. Illustrations were done by another friend, Martina Brčić, a visual arts teacher from Split.

We do this work based on enthusiasm. No one has earned anything, even though we have received many donations and sponsorships. The goal is not to sell books but to educate children to love the island and city they live in and to know some basic facts. We have been to promotions throughout the island, in every kindergarten and school.

We write more about these cultural and historical events on the back [of the book] so parents can explain any possible misunderstandings to their children. These “parent corners” are written by an expert in a specific field. If we write about Pag cheese, the owner or majority owner of Pag cheese factory writes the content.

people discussing
Library workshop; Image by Elvis Šmit

Marija: It sounds like quite a demanding project that takes a lot of effort. What you are doing is very noble.

Ljiljana: I enjoy it so much! When Martina was busy, I even painted some picture books myself. When they ask me how it went, I just say, “Well, I have twelve covers that are not good enough, and I’m going to the thirteenth.” And they ask me, “How do you not get frustrated?” And I tell them, “No way, I turned my kitchen into a studio, and I work, paint, and enjoy it.”

The greatest reward is that the children love picture books, and there is no house in Pag that does not have at least one. That is our greatest happiness and satisfaction. When we published the first picture book, we played “let’s see what we can do”. Ms. Hela Čičko, the head of the children’s department in the Zagreb City Libraries, saw books and pointed out flaws. She suggested we employ professional graphic designers and illustrators, which I disagreed with. For us, this is how we have some fun. These are my friends and I don’t want to enter any professional realm. We don’t want money to enter it at all, but for it to be joy and happiness for us and the children.

Marija: Wonderful. Have you been able to get any funding from the government? Your books were recognized with a “Croatian island product” label by the Ministry of Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, as well as the Ministry of Regional Development and European Funds, so we are curious if they had any involvement in the publication and what that experience was like.

Ljiljana: Yes, it was the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure in 2010/2011. They announced a competition for holders of the “Croatian Island Product” label and helped me. We published one picture book with their funds. They always help, not just them. Whoever I asked to help, everyone wanted to participate. There are more than 30 collaborators and many sponsors in the whole story. I’m really happy. We couldn’t have done it without them. This is a project for all of us.

Marija: Excellent. And what do you have planned for your book about the dry walls of Pag?

Ljiljana: This project consists of 14 picture books about the town of Pag and 6 about the island. We talk about Bartol Kašić and Juraj Dalmatinac, who made the layout of Pag, Pag cheese, Pag lace… The next picture book to publish would be about the Pag dry stone walls.

That’s an interesting topic and specific construction, so-called dry construction. Pag island is unique and the most interesting construction is in the northern part of the island. In Lun, where the “Lun olive groves” are located, the dry-stone walls don’t just keep the Pag sheep together in one area. They are even artistically made. I haven’t seen such a technique anywhere. On top of the wall, they put the so-called “ozube” (teething). If you come to Pag, definitely go to Lun. However, dry-stone walls are all over the island. We’re not the only ones in that, but I say the technique of construction is special here.

Marija: I am a member of an association called Dragodid, which restores and preserves dry stone walls, and I participated in many building workshops. The art of building dry-stone walls is now under UNESCO since 2018.

Ljiljana: Yes, and I think you [Dragodid] are also responsible for that.

[Read: Croatia’s tradition of dry-stone walls including Dragodid]

Marija: Yes. I haven’t been to the part of Pag you mentioned yet, but each location in Croatia is special and has its own story. Are you active in building dry-stone walls?

Ljiljana: I’m not really skilled in that. When I need to do something around the house, I’ll do it. But it’s a kind of skill and you need to know the technique. Our ancestors did it 100 or 200 years ago and it still lasts, although there’s no bonding material. It’s not just about stacking and that’s it.

There’s an association in Pag for those of us who love sports activities. We have beautiful trails in Pag. There’s one dry-stone wall in the shape of a heart. Over time, it’s been devastated and now we’ve decided to restore it. We’re waiting for the tourist board and those associations to get started.

