My role in the process was very small. After I gave Suad concrete information about the number of books and library users etc., he did everything on his own. Even though I told him that something purely practical is sufficient for us, he wanted a nice-looking interface and layout, adding a motivational welcome note! Of course, the school was supportive, but there are not many students like Suad initiating extra activities. Of course, we can’t blame them — in our country, schools in general have very few pieces of old equipment, and schools need renovation, modernisation and more funding. Most students don’t look to the future with positive expectations, so they are not motivated to innovate or create new stuff. Particularly for this reason, Suad’s attitude and accomplishment is special.
You cannot do it, you are too young!”. Not even this kind of negative attitude could discourage Suad. In 2021, the 18-year-old boy from Bosnia and Herzegovina came up with a simple but brilliant idea. He developed an application that modernised his schools’ library catalogue and library management system, saving many hours of work for the librarians.
For me participation is a wonderful process during which I can learn more about people, discover different perspectives, ideas and ways of working. Through this I develop myself.
The ideator and developer of the Library App, Suad Kucalović is a final-year student in a Bosnian high school, Mješovita elektrotehnička i drvoprerađivačka srednja škola Bihać from Bihać city, situated close to the Croatian border. He told us the story of his self-funded project taking place in his school, which he launched together with Librarian and Bosnian language professor Neda Karabegović.
What purpose does the Library App serve?
With the Library App, we created a database of all the books and users (students and professors) in our school library. It lists and sends notification emails to users who borrowed books and didn’t return them, while also notifying librarians about these problems. My main goal was to provide a stable and easy-to-use system for managing the school library, to make librarians’ jobs easier and to have all the data in one place — accessible.
How did you recognise that your school needed this system? Are you in love with reading and libraries?
Personally, I do love reading books (mostly I am interested in psychology and science books), but the idea came to my mind when we were renovating our school library last year. There is a Student Council in our school whose members helped to move the paper-based book records. Among them was a friend of mine who said, “We should collect all this data in Excel.” I responded, “Wait, I have a better idea. I can help.” First, they did not believe me — assuming that I was not capable enough to do it. But I took my chances, I challenged myself, and in seven days the demo of the app was ready. I presented it to Professor Neda and asked her if she was interested in using something like that in the library. And the rest is history.
Why did you think it could make librarians’ work easier?
In our library we have approximately 7.000 books. I saw that by using handwritten cards, our librarians needed way too much time to check who hasn’t returned books. And indeed, recently a student appeared returning a book after ten years! While cards occupy a lot of space, for a digital database only a personal computer (PC) is needed. In the app, all information is accessible with a few clicks. Professor Neda confirmed my hypothesis that the app would make her work simpler. Having worked in a city library before, she knew from experience that an application saves lots of time and energy. And here I was offering it for free.
What kinds of resources did you use to realise your plan?
I haven’t applied for any funding. Everything happened so fast! I started to develop it in May 2020, and it was done by the middle of June. Since I was 13-14 years old, I have had an interest in how computers work. I started to explore them on my own, then I was introduced to the world of programming. At the age of 17 I became an intern at a local company that develops web applications. Spending about six months there I learnt the process of designing and developing applications. Afterwards, I continued advancing, learning more programming languages and techniques. I bought books about programming and spent many nights staying up late just to watch tutorials online. In addition, I have always enjoyed projects where I could help people do their job more efficiently. Altogether this gave me a strong motivation to do this — both for my professional development and for facilitating librarians’ work.
What were the most important steps of creating the app?
After the school librarian and the school director approved my plan, I asked for a PC. I installed the application I had created to the computer, placed it in the library, and made it secure. Then we assigned every book a unique ID number and inserted their data in the database, together with all library users’ data. Then, ready, steady, go! The app is ready to function.
Did you find it difficult communicating your idea to the school director, teachers, and students?
Not at all — our director was thrilled to hear what I proposed. As the library was in bad condition and needed renovation, the digitalisation of the borrowing system was an extra advantage! However, I have to admit that not all students like it. It is a system that you cannot manipulate. You have to return books on time, otherwise you need to pay a little fine and you could get negative scores in the app. I think in this way, the app makes students a bit more responsible.
What about the ups and downs of the implementation? Were there any challenges?
Not many. As I worked alone, I was in control of the whole situation. The setbacks I had were in connection with society around me. Adults, even professionals at the company I worked with, negatively affected my motivation when saying I was too young and I would not have the skills. But I just kept going, listened to myself and followed my passion.
What did you learn during the process?
I have gained more confidence in myself: if I feel I am good at something, I can do great things. During the process I established my way of working and doing, I found out how to make the process work for me. There is nothing I would do differently today, but I realise that everything may be easier in a team. For example, developing this app took a whole month. In a team, it could have been done in 5 days.
How is the app functioning today? Have you offered it to anyone else?
In our school library we have always used cards to follow who borrowed books, but it was a complicated system requiring too much paperwork. Now with the app it is enough to just enter the database, and within a few seconds everything is done. It spares lots of time and energy for the librarians.
I brought it to my previous primary school that has around 20.000 books in its library. Librarians work nonstop, and they also have classes to teach, so the app could really help them. When I offered them the app as a gift, they were very much interested, but until now they have not found the necessary funding or computers for the database. We are waiting, but I know, with the necessary equipment, the app is easily multipliable.
Have you promoted the app in any other way?
My German teacher suggested nominating the project to the SALTO Awards 2021 where I got a special mention. It was a big deal for me, as it was one of my first applications that came to life and got used by a group of people. The project was also displayed at a big local city fair, EKOBIS that promotes businesses and their products. Our school director asked me to represent our school there, presenting both our school, how we work, and my application. There, I got the chance to talk with professionals from the programming field and with people who didn’t have anything to do with computers. At other times, I’ve been asked to explain the app to future students visiting our school. These activities have helped me realise that I do know stuff and I can grow into a real professional in this field. Also, lots of people got to know me through this project. I have received several job proposals and commissions to develop websites or apps as a freelancer.
What about your career plans?
I am finishing high school this year, so my next step is college. I would like to continue and take my love for programming to a higher level: I am going to study Computer Architecture and Programming at the local college close to my high school.
If you could give a piece of advice to other young people, why is it worth doing something new for your community?
I would say, first start doing what you enjoy. Get to know yourself. Once you know your possibilities and what you want, nothing will be hard for you. Think of how you can help and grow. Don’t wait for others to tell you what to do. If you begin working on yourself as soon as you can, you will find yourself and your place in this big world we live in.
Neda KarabegovićLibrarian and Bosnian teacher
Entrepreneurship, determination and creativity at its best! Not even negative comments could discourage Suad, who built this cool and super useful app in one month, with no budget. He was still a high school student but was able to manage everything alone: planning, developing, communicating his idea and introducing the outcome to his community.
About the project
EU Youth Programme Priority:
Youth Participation / Activism and Decision Making
In Bihać, a city of ca. 61.000 inhabitants, it is a big accomplishment that the app was presented at the yearly organised fair, EKOBIS. The young programmer’s app is already being used in a school, and another school plans to introduce it soon. A well-deserved SALTO Awards 2021 Special Mention!