Every time I walk into one of the BiblioWorks libraries, it over joys me to see children and young adults engrossed in books. Often Maritza and I go to the BiblioWorks’ libraries to meet with mayors and district superintendents of education, train librarians and committee members or some other work related task. In our most recent visits some of the mayors were not available to meet or the librarians were too swamped with work to receive trainings or the library committee members were taking their winter vacations in a warmer locale, so we had to just hang around the library. At first I was angry at the mayors and at the librarians for being so irresponsible. However, it turned out to be one of the best rounds of trips Maritza and I have taken to the libraries. Boy reading in Sopachuy library
In Sopachuy I read stories to a group of first graders, while Maritza taught them songs from her childhood. In Presto we played board games with groups of young kids and then we all taught each other the numbers from 1 to 10 in all of the languages we collectively knew (I think we got to 5 languages!) In Villa Serrano, where the children and teen-agers clearly love their library and take care of it, we helped out finding books that would help them with their difficult homework assignments, and then we took funny photos with all of the kids in the library. In Yamparaéz we had a formal ceremony with the mayor, the superintendent, the entire library committee and all of the teachers and school children in town (from 1st to 12th grade). The library committee organized games and reading contests for the kids, and the mayor’s office and BiblioWorks gave almost $3,000 worth of new books plus a new computer for the librarian to use in the library. In Morado K’asa we met with the new library committee, who has promised to take better care of the library and assure that the community pays the librarian’s monthly salary. We took a couple of new books to the Morado K’asa library with us, including a few agricultural manuals. By the end of our time in the library, the adult members of the new library committee were heatedly debating, in Quechua, issues they had discovered in these new full-color agricultural tomes. However small the change may be, hopefully they will be able to improve their crop output through reading. Lastly, in Tarabuco, where BiblioWorks has had so many problems working, we helped the librarian organize all of her books and understand which books go with which subject and which code of the Dewey Decimal system. In the afternoon we watched as teen-agers poured into the library to do their homework and some just to get lost in a new book and travel to a new land.
Girl enjoys being in the library in Villa SerranoKids having fun competing in reading activities in Yamparaez The point is, as this fiscal year comes to a close, the six community libraries that BiblioWorks has established are flourishing, each in their own way. People (especially children), are learning that reading is a gift that can take them anywhere and give them tools they need to improve the quality of their lives. Outsiders who visit our libraries tell me, “even if one child in every library learns to love to read, that is a huge accomplishment.” They are right, but I see more and more children picking up books and “loving” reading. While encouraging reading habits is our main objective and an objective we have made great strides in completing, our libraries are so much more than just reading centers. Our libraries are also centers for; the children who go to play board games and learn to count to 10 in Swahili or Chinese in the library in Presto, the young adults who meet in the library every week to plan community service projects in Morado K’asa, the children in Villa Serrano who go to the library to do homework and read and socialize with their friends all at the same time, the librarian in Yamparaéz who goes door to door to teachers’ houses offering them books they might need for their classroom instructions, the first graders in Sopachuy who go to the library to sing and put together puzzles and watch videos every Friday evening, and the teen-agers in Tarabuco who have organized a music club in the library three times a week where they collectively learn how to play the zampoña (Andean pan pipes). Motivating people to use the libraries has been a challenge, and BiblioWorks has carried out many creatively designed workshops in order to reach our goals. Bolivia has a rich, vibrant and diverse culture and our organization is making strides to preserve and support that culture. Aside from people reading in the libraries we hope they will use them to promote and host cultural activities, hold town debates or meetings, have educational movie nights, organize town-wide fairs endorsing the library and any number of creative activities, conferences, meetings or workshops which the library committee and town members organize and support. Maritza hanging out with kids in the Presto library
As the 2008-2009 fiscal year and my first year working with BiblioWorks comes to a close, I am proud to say that each of our libraries has a functioning library committee, a dedicated librarian and a steady stream of children and teen-agers who use the libraries everyday to improve their minds and open new doors and paths for themselves. Each library in its own way is on the road to self-sustainability; economically, structurally and logistically. In Yamparaéz each library user has a library card which costs a few Bolivianos. The money they earn from the library cards is put into a fund to buy new supplies and books for the library. In Morado K’asa there is a new photocopier which fills this same role. In Villa Serrano the library committee along with the librarian, are implementing a small café in order to raise money for the library. Each library has its own plan for economic sustainability. There is still much work to be done and BiblioWorks hopes this new year will be even better than the last, with even more accomplishments and meeting more of our long term goals for brining sustainable community libraries to places where before there weren’t even books!