Bulgaria Trip Journal by Marjorie Snyder

Bulgaria Trip Journal

Marjorie Snyder

Monday, May 10, 2015Bulgaria Trip_MNS_5102015

Experiences: National Library, opening celebration of National Library Week and laying of wreath at the memorial statue to St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Opening of exhibition of Bulgarian textbooks from National Library collection. Tour of preservation department.

Learning: Beautiful to be part of National Library Week celebration. The National Library has an impressive building and great spaces to display and access its collection. The preservation department on a top floor showed both room and personnel teams to address the needs of the collection. Team composition seemed related to age and skills/areas of experience. We were invited to the party of appreciation for the library employees: glasses were raised on this “day off” and treats were served in a portrait gallery hallway.

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Library Profile: Sofia University, University Library St. Kliment Ohridski

Experience: tour of central library services and holdings; presentation of services by Bilyana, Deputy Director; presentation of archive treasures (16th-19th centuries) by Dr. Anna Angelova, Director, in Reading Room “Studii”; and tour of Philological Library under dome, including view of digitized document. Cataloging system designed by director of 36 years, based on Belgian and Prussian systems.

Learning: Sofia Central University Library is the biggest library system I have visited in my library studies besides visiting Kansas University libraries in Lawrence, Kansas. I am not sure how they compare in size, but Sofia University Library impresses me with its use of historic building space to manage 26 branch/subject libraries all over the campus buildings. We visited the beautiful and impressive Philological Library under the dome of the main building; and it included etched glass pillars representing the alphabets of the world’s major languages. The space illuminated the topic and taught me the meaning of the word “philology”, the study of languages in written historical sources.

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The materials provided to us by the library included a Guide in English, well organized to present the central university library and to describe each of the 26 branch libraries. Another beautiful color publication included folded cards describing rare items at the library, including photos of several pages, and a summary/abstract in English. Two examples are Archimedis operum editio princeps, the oldest mathematical book in Bulgaria (1544) and a work by the Czech scholar, philologist, and historiographer Josef Dobrovsky (1753-1828) who pointed out the relation between Old Bulgarian and the contemporary Slavonic languages, Institutiones linguae slavicae dialecti veteris (1822).

Website: It is possible to Google the Sofia University homepage, find the Education tab, and then the University Library listed in the Quick Links on the right. It may help to know that the full name of the library is University Library St. Kliment Ohridski. On my home computer, the web site appeared in English. The language switch buttons for the website are Bulgarian and British flags in the top right. I find the site very well organized and clearly presented. The open hours for all the branches are listed. I looked at the website for the Classics branch library; and although it took a little while for the English version to load, I was able to explore text and photographs about the collection and activities of this library at http://kkf.proclassics.org/index-eng.php

Experience: Library Week Official Celebration with awards to librarians and remarks by Nancy Bolt


Learning: The theme of National Library Week 2015 is “Lifelong Learning.” Like the United Nations, Iimagine, we use headsets that treat us to translation of the Bulgarian presentations into our own language. The partnerships represented are inspiring, as is the art for the materials. Several officials are not present, but the event is well attended and most award winners are present. The reception format is high small tables with food to gather around for small group conversations.


Drive to Plovdiv, Dinner

Culture: In a spectacular finish to our momentous first day, we walked to dinner across a plaza quite similar to Roman plazas, with large squares of smooth stone, with archeology digs in process on our left and our right, hills with trees and homes rise nearby. Our tour guide Stefan had chosen a restaurant to help us appreciate Bulgarian hospitality. The traditional cloth and the open beamed room with a wood fired oven in a visible, but enclosed, room nearby helps us appreciate the warmth of traditional food and conversation among new friends. We also help Stefan celebrate his birthday: he buys us each a drink of rakia and we raise a glass to him. He also gets to see some friends who drive from Sofia to see him at the restaurant. We left them there after our dinner to celebrate further among old friends.

Tuesday, May 11, 2015


Regional Library Ivan Vazov, Plovdiv, American Space on grounds (A.S. Librarian had been to Panama Beach, FL for a summer) and Children’s Department in separate building two blocks away Digitizing workroom and archive collection development space.


Learning: The library building here is a legacy from communist days as a Party office building. The director apologized that it has the most doors to nowhere of any library she knows. The library’s collections are divided into departments; and most of the collection is only accessible to staff. How long will it take to find an alternative use for these office cells and find more open and welcoming spaces for library resources? Perhaps entrepreneurship incubator activities that would provide spaces to small business start ups?


The digitizing workroom is spacious and inviting for attracting students from the nearby university to work part-time to complete the scanning work. The archives reading room and collection development space provides access and processes the digitized archives materials. We saw the oldest photograph known in Bulgaria; and an older man was working with a younger one to combine efforts in identification of materials.

