This following Interview with Jane Mirandette and June Powers took place by phone in 2007. It has been published in a number of university publications.
An Interview with Jane Mirandette by June Powers
Encompassing a wide range of responsibilities, access services means many different things to many different people, with global variations in what it means to the end user. This particular interview is an attempt to shed light on the global perspective on access to information. Perspectives from all viewpoints are welcome. If you know anyone with an interesting perspective on access services, or if you yourself want to be interviewed, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me why.
Meet Jane Mirandette
My first two interviewees for this column were both librarians, but the longer you work in libraries the more you realize that there are many people who work in and advocate for libraries that are not library professionals, but nevertheless deserve recognition for their contributions to our field. Jane Mirandette is just one such individual. Ms. Mirandette is the President of The Hester J. Hodgdon Libraries for All Program, a non-profit organization established to support the SJDS Biblioteca Movil and to promote
lending libraries in Nicaragua. The mission of the organization is “to solicit funding and provide support for the continued development and success of the first public lending library in Nicaragua, to provide the means and encouragement needed for other lending libraries throughout Central America and to promote the activities of book mobile projects serving outlying regions.”
Libraries for All began when Ms. Mirandette moved to Nicaragua upon retiring and decided to open a bed and breakfast, which she still operates. As part of her services to her patrons she provided multilingual books because her clients were both Spanish and English speakers. She noticed that her staff would read the books on the patio, but never borrowed them. Finally one day Jane said, “You know, why don’t you take them home?” Her employee looked at her, gasped, and said, “No, you can’t loan books.”
When Jane inquired about why books couldn’t be loaned she was told it was because they would get stolen. She there is a “rigid concept in many third world countries that to loan a book is to lose a book.” There were a number of national libraries in Nicaragua, but they were non-lending. This discovery compelled her to do something about the fact that the town she lived in had no books available for borrowing.
JM: There were no books for children, there was no way to read
to your children at night, there was no way to get the information
if you couldn’t afford the book in school, and there were only
three or four bookstores in the whole country. The wealthy
people had books – they got their books when they went to
Miami, and they got their books on Amazon.com, or when the
kids went to grandma’s. The English speaking schools, which
are where everyone who has money sends their kids, had books.
But for the average person, not even the very poor person, but
the average person had no access to information or books for
Determined to rectify this lack of access to information, Ms. Mirandette began loaning her books to people in her town. “I worked with loaning just the little books I had, and then I got more books.” From that small start, the program has blossomed into 22 libraries across Nicaragua, and a 23rd library is in the planning stages. Libraries for All inNicaragua now has over 12,500 books in the main library and over
8,000 books in the mobile projects. They service over 5,000 families in the main library and over 3,800 children have library cards. In the mobile project, they have another 3,000 books. The program has also expanded into Costa Rica which now has three lending libraries. According to Jane, “a lot of this expands beyond books in the hands of children – it really opens up the world to communities.”
JM: One of the things that happened a year and a half ago, was
that the head of the school department, the director of schools in
our area, came to me and said he knew that we bought books
and would we mind buying copies of the books that are the
school curriculum because, and I wasn’t aware of this, over half
the children in most of the schools didn’t have textbooks.
JLP: How are they supposed to learn if the don’t have the book?
JM: Exactly! Could you imagine learning physics or social
science without your book? Of course, we are not wealthy so we
couldn’t supply books to all the children, so what we did was
supplied six or seven copies of each book and we have class
study time in our library. We actually had to expand where the
tables are in the library to accommodate the high school and
middle school students that come to study in groups. Studying in
groups is something that was never done before. That’s just
one little way the paradigm is shifting.
The local community has a strong base in the fishing industry. Even traditional activities such as this have been positively affected by Jane Mirandette’s pioneering efforts.
JM: The fishermen discovered the books and they will go out to
sea for 10 days at a time or 15 days at a time, and what they
started doing about three years ago was borrowing. Two or three
guys would be in charge of borrowing the books. They would put
them in Ziploc bags to keep them dry and what started to happen
was competitive fisherman would go fish in their own areas
during the day but anchor in the same place at night and share
the fuel to make light so that they could all read. Providing
books, is providing information that really jumps starts a whole
When asked about the future of Libraries for All and how the mission was developing, Jane spoke of her desire to see the proliferation of libraries, but emphasized the need to focus on sustainability, while at the same time maintaining fiscal responsibility with grant monies and charitable donations.
