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The future of libraries and the cultural history of Prague

Inforum, one of the largest librarian conferences in Eastern Europe, rolls into the Czech capital next week. Once again taking place at the University of Economics in Prague, Inforum 2016 promises to be a lively and thought-provoking look at some of the issues facing librarians in the Czech Republic and beyond. To help you make the most of it, here’s our digest of the conference program and recommended Prague sights that deserve to be squeezed in around your work schedule.

The Inforum program: Future challenges and ongoing successes

This year’s theme is “Looking beyond the horizon”, and the speakers seem to have the future firmly in their sights with the program promising detailed consideration of Digital archiving and preservation, acquisition and lending of eBooks, and new digital library initiatives in Serbia, Slovakia, and Albania.

Aleksandra Popović , Head of the Sector of Scientific Information and Library Development and the Department of Scientific Information and Education at the University of Belgrade, will present a paper on her library’s ongoing collaboration with Wikimedia Serbia. Beyond just recognising the often cited popularity of Wikipedia among students, the librarians are leveraging their specialist skills and collections to improve the quality of Serbian Wikipedia content.

Although speakers will discuss continuing challenges such as adapting to a world dominated by digital rather than print collections, and new responsibilities like teaching digital literacy, a session titled “Aspects of Digital Access to Cultural Heritage” will showcase positive ways in which modern technologies have been harnessed to help researchers make sense of the past.

A walking tour of Prague

Despite the array of interesting topics being presented this year, it’s really worth making time for exploring Prague, and with most days wrapping up nice and early you might just get the chance. If you’re willing to walk for a couple of hours, the best way to see Prague is on foot. This loose route strings together some of the key landmarks, some favourite unexpected finds, and leaves plenty of room for your own discoveries.

Art deco hotels (2)
Photo by Rachel Brook, used with permission

Art deco architecture

Prague’s focal point, Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) is confusingly not a square at all, but rather a long boulevard. Just 15 minutes’ walk from the conference venue, it’s the ideal starting point to take in some of the city’s architecture. The grand old main building of the National Museum (currently closed for renovation) overlooks the street, but is eclipsed by the better-maintained Art Deco hotels further down the road. A café in a converted tram provides a good viewing point, and gives a taste of the old Prague.

Ultimately Václavské náměstí converges with a commercial shopping street, but turn left on to Ríjna and you’ll find one of the city’s best alternative attractions; Batalion, a comic book museum and bar. You could enjoy a Czech beer or becherovka (a herbal bitters heralded as the unofficial Czech national drink) in the quirky surroundings, or take a tour of graphic artist Kája Saudek’s work.

The Old Town

Head north east for a few minutes to see Obecní Dum, a large concert venue also in art deco style, and to browse traditional market stalls and food vendors that gather in the square opposite. From here it’s a short walk to Prague’s old town square (an improvement on Wenceslas) where the famed Astronomical Clock tower of the town hall stands. On the hour crowds gather for a mechanical show in which creepy puppets dance around the clock face. This is frankly missable, but more worthwhile is ascending the tower for a view over the old town. It’s a nice gentle climb made up mainly of slopes rather than steps.

Continuing along winding Karlova will bring you to the Charles bridge (Karlův most), where postcard-ready statues attract local and visiting art students. The city as a whole is generously dotted with surprising outcroppings of free outdoor contemporary sculpture.

Malá Strana, or the ‘Lesser Town’

Once over the river Vltava you can head uphill to the castle quarter, or dodge the crowds by ducking on to U Lužického semináře, where you’ll find a scattering of small shops, including Shakespeare & Synove, a second hand bookshop. Many guidebooks recommend the American bookshop Globe across the river on Pštrossova, but Shakespeare & Synove has a larger English-language section.

A must see on this side of the river is a graffitied wall in tribute to John Lennon – even if you’ve visited Prague before there’s sure to be some new additions.

Crossing back over the river at Jiráskův most, two bridges South of the Charles bridge, will provide a view of some of the tiny islands nestled in the Vltava, and take you directly to the Dancing House, a unique office block designed by architect Frank Gehry. Should you need a recommendation for dinner, it’s now just 10 minutes’ walk to Pivovarský dům, a traditional restaurant and microbrewery serving Czech cuisine and several kinds of beer including unusual brews flavoured with banana and cherry.

Featured image: Prague by Pexels, Public Domain via Pixabay.

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