When I lived in Croatia, I managed a project called One Country One Library (OCOL) from 2017 to 2020. The project’s goal was to develop a national platform of books and other publications (including short stories, academic articles and journals, textbooks, audiobooks, educational videos, and podcasts) that would be freely accessible via a website or app within the country’s borders.
This open digital library not only introduced users to a new way of engaging with digital content but also offered a sustainable business model to publishers, authors, libraries, and those who wished to support it financially.
The idea for the national library did not come overnight. It was the result of working on various projects over a long period of time with a number of for-profit and nonprofit companies and organizations that cater to public, academic, and school libraries and use technology to deepen the impact of digital libraries in their communities.
Since the advent of the internet, many projects have brought ebooks and other digital publications to patrons outside the confines of physical libraries. Having participated in such projects and worked directly with libraries and publishers to create positive outcomes for all sides, I witnessed firsthand their power to transform education and lifelong learning for people who otherwise may not have easy access to libraries. I also saw that every initiative centered on opening digital content legally and promoting reading and education was also, at its core, an attempt to redefine the role of a library.
Over time, these projects revealed to me the possibility of a library that could take several forms at once: a publishing platform for emerging authors; a talent discovery tool for publishers; a learning platform for schools and universities; a classroom tool for educators; a promotional tool for established authors and influential figures; an information platform for visitors and tourists; and, of course, the same thing that libraries have been for centuries: the place to go to read for pleasure or to enrich one’s knowledge in every way imaginable.
We raised the bar, introducing bold ideas that invited libraries as well as publishers to consider brand-new possibilities.
During the three years I worked on this project, I applied knowledge acquired from working with innovative organizations on transformative ebook and digital content projects. I challenged myself and colleagues to overcome potential obstacles for readers, publishers, and libraries, such as making books available to readers while paying copyright holders fairly, protecting reader privacy, building affordable and sustainable platforms, serving readers with disabilities, and meeting the needs of students and patrons via a single platform.
While I do not think that this project offered the ideal solution to every challenge, I believe we raised the bar, introducing bold ideas that invited libraries as well as publishers to consider brand-new possibilities.
My hope is that the One Country One Library project and Library of Croatia platform will inspire others to build similar digital libraries in their own countries.
As the uncertainty surrounding education and access to reading and learning materials escalates during the COVID-19 pandemic, with no end in sight, libraries and those working with collections now have an opportunity to transform education and reading by placing the idea of an open library at the center of public life like never before.
Envisioning and building a library of this scope brought me to the realization that the power of digital content and digital libraries to transform the world—truly transform it—is not only undeniable but fast approaching.
Adapted from “One Country One Library,” Library Technology Reports vol. 56, no. 7 (Oct. 2020).