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NGOs of San Miguel: Public Library

By Karla Ortiz

The caring heart of San Miguel de Allende beats through the organizations that work every day to cover the needs of the less privileged. Our city is nationally known for the large number of charitable organizations maintained by volunteers and donors. To date, 114 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are registered with the NGO Liaison and Assistance to Foreigners Directorate since its opening in 2010.

The purpose of this new series of articles is to introduce the different NGOs that exist in our city. We will discuss NGOs in 15 categories: art and culture, economic support, Daycare, sports, schools, social development, education, environment, animal protection, health, emergency services, society and government, orphanages and daycare centers, cultural preservation, and housing and shelter.

Bringing Education to San Miguel’s Youth

One of the oldest NGOs in town has existed for nearly 60 years, thanks to the efforts of a multitude of volunteers and donors. La Biblioteca, also known as the Public Library or simply the Library, has as its main goal to bring education to Mexican youth.

The library had its beginning in 1954, when Helen Wale, a resident of San Miguel, began inviting young Mexicans into her home on calle Hospicio to enjoy a collection of magazines. The meeting place soon became popular among local youth, and several expats offered to get tables and chairs where young visitors could do their reading in greater comfort. People began to donate books and children’s stories in English that they translated themselves into Spanish. Within a year, the program had grown so much in popularity that it needed to rent a larger space. By 1957, it was so successful that organizers asked Jesús Rodriguez Gaona, then governor of Guanajuato State, to establish a space for a library accessible to the entire community. The following year, he offered them the facilities of the old rastro (slaughterhouse) located on Insurgentes 9 (now 25) as a loan. Volunteers, mainly expats, raised money for the restoration and remodeling of the building. On November 21, 1958, the Public Library was officially inaugurated in a ceremony that Gaona attended.

Ever since, the many library volunteers over the years have left their important marks, volunteers such as Gloria Graham, Marny Martin, Toni de Gerez, and its first librarian, Professor Benjamin Garcia.

These days, La Biblioteca has many fundraising entities designed to maintain the library and fund its multiple education-related programs, but the very first was the House and Garden Tour (still one of its most popular activities). Then came the sale of hand-painted crafts and postcards produced by the children who use the library, guided by volunteer painters. In 1982, the library expanded its reach outside of the urban part of San Miguel and began a program to support rural school libraries in the municipality, starting with the donation of books and shelves. The Santa Ana Theater and Café opened in 1993. The theater shows films, puts on a variety of arts performances, and hosts lectures on a daily basis.

The library currently has approximately 60,000 books—in Spanish, English, German, and French—and awards more than 100 scholarships to community youth.

The most visited cultural center in the city, La Biblioteca is filled with joy, color, and energy that run through its halls. Children attend daily courses and workshops to enrich their knowledge. Visitors and locals come every Tuesday and Thursday to participate in bilingual conversations, designed to help people practice Spanish and English but also to create a bridge of communication between Mexicans and foreigners. From the time it opens in the morning, the Santa Ana Café is filled with people who have picked books off the shelves to read. They enjoy music from buskers hoping for a few coins and lively conversations in a variety of languages.

All of this is possible thanks to the dedicated staff and volunteers and to the donations received daily from those who champion La Biblioteca as a center of learning and culture.


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