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Curated & Moderated by:
Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou

Beyond books: The many lives of libraries

The SNF Dialogues journeys around the world to discover the many lives and the diverse roles of public libraries.

“Libraries represent the vastness of the universe,” said Jorge Luis Borges, and the SNF Dialogues set out on a journey around the world to discover their diverse roles, focusing on their contribution to fostering democracy and civic engagement.

The outcome is the four-part podcast series “Beyond Books: The Many Lives of Libraries," hosted by Dr. Ares Kalandides, Urban scholar and Academic Advisor at New York University in Berlin.

The podcast uncovers untold stories about libraries of various forms and functions, exploring their prospects and highlighting their significant social value. The episodes incorporate natural sounds from inside and outside libraries, field reporting, and interviews with librarians, experts and readers, as well as rare archival material. 

Episode 1: Around the world in libraries

While many of us associate libraries with brick-and-mortar buildings in our neighborhoods, there exists a remarkable world of mobile public libraries that extend their reach to remote rural areas, transcending geographical boundaries and socioeconomic disparities. In this episode, we venture from Colombia to Northern Greece, uncovering the stories of mobile public libraries that are transforming the communities they visit. These mobile libraries not only bring books, but also foster learning opportunities, bridging gaps and enriching lives regardless of location or background. 

Episode 2: Palaces for the elites - spaces of revolt

In the second episode, we delve into the evolution of libraries, tracing their journey from exclusive sanctuaries for the elite to commonly managed spaces shaped by and for a group of citizens—the emergence of what is often referred to as the "commons."  Confronting the constraints of class, gender, and racial divides of the past, libraries are now viewed in their role as centers for community engagement. They serve as catalysts for societal transformation, fostering community-building, and offering avenues for emancipation and democracy even in the face of societal upheaval. 

Episode 3: From the love of reading to the archives of the universe

In the third episode, we turn our attention to the archival material housed within libraries, delving into their multiple roles—from manipulation of historical narratives to their power as instruments of activism. Additionally, we shed light on the role of digitization in ensuring the accessibility and longevity of these archives, alongside innovative approaches to managing vast amounts of data. To bridge the ancient wisdom of the legendary Library of Alexandria with its contemporary relevance, SNF Dialogues engages in a conversation with the director of the current library. 

Episode 4: Libraries and the new public space

In the concluding episode, SNF Dialogues brings into focus the relationship between libraries and their urban environments, exploring how these institutions integrate into the fabric of their surroundings, often transforming into vibrant public spaces themselves. We examine two notable examples—the New York Public Library and the Library Network in Milan—that have transformed into inclusive, open public spaces, welcoming to all.


Research, Scenario, Narration: Ares Kalandides
Production: Phoebe Fronista, Giolanta Ntamadaki
Senior production: Anastasia Moumtzaki, Thanasis Trompoukis
Sound recording and design: Aris Athanasopoulos


Luis Soriano, Colombian teacher, initiator of “Biblioburro”
Aspasia Tasiopoulou, Communication Manager at the Veria Central Public Library, Greece
Katerina Zografopoulou, English teacher at the primary school of Vergina/Palatítsia, Greece
Fergus Wilde, Head Librarian at Chetham’s Library, Manchester, UK
Aleksandra Miladinović, psychologist, Ekatarina Pavlovic Library, Serbia
Željko Voraček, participant in the bibliotherapy session, at Ekatarina Pavlovic Library, Serbia
Sandra Stevanović, participant in the bibliotherapy session, at Ekatarina Pavlovic Library, Serbia
Berkay Küçükbaşlar, geographer and musician, participant in the Gezi Park protests, Turkey
Kriton Kalantidis, Professor of Molecular Biology, University of Crete, Greece
Ben Miller, historian and archivist, Board Member of the Schwules Museum, Berlin
Dr Ahmed Zayed, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Stefano Parise, Head of the Library Νetwork in Milan
Francine Houben, architect of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) in New York, Founding Partner and Creative Director at Mecanoo architecten
Tony Marx, CEO and President of The New York Public Library (NYPL)

Field Production:

La Gloria, Colombia: Sound recording: Andrés Roldán, Production: Abraham Palacio
Veria, Greece: Sound recording: Tanya Jones, Production: Giolanta Ntamadaki, George Schinas
Serbia: Sound recordist, Production: Dusan Mirkovic
Alexandria, Egypt: Sound recording: Abdallah Abdel Sabbour, Production: May Kamel

Voice Actor:

Aliki Chapple (A room of one’s own by Virginia Woolf, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Voice Over:

Nikos Aronis as Luis Soriano and Stefano Parise
Katerina Voutsina as Katerina Zografopoulou and Aleksandra Miladinović
Dimitris Bounias as Berkay Küçükbaşlar and Dr Ahmed Zayed
Anastasia Moumtzaki as Aspasia Tasiopoulou
Celia Tsigka as Sandra Stevanović
Evgenios Kalofolias as Željko Voraček
Konstantinos Melitas read excerpts from the book Changer: Méthode by Edourard Louis, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and the poem He came to read (Ήλθε για να διαβάσει) by Constantine P. Cavafy

Archive material:

Louis, E., (2021) Changer : méthode, Editions du Seuil, pg 108-109. Rights granted by The Wylie Agency Ltd. Translation in English by Ares Kalandides.
Natural sounds 'Sounds of Stabi', rights granted for free by Berlin Staatsbibliotek.
Audio clip from Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire”, rights granted by HanWay FILMS
“Bücherverbrennung in Berlin am 10.5.1933” audio clip, rights granted for free by Chronos Media GmbH
Doreen Massey on Space. S3: Social Science Bites. Copyright © 2024 by Sage Publications. Reused by permission of Sage Publications, Inc.
Occupy London natural sounds by Shutterstock
Gezi Park natural sounds by Shutterstock

Ares Kalandides wishes to thank Maria Kalantzopoulou and Dimitris Papanikolaou for their invaluable ideas as well as Dina Vaiou for being a source of constant inspiration.