Exploring the voices of Serbian women from the pandemic through cultural heritage



Thanks so much for talking to us! Tell us a bit about your establishment.

Baby: The National Library of Serbia is the national, central, research and general scientific library of the country. It is the parent library institution for all libraries in Serbia. It is the first cultural institution established by the Serbian state and this year celebrates 190 years of its foundation.

You recently led the Being Woman in the Time of the Pandemic project – why was the project started and what is its purpose?

Tamara: Our library is an active member of the Conference of European National Librarians (CENL), an important organization for national libraries in Europe. CENL responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges for libraries by opening several funds that aimed to help its members respond to the new global landscape after 2020. This included a new fund for hidden stories in 2021. In this new fund, we saw an opportunity to create new collections: we knew we wanted to work more on women’s issues and were still very affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. So it made sense to merge the two and shine a light on women during the pandemic.

The project had four lines of activity: collection days (stories), web resources, a series of lectures and a blog. We aimed to create an event similar to the Migration Collection Day we organized in 2018 with Europeana. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this was not possible, so this activity moved online. We’ve collected 25 stories/interviews from various women, along with photos illustrating what has been an escape from the reality of COVID in their lives.

Baby: We wanted to highlight current gender issues and try to move women’s voices from hidden to much more visible. This is a pioneering initiative on this subject in our national library. Of course, the COVID pandemic is of particular significance as a time that exacerbates any pre-existing crisis.

What is the role of digital technology, practices or commitment in this work?

Tamara: This work is entirely digitally powered. The women’s stories are in digital format, along with the objects, as well as the web archive collection. The lectures were recorded and published online with digital tools and technologies. All project results have been published on the project webpage. All project documentation was managed digitally in the cloud.

Baby: I would just like to add that the importance of digital is indisputable even without the pandemic. These times have highlighted that digital has become the most visible format these days.

How did you celebrate Women’s History Month at your institution?

Tamara and Beba: As part of the project, we have organized a series of conferences under the title “Being a woman in the time of the pandemic: extension of the field of struggle”. Four women and one man (two university professors, a retired lieutenant colonel, an academic and a historian) spoke from their perspective of women’s experiences during the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting the additional issues facing they were confronted on both battlefields, at work and at home, with traditional gender roles. A lecture was dedicated to the role of women in crises of war in ancient times to highlight gender stereotypes and the division of gender roles, but also to help us better understand the issues we have been dealing with during the pandemic .

Can you share with us a woman who inspires you from the story or who is still alive and explain why?

Tamara: Jelena Dimitrijević, writer, traveler and Serbian feminist was a true pioneer, quite unique and very different from the majority of women in the Serbian patriarchal society of the 19th century. I really admire his courage and his attitude towards life. We used his Poem of Myself, written in New York in 1920, for the graphic identity of this project.

Baby: There is a lot of! One is Ksenija Atanasijević (1894-1981), the first recognized great Serbian philosopher and the first female professor at the University of Belgrade, where she graduated. Throughout her teaching career, she has been a committed feminist both in theory and in practice. She was a member of the Serbian Women’s League for Peace and Freedom, the Women’s Movement Alliance and the editor of the country’s first feminist newspaper, Ženski pokret, published from 1920 to 1938. Persecuted by all regimes in which she lived, she remained consistent with herself.

What advice do you have for cultural heritage institutions that wish to recognise, bring out and showcase women’s history in their own collections?

Baby: Libraries are particularly suitable for highlighting the history of women and the injustices they have faced. In my experience, librarianship is a predominantly female profession and users of library services are predominantly female. There are several examples of how library services and projects have been used for various programs aimed at improving education, economic stability and the advancement of women (such as INELI – International Network of Emerging Library Innovators ). Of course, the same could apply to other cultural establishments.

Tamara: Open your institutions to women, listen to them, record their practices and preserve them as invaluable collections for future generations. Make a digital space for women’s history collections, create editorials, share on social media to inspire others. Fight for gender equality every day, but prioritize quality.

Thank you Tamara and Beba! You can explore the Being a Woman in the Time of the Pandemic project on the Library’s website.

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