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Experience: Chitaliste Shalom Alem in old part of Plovdiv: Kapana


Learning: Moving stories of both successful job transition for the library director Nancy knows and the successful intervention in Bulgaria on behalf of the World War 2 Jews gathered the same day as Chistalnacht told by a member of Shalom Alem who spoke about her parents neighbors throwing their windows open and asking, “What can we do?” The Bulgarian Patriarch met the Jews at the train station and persuaded Czar Boris to prevent the Jews’ deportation. I feel lucky to have been present in person for this telling of the story. We all shared matzo offered as a welcome to our group.

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Experience: We walk in old part of Plovdiv to Roman Amphitheater near music school

Culture: The hill we walked has a music and art school near the amphitheater. The value of cultural education is felt everywhere we go. The EU has awarded Plovdiv the distinction of cultural capital of 2015 for its varied cultural events. Stefan has said that a “brain drain” has been hard on Bulgarian life with so many people emigrating. Perhaps the art schools will be raising up the students with the ideas and persistence to invest in life in Bulgaria.


Drive to Kazanlak (Our tour director, Stefan’s home town)

Wednesday, May 12, 2015

Experience: Municipal Library Iskva, Anna Kozhuharova, Director

Technical School library, Bulgarian teacher and English teacher

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Learning: The Library Director here has a proactive approach to building relationships with the municipal government and community for library programs. After our tours of the libraries, she invited us to a gallery show of student photographs. We added our bids to the silent auction form. I was part of a group to visit the technical school library. Recently finished renovations to the school included a library space with enough room for computers; and they are working on finding grant money to develop their collection and services. The school’s Bulgarian language teacher and English language teacher both presented students we could speak with. We asked questions they each answered about their program and interests. One graduating student was introduced as “advanced” and she spoke to us about her interests in graphic design and history. We asked her what she was reading. She said she enjoys Fantasy fiction, and is currently reading a vampire series (not Twilight).

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Bulgaria and the U.S.: My thoughts about the school and the students were similar to those I have for students I have worked with in the U.S.: the school experience is part of the students’ development. Relationships and approaches to learning influence their choices and energy to pursue fulfilling work. The English teacher’s training included specialization in alternative active learning methods; and she seemed well suited to prepare the students with positive, satisfying experiences that guide them in their development and pursuit of their dreams and dream jobs.


History: Tour of Thracian tombs: horses and lady accompanying man in paintings honoring him.

Experience: Free afternoon in Kazanlak: walk through downtown neighborhood homes, plaza, grocery store. I appreciate seeing the flags of the countries in the EU in an arrangement on the plaza. This is the place of the annual Rose Festival festivities. There is a Rose Festival Queen chosen for the occasion.

Thursday, May 13, 2015

Stara Zagora Regional Library and Archeology Museum (ground floor)

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Learning: Stara Zagora’s library is one of several cultural centers surrounding a large portion of exposed Roman road lined with shop foundations. The other centers include the Opera. The library shares its spaces with whichever group or cultural institution that can use them. We saw at least three exhibits: a Sofia Comic Expo, a Bulgarian 100 years of filmmaking, and a youth art show using a technique similar to stained glass design. On an upper floor of the building is a stage used for all wedding ceremonies, unless the bride and groom pay for officials to come to another place. Church weddings follow the civil ceremony. The building had been designed for Party headquarters, so the departments of the library were separated, but the spaces were large and had lots of natural light. The children’s section seemed comparable to our own libraries in the U.S. and the various activities in the building seemed like an amplification of what our libraries offer. The special place of Regional libraries as leaders and support for smaller libraries in Bulgaria made this seem normal.


Culture/History: The archeology museum was unusual to us in the open displays of pottery on raised platforms. This was exciting and baffling to us who are used to lots of cases in museum settings. The artifacts included amazingly detailed small figures the size of action figure toys and a replica of the most important artifact found in Bulgaria (now on display in the Louvre, Paris, France): the nearly two foot high bronze head of an Hellenic ruler with inset stones for eyes from the tomb of Seuthes III, looking a lot to me like impressive works representing Neptune, the sea god. Along with the head were precious ritual objects made of silver,bronze, and gold including a gold head ornament wreath and a gold drinking cup inscribed with the ruler’s name.


Learning: The project brochure lists the organizations who partnered to finance the opening of the tomb: Thracian Expedition for Tumulus Research on behalf of the Archaeology Institute and Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Science, the European Foundation, “Horizont”, the Central Board of Bulgarian Academy of Science, and Regional Historical Museum “Iskra” Kazanlak, the VIFOR company, Kazanlak, and the State Forestry Board at the town of Kazanlak. For me, this was an example of the cooperation and interest of other European countries in the historical heritage of Bulgaria. The entities mentioned most often were France, Germany, and the EU organization.


