Nicaragua’s First Lending Library (December 2003)

As seen in Between the Waves, Edition 5/December 2003,  February 2004.
By: Cheryl Serra

The students in Louisa Amanda Sanchez’s class at Escuela Victor Manuel are using their imaginations more since the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil mobile book project arrived at the school, bringing books to many students who previously had none. “These students especially like the picture books”, Sanchez says, “because they are able to create elaborate stories based on the pictures.”

Sanchez has taught at the school, located in San Juan del Sur, for the past seven years. Prior to the arrival of the library’s mobile book project, there were no books for students in Ms. Sanchez’s class. Students would copy everything they learned from the notes she wrote on the blackboard.

The mobile book project is one of several programs sponsored by the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil, the first and only community lending library in Nicaragua. A few schools in the country have research libraries, but they have limited operating hours and, like other libraries in Nicaragua, no books are allowed to leave the facility. The Biblioteca Movil was founded by Jane Mirandette two years ago to obtain and provide books for the residents of the town and surrounding communities.
The library currently boasts some 1961 registered patrons and 2492 books in Spanish and English. Increasing the number of books in Spanish is an ongoing library goal. In addition, the mobile project currently operates two days a week, covers 13 communities, and has provided library cards to 822 children, teachers, and members of the community.

Over the past two years, the library has offered a series of English classes for adults and children designed to address students’ needs. For example, some classes were tailored to the needs of adults working in the travel and tourism industry while students studying in universities enjoyed conversational classes. Children’s programs include story hours, science projects, and crafts.
The Biblioteca Movil currently has three salaried employees. Volunteers donate their time cataloging and organizing the books, teaching English classes, and driving their own vehicles for the mobile project.

Amanda Clarke, who helped administer the library and taught English classes, says the library and mobile project help create opportunities for locals and travelers alike. “This is a place where young meets old and the lucky ones are people like myself who are able to share in the experiences of the people of San Juan del Sur and the surrounding communities,” she says. “The library and mobile project continue to provide people from different walks of life with the freedom of endless learning.”
Mirandette recalls the early days of the library when it was housed on the patio of a local hotel. The children who came to register for their library cards and take out books were both excited and perplexed, as the concept of a lending library accessible and free of charge to members of the community was a new one. Many took out their allotted two books only to return the next day to replenish their stocks. Often they were accompanied by friends who wanted to borrow the books being returned.

In an effort to improve library services in San Juan del Sur and to expand the concept and implementation of public lending libraries in Nicaragua and other Central American countries, Mirandette recently sought and received approval from the Hester J. Hodgdon “Libraries for All” program to become a tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(C)(3). Hester J. Hodgdon is Mirandette’s late grandmother, who instilled in Mirandette a passion for reading. The HJH Libraries for All program’s goals include soliciting funding to support the continued development and success of the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil, providing the means and encouragement needed for other lending libraries to be established and providing the funds and coordinating volunteer efforts to maintain and support educational, language and literacy programs in conjunction with libraries and community centers in Nicaragua and other Central American countries.

Sue Hart benefited from Mirandette’s experience in setting up a lending library in Central America. Several months ago, with Mirandette’s assistance, Hart began a community lending library in Guatemala. In a recent email to Mirandette, Hart wrote, “The kids in my host family were enthralled by the books. Two of the girls spent a whole afternoon in the library looking through the entire collection. They are in kindergarten and just beginning to read. In the evening, the oldest boy read to his eleven cousins. That sparked afternoons in which one of his younger cousins would read to me from his second grade reader. I understand that in a matter of days one of the middle school kids was on chapter 10 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For those of us inured by technology, it was a real eye opener. The power of a book where there was none is incredible.” For more information about the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil or to find out how you can help, please email Mirandette at janem101@aol.com.


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