Identity of coffee shops in Prishtina judged by their libraries

During the 17th and 18th centuries there was a revolution known as the enlightenment. At that time, the world witnessed a huge development in science and humanities. One of the causes of this enlightenment era was coffee, more particularly coffeehouses. Coffeehouses at that time used to be places where people would go to receive the latest news, discuss ideas and build businesses. At some places the discussions would be so progressive that they would get the nickname Penny Universities.

A few hundred years later coffeehouses saw a change in their purpose, that is they are now mostly known as coffee shops, even though there are some exceptions. The same places are also not considered as fit for intellectual discussions. Rather they are known as places people go to consume coffee while discussing daily life or places where people are glued down to their phones and laptops finishing their online work. 

This change brings the inevitable question: Were the old coffee houses better than the current coffee shops?

That is a hard question to answer. Most of the aspects from the old coffee houses seem to be better, except one crucial detail. That detail is simply the presence of libraries in some coffee shops. The printing press may have already been invented during the time of enlightenment, but the vast distribution of books did not come until a lot later. The combination of libraries and the vast difference between the knowledge of the time and the present is one of the main reasons why answering the question is a difficult task. 

In Prishtina there are coffee shops which have small libraries of their own which are open to the public either to read or to buy the book from the coffee shop directly. In this study we tried to identify coffee shops in Prishtina by taking into account the books present in their libraries. The goal is to establish an identity to the coffee shops, and a second goal to be able to map the kind of books distributed throughout non-official mini libraries.

 In search for books…

For this research we contacted fifteen different coffee shops which had libraries. Coffee shops were defined  as places where any kind of coffee or drink were served continuously throughout the year or only during specific events.  From 15 different coffee shops being contacted only six gave the permission to register their books to our database, four of them said that they would contact us back but did not, while five others refused to participate. From six coffee shops that we analyzed, two of them wanted to remain anonymous. 

The books were registered in an Excel Database, and finally were combined in one single table. First we asked the owners if they had a database. If they did, we took the relevant parts of their database and fitted them to our database

The registration of books at first included the registration of these categories: Name of the book, Author, ISBN, Language, Length in pages, Published year, Condition of the book, Type of book, Quantity, and Place taken. Due to time limitations and impracticality of registering all of the categories, at the final study we registered only three (3) out of ten (10) categories. The three categories chosen to register were Name of the book, Author, and Place taken from. These three categories would be sufficient enough to explore the identity of coffee shops in Prishtina on a surface level. The three categories could also be used to find information about other categories without having to do field work. There are only three categories that require field work (Language, Condition of the book, Quantity). After the registration process ended we identified the most popular authors and had a qualitative research completed.

Which books???

Books from six coffee shop libraries were registered. In total we were able to register 1222 books. The library of the first coffee shop contained 378 books while the second one 62 books. On the third coffee shop 196 books made up their library while on the fourth one 40 books. The fifth coffee shop library consisted of 8 books whereas the sixth one consisted of 538 books. The average books per coffee shop were 200, though the distribution was highly unequal.

The most popular author with 15 books being presented in three different coffee shops was Ismail Kadare. The second place goes to Jusuf Buxhovi with 14 books being presented in two different coffee shops. Ibrahim Kadriu with 9 books came third though only in one coffee shop. Other noteworthy authors were: Charles Dickens with 8 books, Winston Churchill with 7 books, Adem Zaplluzha, Adi Shukriu, Gjon Keka, Rifat Kukaj and William Shakespeare with 5 books each.

Even though the sample size of only six coffee shops is small, we may still be able to generalize some aspects of the study. From the ten most common authors, seven of them were Albanians and three English. At first sight this could be interpreted as the public being more familiar with Albanian writers hence coffee shop libraries having more Albanian writers. However, this interpretation only holds ground for the top ten most common authors. If we look at the bigger picture, though, we can clearly see that most of the books were by foreign writers. This is not concerning, since although the authors may be foreign the majority of books were in Albanian language. 

What is concerning is the huge number of best seller books which were brought to the library only because of their status as “Best seller” or written by a popular author. Two of the coffee shop owners said they specifically looked out for best seller books to bring to their coffee shop libraries. The reason this can be seen as a concerning matter is simply because the ideas and discussions that will come out in these coffee shops will be determined by the “trends of the time”, thus the originality of ideas would decrease. Rather than having an originality of Prishtina coffee shops, there will only be trend following coffee shops copying from other trend following coffee shops. However, there is one thing that would have been even more concerning than Prishtina coffee shops following trends and that is if there were no books at all. In the era of people not into reading books or some not having seen a book in years, these coffee shops with libraries are a way of re-familiarizing people with books and a creative way of motivating people into reading. 

Most of the books written by popular foreign writers are not bad books by any means. It should be noted that not having many Albanian writers to encourage Albanian originality does not, in any way, mean that the identity of the coffee shop is bad. With such writers as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgunyev, Shakespeare, Alexander Dumas, Homer, Plato, Kafka and many more authors the possible inspiration you would get from being in such places is enormous. The part where we, as a society, should be mindful is to not lose our precious originality in the ocean of other foreign writers, rather combine it with them.

Most of the other books that were written by Albanian writers were usually given to the coffee shops as  promotional material or as a gift. This one simple act that has come either from the generosity of some authors or their marketing staff, has a great deal of impact on coffee shops that have received these books. First of all receiving a gift from an author and showing it to the public means the readiness of the coffee shop to work and help local authors on their development. Secondly the book being there means that coffee shops believe in their customers to the extent to leave a gift of great value in their hands. The mutual respect between the coffee shops, customers and authors themselves is a show of their integrity.

By Fisnik Eger

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