This heart is the center of our old hiking trails called the Other Side of the Moon. Three trails are almost in the city. You can reach these “lunar landscapes” in five minutes as if you were in some other dimension – Zaton Trail, the St. Mikula Trail, and the St. Jure Trail. I invite everyone to walk on these trails, they’re very short and lovely.

women sitting on a bench
Ljiljana in a sporty edition

Marija: Thank you very much. I would now like to ask you about some typical challenges that librarians and libraries in small towns face. Is there a specific policy/rule/requirement of the government that is hindering the growth or ability to operate?

Ljiljana: I wouldn’t say so. We are a city or public library and our founders are the cities. What is important is that the cooperation between the city and the library is good – there will be progress. We do have very good cooperation.

We managed to transform our small library into a modern one in one year, as you say, digitally or technically. We rearranged it, my colleagues Branka and Jadranka. We painted it ourselves. Another company in the city called Pag 2  helped us and did not charge us anything. So, it is based a lot on enthusiasm.

Similarly, when we apply for any funds from our founder, we always get them. As for the financing of the materials, it comes from the Ministry of Culture and Media. Now, how satisfied we are with those amounts… I think we collect enough money. It could always be better, but those are not the small amounts we receive.

We manage to keep up with the publishing production and acquire the books our readers ask for. A public library must primarily have 80% of fiction. Especially in the summer, crime novels and romances are read. What is interesting about our library: neither crime nor romance novels are the most sought-after books. Another most-read genre is comics.

Marija: I’m glad to hear comics are popular again. I thought it was a trend only in my private circles.

Ljiljana: Very much. Since Fibra started publishing those comics. They are great and borrowed a lot. We and our main service in Zadar use the CROLIS program, which gives us statistics. Any time, we can see what is the most read, how many people are reading what, and what age group it is. It surprised me that comics are the most read.

Marija: Wow! Fibra really has magnificent comics, and they are a beautiful gift.

Ljiljana: Yes, they are.

Marija: Does the government support you in any other way besides financially?

Ljiljana: Oh, they certainly support us. What may have been a problem in the last 10 years was a lack of graduate librarians or information professionals. This is no longer a problem.

Space is a problem for almost every other library in Croatia if not every. Whatever content we would like to create, we do not have enough space. Fortunately, in the summer we have – we are located in a square near the “Špital” where we can hold summer activities. Those are the activities that more people would attend.

In the winter, we hold activities in our own space. We work in only 100 square meters! We have about 35.000 books. We are overcrowded and can’t accommodate many people. We collaborate with kindergartens and elementary and high schools, and we take as many students as there are in a first-grade class. There are few children from the first to the fourth grade, so it’s not a problem to work with them. The fourth grade has 15 students, the third grade has 17.

Marija: So, you collaborate with kindergartens and schools. Do you ever collaborate or work with other libraries in Croatia?

Ljiljana: Of course, we are very connected. We recently had a librarian trainee from Novalja. As they are from another county, their main office is in Gospić, not in Zadar. The colleague did her training in Pag and I also collaborate great with colleagues in Kolan. We always go to events in Zadar together, and they always help a lot. These are Ana and Sabina, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.

people sitting around the table
Library workshop; image by Elvis Šmit

Marija: Awesome! The Split library has a collection of historical artifacts, art, and old books that the community can come to see. Most were donated by the community. Does the Pag library have anything similar?

Ljiljana: The Split Library of Marko Marulić is located in several locations throughout Split. Split is a big city with a rich history, so they have such content and keep it safe. We are a very small library, we don’t have anything of that importance. We are creating that local collection and wealth.

What has not been done yet: we in Pag have a Benedictine monastery that owns exceptional treasures. They have incunabula and Cinquecentine, which have not been professionally processed and listed yet. They are working on the museum. I believe that the monastic library will soon be processed and available for everyone.

