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The Biblioteca’s 59th anniversary

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

La Biblioteca has turned 59 and has been celebrating since the beginning of November. The celebration will conclude on November 21 with a talk on the historical importance of the library building, a callejoneada (street party), and a concert by soprano Gaby Perales. All the events are free.

A brief history

Helen Wale, a Canadian resident of San Miguel, lived on Callejón de Chiquitos. In the early 1950s there were not many activities for students after school, so they often hung out in the street. Concerned about that situation, Wale invited a small group of neighborhood children to her house, where she would read them stories from books and magazines she kept for her grandchildren. The group grew, and her house was not large enough to accommodate them. Wale’s friends rented a house next to hers, and in addition to books and magazines it offered a painting class. Thus, what we now know as La Biblioteca was born. Postcards were also for sale there, and that small business enterprise eventually grew into La Tienda.

In 1958, the federal government ceded the current building to La Biblioteca, which originally had only a children’s room and books in Spanish. Later, a collection of books in English was added. The bus station of La Alteña was located at that time on calle Insurgentes, and the current main desk of the Biblioteca was the ticket office. This area, too, became part of the Biblioteca. The remaining part of the building, which now houses the Teatro Santa Ana and Café Santa Ana, was integrated into the Biblioteca in 1993, when Vicente Fox was the governor of Guanajuato.

Social services of the Biblioteca

Sandra Suaste, general manager of La Bibliotea, noted that one of the library’s most important programs is the awarding of scholarships, which over 35 years has helped more than 8,500 students finish their university educations in the urban area as well as preparatory and secondary studies in rural areas.

The institution also offers piano, guitar and pre-Hispanic music classes in which students learn not only to play and appreciate music but also the importance of Mexican culture. Other students who prefer not to play an instrument have the chance to join the choir “Pajaritos,” where they learn to read and write music as well as develop their singing abilities.

The institution also offers several workshops, such as the painting workshop in which students learn to express themselves through the creation of art, a continuation of the art classes begun at the inception of La Biblioteca back in 1958. Paintings and postcards made by the students can be purchased in La Tienda.

Every year in July and August more than 250 children attend the summer workshops offered by the library, and groups of volunteers teach them how to develop their artistic skills through theater, painting, singing and music.

Among many other offerings, there are also English and computer classes, as well as a science club where the students learn to understand not just the human or animal anatomy, but the composition of the plants. The club also includes basic knowledge of astronomy.

Business ventures sustain the library

Since its beginning the Biblioteca has been self-sustaining. At first kept afloat with donations, later businesses were started to help fund the library’s programs and pay its employees. One of these, La Tienda, is a small store that sells, among other items, artwork, jewelry, crafts, books and newspapers.

The House and Garden Tour, started in 1955, is another of the Biblioteca’s popular enterprises. Held almost every Sunday, the tour takes visitors to outstanding houses opened to the public by their owners in order to benefit the library. For visitors to San Miguel, this tour is often one of the most memorable parts of their trip to the city.

The Bodega de Sorpresas (Warehouse of Surprises) is a place where an eclectic mix of second-hand items and clothing donated to the Biblioteca is sold on Thursdays. The store is run by Mexican women who volunteer their time.

The Teatro Santa Ana, which has a seating capacity of 85, is one of the most important venues for cultural events in the city. The library does not charge the organizers to hold events there if the event is free. If an entrance fee is charged, 30 percent of the profits must be donated to the institution. Next to the theater is Café Santa Ana, which offers quality food at reasonable prices.

When the Biblioteca first opened it held 12,000 books and had 800 patrons and about 30 visitors per day. Now it has more than 70,000 books in English, French and Spanish and is one of the largest libraries in Latin America.

Atención appeared for the first time in Friday June 20, 1975 and since then, it has informed about what happens in the city and has been the voice for the different sectors in San Miguel, from the rural communities to the urban area. The newspaper also includes information of the nonprofit organizations, government, tourism and traditions. The copies issued range from two thousand to three thousand in the highest season when the content is distributed in 120 pages. It appears every Friday and its price is 10 pesos. The profits go straight to the social and cultural programs of the Biblioteca.

Programs to celebrate the 59th anniversary

The activities to celebrate the library’s anniversary started on November 5 with a workshop in which children learned to create art with recycled glass. It was conducted by artist David Godínez and Pat and Joe Miller. On November 7, children had lots of fun at a comical magic show put on by José Luis Mendoza. On November 9, writer Jesús Ibarra, the editor of Atención, presented his most recent book, El Jardinero de fantasmas, vida y obra de Carlos Ancira. The book tells the life story of Carlos Ancira, a great actor who became famous by performing more than 2,500 times over 25 years the monologue “Diary of a Madman,” which revolutionized Mexican theater.

On November 14, a concert took place at El Sindicato, featuring Gaby Urbina and Giovanni Berra. Finally, on Thursday, November 21, at 5:30pm in the Sala Quetzal city historian Graciela Cruz will give a talk about the historical importance of the building that houses the Biblioteca. At 6:30pm, a callejoneada will leave from the Jardín and end up at Sala Quetzal, where a free concert will be offered by soprano Gaby Perales.

Gaby Perales began studying music in 1995 and has given more than 200 concerts in Saltillo, Coahuila. She also studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila and recorded a CD in 2000. In that year, she also participated in a performance of  Carmina Burana with the Symphony of Chihuahua. In 2009 she took part in concerts with Ensamble San Miguel in Guanajuato and other states. She has also performed in Teatro Ángela Peralta as well as in the church of San Francisco.


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