La Biblioteca celebrates 58th anniversary
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Helen Wales, the founder of the Biblioteca, probably never imagined that her work would live on and would be extended beyond a simple private living room with books and magazines. On November 21, La Biblioteca turns 58 years and will celebrate not just with several activities and exhibits but with challenges that, according to the current president of the board of directors, Ken Rowland, can be met.
Beyond the living room
Don Juan Manuel Fajardo, who has been chief librarian of La Biblioteca since 1973, has fresh in his mind the history and evolution of La Biblioteca, and he shared it with Atención. “The story begins in the private living room of a Canadian woman, Helen Wales, who used to see many inactive children in her neighborhood, so she decided to invite them to her living room, where she had some storybooks from her grandchildren and magazines. The number of visitors kept growing, and after three years they needed more space.” For that reason a group made up of local Mexicans and expats got together to rent the house next to Helen’s place at Callejón de Chiquitos in el Centro. In 1954, La Biblioteca emerged, offering since its beginning art and painting classes and a small retail shop. The House and Garden Tour was also conceived back then.
In 1957, according to Don Juan Manuel, the local and state government gave in bailment to La Biblioteca the part of the building that currently houses the children’s room, young people’s room and the Spanish books area. After restorations the Biblioteca y Centro de Bienestar was inaugurated on November 21, 1958. Later, the government assigned to the organization the space now known as the English room. “The current reception office was a café and a ticket window for buses, because the bus station was located on that street then, but after some time the government also assigned the space to La Biblioteca,” said Don Juan Manuel.
In 1975, Atención San Miguel was launched as one of the enterprises of the organization, and it used to operate in the area occupied currently by the chief librarian. In 1993, when Vicente Fox was governor of Guanajuato, the current space of the Café and Teatro Santa Ana was handed over to La Biblitoeca.
La Biblioteca, said Don Juan Manuel, began with about 12,000 books and 800 members and users with more than 30 visitors daily. It currently has more than 60,000 books and more than 2,500 users and members and more than 400 visitors daily. The library continues to help low-income students with scholarships; it also offers art and painting classes for children and also maintains through the children local and Mexican traditions.
Challenges for La Biblioteca
Ken Rowland, president of the board, said that the major challenge for La Biblioteca is the need for income. “The tourist and resident populations have changed over time but the Biblioteca’s ways of making money have not changed as much as the populations, so we need to rapidly modernize the way that we are functioning in order to bring in more donations and profits from our enterprises,” he commented. “We need to modernize the business models to meet and emphasize the needs and desires of local Mexicans and foreigners who live in San Miguel. We have always made our money from tourists, and the tourist population has changed, so we need to change our means of income to conform to the new reality. Now, there are more Mexicans visiting the city.” Rowland said that he hopes to form a theater company at La Biblioteca and offer more performances in Spanish. In the future they will also analyze options of offering digital as well as printed books. He also commented that next year there will be a full online edition of Atención. In January, he said, the new computer center will be inaugurated. This center will offer computing classes for adults in the morning as well as for students in the afternoon.
Among the activities to celebrate the 58th anniversary of La Biblioteca, the exhibit “Who We Are at the Biblioteca” will be inaugurated. It consists in mosaic tiled of self-portraits created by children, La Biblioteca staff, volunteer teachers and even the president of the board. This exhibit is part of the Mosaic Tile Program given by San Miguel resident Colleen Sorenson. She said that she conducts this workshop because “I believe in giving young artists an opportunity for self-expression, to have a voice.” This exhibit will open on Friday, November 23, at 5pm in the Biblioteca patio.