JM: As we grow, and as we recognize how successful what we
doing is, it becomes so much more important ot to fail – that
we maintain it financially. We are very frugal in what we do,
everything is very grassroots. People send us things; people
supply what we need in crafts. There are several women who
send us those things. American Airlines ships for us with their
Ambassador program. Right now, we are in the middle of our
annual matching funds with British Petroleum. An employee
there works with us to help us get the financial stability we need.
I’m also looking for a private foundation to take us on. We are a
501c3, which is an IRS accepted charity. We have over four
years of tax returns, and we have all of our financial papers. It’s
very transparent, very cleanly done. So that’s our biggest goal –
to find financial stability with some sort of foundation that can
I asked Ms. Mirandette about what lessons had been learned throughout the process of opening the dozen libraries in Nicaragua, and how the program had changed between opening the first and twentieth libraries.
JM: One of the things that I started doing is more speaking,
and so I’m less involved in the hands on and have recognized
how important it is to empower the people that work with you
to do the jobs themselves and not try to micromanage. I think
it’s true in whatever field people are in where they have a foundation.
There is a paper actually that two of us wrote last
year for the American Library Association poster session called
“Seven Aspects of Sustainability.” One of the things we
learned is that you need to be transparent in your finances. I
think the most important thing I learned is that you never impose.
We don’t knock on doors and say “would you like a library?” We
can barely handle the flood of people asking us. So knowing
your target market and knowing that they want what you’re
providing is probably the most important thing I learned.
Programs like ours evolve naturally, and what has evolved to this
point has included these other groups which find there own
funding and do their own promotion – all we do is supply
experience and expertise. I’d like to see us expand into
community centers and teaching facilities all over Central
America. We need English classes that don’t cost a lot.
Everyone needs driver education; everyone needs more
education in every field, particularly literacy. For people to have
access to a better quality of life, they need marketable skills.
I asked Ms. Mirandette about the relationship her libraries had, if any, with the governmentally operated libraries of the country that were not providing lending services.
JM: There are 143 libraries in Nicaragua. When I first joined
ANIBIPA, the Nicaraguan national library organization, there were 142, and
none of them loaned books. It took them two years to accept us
because we were loaning our books. Now seven of those
libraries have some sort of lending, not necessarily a full lending
program, but they are much more active in lending, which we
have been able to help with. They have a campaign with the
literacy by having various local activities like having people come to the library for story hour. We just gave a class on story hour and a raffle of books.
We had all the powers at be – the bankers, lawyers and Indian
chiefs at out inauguration of the American Library Association
sponsored worldwide program called “In your library –
En tu bibliotheca,” and 46 of the 143 libraries joined the campaign
to inspire literacy. The main speaker, the Minister of
Education at the time, said he envisioned the day when we could
loan out the books and half the audience turned and grinned at me.
I do believe that day will come.
As with any non-profit organization, these wonderful programs and services don’t materialize out of thin air, but are supported entirely by the financial support of donors and the work efforts of volunteers. One thing Libraries for All is in need of is assistance with grant writing, an ongoing and detailed process. They are currently looking to write grants for two new projects. One is the compost to computer project, where money is raised to purchase computers from the sales of compost. This would allow for the expansion of computer classes into larger programs. Internet access for the libraries would also require writing a grant to bring the idea to fruition. According to Ms. Mirandette, the North Americans who live in the area buy satellite dishes for their Internet access, but it is not publicly available. Libraries for All is thus in need of
someone to write a grant for the money it would take to provide public Internet access through the library and also to provide equipment and access in the school. Volunteer efforts in the Nicaraguan libraries are also crucial to the success of the program. Libraries for All volunteers come from library schools, Spanish classes, and other college programs. Some classes have held a drive for books or stuffed animals for
Christmas, and other institutions have held fundraising drives.