Experience: Lunch and walk on Nessebar, a peninsula within a bay on the Black Sea

St. Stefan church and St. Sophia church

Learning: Different eras of history in fortification structure: Medieval, Roman, Greek

History/Culture: The Turkish reign has lasting reminders in the churches. Details of the faces in the frescoes here at St. Stefan were rubbed out since human representation was not allowed in sacred spaces. This may be just one of many motivations for Bulgarians interest and enjoyment of their culture heritage. The churches are mostly skeletons, but St. Stefan is enclosed, secured, and has frescoes which are being protected. “Prayers” for ships were line drawings of particular ships scratched into the decorative plaster tiles in the rear of the church.

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Friday, May 14, 2015

Varna Free University

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Experience/Learning: Varna Free University has a new library building, from 2005. Not only do they offer digital resources and automated check out, they also do some of their own indexing. They have a great multilingual website. After our library tour, we visited an enthusiastic director of digital studies who is eager to have international and business contact meetings through Skype, and to cooperate with student exchange and study programs like ERASMUS. Her fluency in English suggests that she communicates regularly with international business leaders.


Experience: City of Varna on the way to the museum

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Learning/History/Bulgaria and the U.S.: The city tour of Varna was eye opening to the stark realities of politics in Bulgarian life and the resilience of Bulgarians through humor. The monument to Stefan Karadzha is a testament to his courage in attempting an invasion of his own country under Turkish rule at the time and his sacrifice by execution when it failed to return the government to Bulgaria. The rectangular monument on a mound of stones in front of Varna City Hall tells a story equally stark and far more recent: after the apathetic mayor of Varna refused to resign after public request, including a curse in the form of stone on top of stone put by individual citizens, a young man Plamen Goranov set himself on fire in desperate protest. He died in his hospital bed days later, but achieved his goal: the mayor resigned and city projects began again. This was three years ago, in 2012. The mound remains after an attempt to remove it erupted in protest. As for resilient Bulgarian humor, the monolithic cement monument to Bulgarian Soviet friendship during World War 2 on a hill outside Varna is referred to as “Grannies Panties,” for Tsola Dragoicheva, a female active in Party membership into her 90s.

Archeology Museum with Dr. Alexander Minchev

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Experience: The Varna Archeology Museum was, for many in our group, the highlight of the whole trip. Besides looking similar to Seethes III himself, Dr. Alexander Minchev is a generous host of an education and research institution who needs no interpreter, but is at home in the world introducing interested parties to the world’s treasures found in Bulgaria.


Learning: The Museum library is vast and houses information sorted by place. We got to see an area which both houses the collection not on display and serves as the place for restoring/repairing items. The display rooms are lively in colors, professional in display, multilingual, and educational. Perhaps the best example is the backlit display of objects in a grid by era. A testament to the worldly value of the collection is a collection of posters from exhibits of museum items around the world.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Veliko Tornovo Municipal Library and Branch Library

Children’s librarian had studies in Panama Beach, FL for a year

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Experience: The Veliko Tarnovo Municipal Library and Branch Library was a tour of personal history led by the director to the branch library where she started her library service. The Municipal Library had the feeling of a promoter of the arts and music. We saw a highly professional illustration exhibit and stained glass windows representing art and music. A librarian played the piano for us as we gathered in a great room to exchange gifts. I gathered that although the municipal library rooms themselves were not presented, they were functional and well used.


Experience/Culture: At the branch library, we were warmly welcomed in the traditional style, with bread and salt, and other refreshments. The branch library is positioned well to serve a population of 7,000 surrounding it. The spaces of the library felt open and inviting both to adults and children. I was pleased to see the desk areas of the librarians and staff as well as the meeting and classroom area integrated with the collection of resources. The feeling of service and meeting the community were palpable. Both here and in Stara Zagora, we saw Lions Club support for technology to support reading by Braille and we saw Global Libraries computers.


Lunch and walk to Veiliko Tarnovo’s fortress ruins complex

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Experience: Veiliko Tarnovo’s fortress ruins complex is amazing in its scale and position in the landscape. However, there are some drawbacks: piped in music at the main sites interferes with listening to a guide (and a guide’s thoughts), and replica structures built on top of the older foundations interfere with our imaginations and further interpretation.

Learning: One curatorial marker I really appreciated was on the side of the church at the top of the fortress: a list of all the Bulgarian patriarchs. Part of Bulgaria’s rich cultural history is its independent Orthodox church, neither Russian nor Greek, but Bulgarian. We saw religious icons in many of the municipal libraries we visited, and it appears that the church is an integral institution in Bulgaria.

