Erected on Santo Domingo Savio (SDS), one of the seven hills encircling Medellín, Colombia, the three black monoliths of Parque Biblioteca España (PBE) are just a short walk from the Metrocable that whisks commuters up the mountainside. Perched high above the red tiled roofs and artfully graffitied sidewalks and edifices of the quarter, PBE truly is a park.
Medellín had the wonderful idea of surrounding their libraries on the fringes of the city with vast green spaces and having them address the need for more culture and education in these sections of the metropolis. Since the first settlers started farming here in 1964, SDS developed haphazardly and its narrow and precipitous streets made access to the rest of the city and its institutions difficult until the cable car was installed. The library park concept capitalized here on the newly available transportation and is quite a boon for the area. This biblioteca was the fourth such facility and is named for the support given by Spain’s Agency for International Cooperation. It was inaugurated in 2007 by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of that country.
The park follows the contours of the slope and has stairs running all through it. Outside the building, a lamp post with shimmering silver balls casts a glow on the gray brick walkway, and wood slatted benches and chairs invite you to relax amidst the hedges and trees.
When I was checking in at the administrative office by the front door, Maria Cristina Álvarez, Directora Parque Biblioteca España, with whom I’d been corresponding about this visit, returned. She was very pleasant and helpful though we quickly realized it would be best for me to send any technical queries I had via email, where I could continue to depend on the language skills of the free web Spanish translators.
PBE’s entrance is on Piso 1 but due to the steep slope of the terrain, there are two additional levels underneath, so it’s actually on the third. Directional signs in Spanish and English make it easy to get around. You’re greeted by a very modern lobby with gleaming tiled floors, five triangular upholstered maroon seats, brushed metal poles and sparkling bathrooms. Some walls are a vivid orange or green glass while others are composed of a dark shellacked brick.
Views of the Aburrá Valley and the mountains around Medellín are visible through an arty jumble of vertical bars.
A corridor leads to exhibition halls, an auditorium, classrooms etc. in the two sections of the structure that are used for community edification and events.
In the part dedicated to materials and research, PBE has seven stories altogether – each has either computers (more than 100 public ones) or a collection of items for children, teens or adults with the top one given over to Medellín Solidaria, an agency that assists the neediest citizens in finding benefits and other ways to better their existences.
The architecture of this dark cube is fascinating. It’s basically a floating interior as on most levels you can see down several floors and the main spaces are separated from the exoskeleton of the building by several feet.
Captivating design seems to be the norm here with neat touches like these tilted windows. Because of the light and airy open plan, they don’t require much illumination or air conditioning – though being on a peak that’s more than a mile high and in a place nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring also helps.
Low shelving everywhere allows for visibility and affords plenty of space for curios like these intriguing models of homes scattered around the adult collection, perhaps for a contest?
The library offers books, magazines, encyclopedias, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, CD Roms and graphic novels and patrons can bring in drinks. Open from 8am-7pm Monday to Saturday and on Sundays and holidays (!) from 11am to 5pm, it’s part of Sistema de Bibliotecas Públicas de Medellín (SBPM) which has 24 locations, a busy Twitter feed, flickr and YouTube accounts as well as a Facebook page filled with pictures, videos and announcements. Another page on its site features a profile of one of their young users.
SPBM’s catalog is integrated and soon you’ll be able to order items from other branches. Residents can borrow from any facility or remotely search electronic databases and download ebooks. Titles go out for ten days and can be renewed twice if not on hold, but must be returned to the library they were borrowed from and reserves have to be picked up within 24 hours.
PBE has its own blog and provides reference support and one on one web assistance.
It feels quite spacious and its fixtures let them promote materials nicely.
In the Adult area, I met Juan Esteban Prisco Cañas, the Room Technician, who was very welcoming and informative. He speaks excellent English so I peppered him with questions (any mistakes in interpretation are mine). Juan mentioned that they have a neighborhood room which collects history about SDS and that PBE uses artists from the district to decorate the library. They hold concerts and theatrical events in the park and showcase local talent. Their mission is the cultural advancement of the people in the vicinity and they also look for problems to see how they can improve their lives. As such, they work with nutritionists, social workers, medical specialists, etc.
These are system wide aims. One objective on SBPM’s webpage is (roughly translated) “being a bridge between the community and the various institutions that can supply information and knowledge.” It’s great to see how they strive to aid their customers, and to make sure they are being effective, they survey their service population - statistics show their impact – and I love the comment section below the misión statement where users can give feedback and suggestions.
Perhaps due to their stated goals PBE has innovative and exciting programming – there’s a Grandparents storytelling group that specializes in making audiences of all ages aware of the barrio’s past and in November the 16th Latin American Congress of Sexology met here and held sessions centered on the helpful theme of sex and the elderly. The previous month they were one of the sites for the International Film and Video Festival of Indigenous Peoples and earlier in the year, the Silent Glances series trained deaf participants in photography. This month there will be a public forum on preventing sexual exploitation and child abuse.
One long term project lets teens in the region learn about nanotechnology and how it can improve their environment and another, Cinexcusa, has faculty from Uniminuto University teaching students from a local school about film. In October kids worked on producing illustrations and then got the chance to meet an author/illustrator.
By the doorway to Children’s the saying in large cutout letters that reads (loosely translated) “A book can’t end war or feed a hundred people but it can feed minds, and sometimes, change them.” keeps the purpose of the library at the forefront of young minds.
Tables are arranged in hexagons so groups can study or create together. A vibrant hand-painted sign with a girl and a boy pointing at a patchwork balloon announce the room’s target audience and a model of a ship draws youngsters in.
It’s a very appealing space with tot sized furniture, brilliant papier mâché containers, a big multihued elephant tethered by a chain above a wealth of board books and a bright mobile with puffy cars and pets hanging from an overhead beam. On the wall, numerous panels by the storytime mats sport a little man in a yellow hat, perhaps a representation from Curious George, in various scenarios – including being driven in a tuk tuk by a monkey.
My husband was delighted by one of the featured titles – Horrible Science’s That Chaotic Chemical.
On the other kid’s floor there are at least 33 colorful computers stuffed with games and screensavers that advertise programs like a Sunday matinee presentation of Astro Boy being held in the auditorium.
Joven (YA’s) also have their own computer and materials levels, but a sudden rainstorm after school had packed these areas so tightly, I couldn’t get any pictures.
Near the crowd, side by side garbage bins labeled recyclable and not recyclable instruct with clear descriptions of the types of things allowed.
Elevators give everyone easy access to all the floors, so I went up to the fourth where the 35 PCs were all occupied by customers sitting below two of the marvelous long murals that overlook the interior atrium. Some of these paintings depict sunsets and skies and in another a pensive youth looks down on the bustle.
The library really is the lifeblood of this community. Inhabitants can go to talks on water issues, or Arts and Culture for Life. A sampling of SBPM’s calendar for just one week in February included films, erotic poetry readings, discussions, lectures, origami workshops, internet searching classes, numerous storytimes, game and book clubs for all ages and so much more.
What a magnificent place and how fabulous that Parque Biblioteca España is succeeding so well in its intentions!