Beyond the bustling Old Town Square in Prague’s tourist center is a little library off a side street. With humble signage and a modest building, the Václava Havla Library welcomes thousands of people yearly.
The library, named after and founded in 2004 by former Czech president Václava Havla, is meant to be a hub for education, art and social progress. The main meeting space holds about 100 people, and there are gatherings there almost daily from September until June. Events like debates, film screenings and literature nights are open to the public and frequently entice students.
“It’s a very popular space,” program coordinator and events manager for the library Veronika Brázdlvá said. “People are here often for debates and readings.”
Karolína Stránská, head of office and financial matters for the library, had only positive thing to share about the space:
“We try to fulfill [Havla’s] ideas. We are not just an archive and try to digitize his work,. We mostly organize public events and growing educational programs for students,” Stránská said.
There are two large conferences that the library hosts each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The spring conference is meant to discuss Havla’s European Dialogues and their implementation into today. In addition, the fall conference is to award and celebrate that year’s winner of the Havla Human Rights Prize.
Aside from hosting many events throughout the year, the library also serves as a publishing house.
“We publish about five books a year about Havla, and they are available to purchase when we have a full staff present,” Stránská said.
When the library first started, there were only two full-time employees. Now there are 10 full-time staff members and several other volunteers due to continued interest and growth.
“A lot of Czech people don’t know who we are or what we do,” Stránská said. “They think we are like a public library and come in to ask, ‘Can we check out books?’ or ‘Do you have public internet we can use?’ but it’s not like that. We’re more of an institution.”
As the institution continues to grow, the concern of the financial requirement and having enough people to run the library continues to rise.
“Three years ago, we did not have an education manager,” Stránská said. “Now we are thinking we’ll need to add another within the next year to help manage the interest.”
The library was modeled after the United States’ presidential libraries, and Havla was inspired by American diplomats and governmental policies. Even today, the library is frequented by figures like Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State in the U.S.. Albright visited the library last year to hold a debate, but the interest was so large that the library did not have a big enough capacity and had to relocate the event to the law school of Charles University.
“We’re really good friends with America,” Stránská said, while sharing a photo of Havla with former U.S. President George W. Bush.
While both nations are currently divided politically in a similar manner, the Václava Havla Library proceeds to carry on Havla’s mission of spreading education and human rights across the world.
The library is open for use by researchers, as well as an online database available for public, global use.
More information about the library, its history and upcoming events is located on its website.
Written by Sarah Ali
Video by Sarah Ali
Featured image by Sarah Ali
Edited by Ciera Noe