Marija: I am interested in how you get inspired and stay positive when experiencing tough moments.

Ljiljana: When I enter the library, I am overjoyed, from the scent, from the children. Our library is full, they make me so happy. It is very important for me to recommend a good book. When I read it, it’s probably a professional deformation, I already know which of the members would like to read it and I take it very seriously.

You know, one lady laughed at me and said, “How did you know? You are to blame for me not cooking or doing anything, I just read this book.” I tell her that it’s simply very important to me. There is now a new phenomenon that we librarians actually manage our members’ free time. Their free time is very precious to me.

The egoistic aspect is not always the most important. They need to have fun and relax, and that’s why we seek out and offer them such content. And that inspires me. When they say, “I am very happy, you made a good choice.” – there is no greater satisfaction than knowing that I have done my job well. And that’s what drives us forward.

Marija: How do you make important decisions? Do you act primarily on intuition, or do you analyze from all angles?

Ljiljana: Well, everything is included. We have to learn from the best. And our parent service in the Zadar Library is the best. We learn a lot from them. What is important is that I don’t make any decisions alone. I have collaborators, Jadranka and Branka. We sit together and discuss. If there are more of us, everyone has some advice or idea and everything needs to be taken into account.

We have a children’s corner, and the whole library is arranged with those pockets where we put popular crime or romance novels. People don’t have to search the shelves, they have them in those pockets. I didn’t come up with the idea.

A little girl named Iva, who was only seven years old, came to the library. She overheard me talking to her mom about not having enough space. She told me, “But Aunt Ljiljana, why don’t you make pockets like mine, the ones I have at home? You hang them up, and then you put books in them.” I listened to that child. Our cleaner was also a seamstress at the time, so we immediately started working on the idea. It was a great success.

Book pockets

So, it’s a collaboration of everyone. That’s the most important thing: collaboration. You need to know how to listen. At that moment, conclusions are drawn and work is done.

Marija: And do not underestimate the ideas of children. We must listen to children.

Ljiljana: Absolutely. We often underestimate children, but they are much smarter and more capable than we think. Their ideas are great, we just need to know how to listen to them. And Public libraries create a reading habit from the youngest age.

Marija: You are constantly in the world of books. Do you separate your business and private life?

Ljiljana: As far as book choices go, yes. I have authors that I enjoy reading but who are not necessarily recommendable. But I also read as much of that literature as possible to know what to recommend. A question that everyone asks: Can you find some measure according to the publishing house? Yes, it can be done.

With some publishers, you are almost certain that the selection is excellent. I wouldn’t want to single them out now… Anyway, I’ll just spill the beans. Fraktura, above all, Ocean More, and my favorite publisher, Vuković and Runjić. The big ones come next, Znanje and Mozaik. That’s what’s most read.

Marija: Thank you for sharing with us.

Ljiljana: That’s how it is in our library. As for others, I don’t know.

Marija: I mean your personal preference, I really appreciate it. What is your advice to someone who wants to become a librarian? Where should someone start?

Ljiljana: Let them come volunteer for us. Then we will know if they are fit for the job or not, whether they want to study it or not. The next step is enrollment in information sciences. The study lasts three plus two years. It’s very interesting, very dynamic, especially in Zadar. I assume it’s the same in Zagreb. Everyone will be happy.

If high school graduates came to us and I asked them what studies they chose, no one would ever say “I want to be a librarian.” I would then tell them “But why not?” and they would reply with something like “It didn’t occur to me that something like that even existed.” For years there has been a girl named Emma who said she would join the “Little Librarians” in elementary school, and that she would gladly be a librarian. She finished high school and is now in her first year of information sciences. We hope that she will come to do her practice with us and be our future colleague.

Marija: I didn’t expect you would suggest something as wonderful as volunteering with you as the first step. What is next for Pag library? Any big goals or plans you can share with us? Do you have any ideas for more personal books in the future?