Madara: Big Cave, Horseman

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Experience/Learning: The Thracian Horseman on the huge rock face of Madera is deteriorating in the weather, but I got to see a replica that had been made years ago in the Archeology Museum in Sofia. The detail there is quite clearly a horse and rider with a hound and a lion beneath. The birds calls as we walked through the trees were unusual to me. The space under the mass of rock seemed to offer special protection and cool rest while we stopped there. We learned that it had been used over time by different groups of people.


Shipka: Sanctuary Monument to Bulgarian-Soviet friendship in battle against the Turks

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Experience/History: Shipka also offered a peaceful, coolness in the trees on a steep hillside. Walking the grounds behind the chapel, a monastery building could be seen through the trees. I could imagine escape to a community life of discipline as another alternative vision to my travels lasting forever. At this point, the monastery has been used for other things since it was first established, but the church has been restored and made active as a church again.

Eco Hotel “Villa Bulgara” at Kyulevcha

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Experience/Culture: The Villa Bulgara was a big treat in offering the warm experience of local women singing traditional songs, teaching our group to dance as they sang, and showing us their bread making and including three women from our group in the process. The dinner there was a slow food experience in that everything we ate was from the local area. The rooms were charming and new. On a walk in the morning, I heard cuckoos calling from trees in a nearby valley. On the other side of the valley, I saw two hotel buildings in progress. I imagined the cooperation with the Villa Bulgara as a special occasion dinner setting; but mostly the couple running the place and cooking our meal reminded me of my neighbors who ran a bed and breakfast together. And through this couple’s efforts, we are able to appreciate local Bulgarian culture that is held over time through individual people, these women who sang for us.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Walking tour of Sofia

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Experience/Culture: The city of Sofia is home to the world’s religions: we took photos of a Jewish temple, a Muslim mosque, and Orthodox Christian churches. One of our group went to a Mormon meeting: she found the meeting place online. The timing of our trip worked out for joining in A Night at the Museums which masses of people turned out for. We found the Natural History museum too packed for comfort, but explored a city gallery, the spectacular fountain in front of the President’s building, and did a lot of people watching. Our lunch on Sunday allowed for photos from floor to ceiling windows on the third floor of a building with views of the yellow brick road and the church of St. Nicholas.


Culture/History: Our tour included the archeology of perhaps the oldest library in Bulgaria, the room under the altar floor of the basilica of St. Sophia. Perhaps critical to the spread of Christianity in the area was the fact that warm water springs fed baptismal pools in the rotunda church of St. and Martyr George the Victor.

Monday, May 18, 2015

State University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, SULSIT

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Experience/Learning: The state university library school was a campus that welcomed us warmly and showed us facilities and resources that are functional, bright, and professional. My thought during the formal presentations drifted to my own experience with active learning activities in my courses in the School of Library and Information Management. I hoped that this great Bulgarian library school knows teaching methods as powerful as what I have had in courses with Dr. Sutton, for example; but as the group of students chatted while the director settled into her PowerPoint, I had the thought that newer teaching and presentation methods are born from particular programs or from library instruction articles that get translated into Bulgarian. I hope we can help share ideas for innovative teaching methods with our Bulgarian library school counterparts while respecting the traditions and development occurring in two different countries. Perhaps student exchanges are the best approach.

Return to U.S.

My transition from Bulgaria to home was made during several days in the U.K. in Oxford and London.

I used my time in London to start getting caught up on my email from work at Deets Library, and to get ready for my summer classes at Emporia State University SLIM. I appreciated connecting my travel experience with work I enjoy, library work, and the sense of mission it has for me. I also aired out the emotions of bonding with the travel group and with Bulgaria through Stefan, Luci,(our bus driver), our hosts at the hotels, the grannies, and all the librarians and students we met: the experience had an intensity that I wanted to remember without interruption by people, animals, and chores at home. Enjoying London, pretending I lived there, was a great way to savor the experience of touring libraries in Bulgaria. In fact, my transition to the U.S. started as I added Bulgarian contacts to social media (Facebook). I had been reporting my travels to my own library and family through text and social media, but quickly realized that I would be able to have continued contact with Bulgarian librarians and Stefan, our tour guide, through social media. I have appreciated the concrete contact this provides through photos and text. I have learned to copy and paste the Cyrillic text into Google translator, chunks at a time, to see what people are talking about when the writing is in Bulgarian. Traveling with a tour guide was an experience I hadn’t had before. Stefan acted as our educator and kept our group lively and entertained. I found that his emotional connection to his country (and to the librarians who hosted us) illuminated the context of our presence in Bulgaria.

Summary of experience and learning:

My lasting impressions are the bonds of friendships and perhaps the beginnings of working relationships begun in person: the gift of sharing time and place together in a lively, positive spirit fostered by our tour guide, by the professional nature of the course visit, and most importantly, Nancy Bolt’s connection to all the cooperative work that has been done in the libraries since the mid-1990’s. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to tour libraries in Bulgaria!

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