Melbourne City of Lit meets Azil in Ljubljana
In this series, run in partnership with the Melbourne City of Literature Office, we get to know some of the bookstores in the UNESCO Cities of Literature network.
Novi trg is one of the oldest squares in Ljubljana, with a history that dates back to the early 1300s. ‘What was once a fishermen’s dock and later a scruffy parking lot is today a beautiful and buzzy place of social gathering accompanied by the smells of good coffee, sounds of water fountains and views of the Ljubljana castle basking in the sunlight,’ explain Barbara Filipic and Tamara Mateša. The duo are booksellers at Azil—a store that is proud to call the square home. ‘What with the Ljubljanica river on the one side and the monumental National Library on the other, it is unarguably one of the city’s most picturesque areas. Then again, we may be a bit biased. But only a bit.’
Azil is the first Slovenian academic bookstore specialising in humanities and social sciences, and is a part of the Slovenian Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Art. The store has a special emphasis on philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history and art history, as well as political science, economics, political economics and environmental, gender and feminist studies. ‘We stock scientific publications of the ZRC Publishing House, as well as books dealing with topics within the above-mentioned scientific fields published by other Slovenian publishers,’ the team explains. ‘We take special pride in our ever-growing and exceptionally current collection of books by all the main foreign (mostly Anglo-Saxon) university presses and other scientific publishers.’
One of the many reasons Ljubljana’s City of Literature office suggested Azil was because of the way it makes research more widely accessible to the public. ‘Science research centres are generally more closed,’ says Ljubljana City of Literature’s Damjan Zorc. He points to their wide range of books, both local and foreign, as well as their schedule of events and presentations—and the fact that they are unique in Ljubljana in that they are a hybrid bookstore and cafe.
The original store opened in 2003, and over the last 19 years has moved locations several times. When it started, it was the smallest bookstore in the city, but it quickly grew—not only in size and popularity, but also in scope. In 2009 their plan of incorporating an adjoined cafe was finally possible. ‘Now we may still be the smallest, but we are also the most charming bookstore in town, if we may say so ourselves—tiny in size but grand in ideas our shelves carry,’ says the team. ‘We also remain the only book-and-coffeeshop hybrid in the city, confirming that good coffee and good books really do go hand in hand.’
What Azil strives to do goes beyond purely selling books—it’s about bigger conversations, and engaging more deeply with people on the topics that they specialise in. ‘We are constantly on the lookout for new titles and publications on current topics and at the same time also strive to be very present by engaging with our customers to try and meet their needs as best we can. What sparks our joy is seeing the books we offer spark joy in others,’ they explain.
‘Azil is much more than just a house bookstore which sells and promotes scientific publications of ZRC Publishing House. We regularly organise activities such as book presentations, debates and round-table discussions in the bookstore as well as in the auditorium located just down the hall. We also frequently participate in organisation of other events such as congresses and conferences.’
What Filipic and Mateša love about the store are the people who make it what it is. ‘After all these years we still remain completely infatuated with the idea of being able to create a safe space for everyone who cares about science, progress, critical thinking, humanity and, after all, good literature,’ says the pair.
‘During the winter months people cosy up on the cafe sofas with a good book and a hot beverage and in the summer you can hear them debating fiercely over a glass of wine on how to save the world. Our favourite aspect of our store is then our community, the passionate, brave, open-minded people who may one day do just that and make this world a better place, at least a little bit.’
Tags: City of Lit bookshops