Ljiljana: We’ll finish those picture books now. We have a little less funding now. Times are not so good. As for the library, we’ve now redesigned it. We’ve adapted it to all these contents. We’ll follow the production. We’ll continue to have programs and projects tailored to our users of all ages.

Before I retire, I would like to move the library to a new space and make it modern. I would like it to be a multimedia hall and have departments – we don’t have them now. We have a children’s corner, a comic corner, and a local corner, all in one space. A larger space would enable us to present our city and work in the best light.

three ladies
Ljiljana holding a thank you card

We’ll start with that soon, but we have to meet certain standards that are difficult to meet. The library should be in the center. It should be on the ground floor, and we still don’t have those conditions in Pag. How we will succeed in achieving them I don’t know, but this is our next big step. I hope we will be able to achieve it.

Marija: I wish you good luck. The plan is fantastic. And for anyone who has never been to Pag, what makes it special and different in comparison to other Croatian islands, apart from the dry-stone walls you mentioned?

Ljiljana: Pag is usually presented as just stone, like a lunar landscape. However, Pag is not just stone. There are numerous attractions. We have the Hanzine forest, which is an oak forest (holm oak) that is protected and located right by the sea, which is extremely unusual.

Everyone has heard of the paška čipka (Pag lace), which represents Pag. The Benedictine nuns I mentioned earlier are the ones who maintain that tradition. There is a school for Pag lace makers at the Bartol Kašić high school. I attend classes and receive a diploma that is entered in your workbook. As I hear, they also go on school trips. There are many such incentives. Then paški sir (Pag cheese)! Pag is architecturally interesting, the town was designed by Juraj Dalmatinac. As for folklore, we have an exceptional Pag costume with a head covering in the shape of a triangle.

Pag has an extremely rich cultural and historical heritage. Throughout the Middle Ages and its entire history, the town of Pag was nourished by salt. We have salt pans. Historical documents show salt has been produced here for 2.000 years. We still have a salt pan that has nourished the people of Pag for years.

[Read: Famous Croatian produce and where it comes from, including Pag sea salt]

We have a rich carnival. We have one of the oldest carnivals in Croatia and the unique Pag circle dance. The music was composed by Šime Dešpalj. Every carnival, a folk drama called Robinja (The Slave Girl) has been performed for over 200 years.

[Read: Marvelous Croatian carnivals and tradition of fašnik (poklade)]

We are trying to maintain that tradition through the Pag library, the town of Pag, and the tourist board. We work together for the benefit of our town.

Marija: To conclude this interview, is there anything else you’d like to add or share with us?

Ljiljana: I think my job as a librarian is fantastic. Encouraging reading is the most important thing. That’s why we constantly organize storytelling and workshops. It’s something that keeps us going and fulfills me. As you can hear, I call myself a librarian even though I’m the director of the City Library of Pag. That’s my job that I love and that I do with joy every day.

I would like to thank [the person who nominated her] for the nomination and you for considering a small island community like ours. I want to thank all my colleagues who work on children’s books and the staff of the City Library of Pag, as well as everyone who contributes to the fact that our community has such content and that we can socialize and maintain that tradition throughout the winter.

Marija: Thank you for this wonderful interview. You are a very inspiring person. I hope that the enormous role of librarians in childhood, education, society, and culture is obvious to everyone. I hope you’ll join me for a coffee when you come to Zabok.

Ljiljana: I will, I would be happy to come to Bedekovčina as well.

Marija: Oh, I won’t complain.

Ljiljana: We can hang out there too. Thank you for inviting me, it was lovely. And I want to greet all our readers! Thank you very much, you surprised me, and I’m very happy about it!

Ljiljana Festini

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View the full list of Women’s Month 2023 winners here. We will publish a new female entrepreneur interview every week during March. Stay tuned…

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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