Public Libraries in Venezuela and Bolivia – a Guest Post by Kathy Smargiassi

This last summer while vacationing I toured libraries in Maracaibo, Venezuela and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and the big difference between libraries there and here is that you can’t check out books from the library. All resources must be used on-site.  The other big difference is that they don’t have a common cataloging system, like Dewey or Library of Congress here in the US.  In fact, none of the librarians I talked to had ever heard of Melville Dewey.  They each had their own homegrown system of organization.

The library “Biblioteca Pública del Zulia” in Maracaibo was very modern, with a computer lab, a research room (separate from the regular collection room), a Braille room for the blind and an on-going Summer Reading Program activity in the Children’s room when I visited. The library’s Summer Reading Program is fully integrated into a country-wide program of activities for children during the summer.  I didn’t ask if they had story-times during the school year.  Most of the books in their children’s area were picture books, which is understandable as it would be harder for children to keep coming back to read the longer books.  Their conference/meeting room was a small, tiered auditorium, with projector and sound system; nicer than in our library at home.  They even had a café in the courtyard between the various library rooms.  The librarian (who’s name I did not note down) who gave me the tour was very nice and spoke English for the benefit of my husband who does not speak Spanish.  He had never heard of audio-books, but the Braille room was full of patrons.  He even gave me a handout with Venezuelan children’s poems for me to try and incorporate in my story-times at home.  The library also has a video projection room to view videos on-site.  Considering how big Maracaibo is, with almost 2 million residents, the library was fairly small, and it was the only library in the city.

The municipal library in Santa Cruz was not highly used when I was there, and I only saw 2 computers in the whole library – both on library staffer’s desks. I was unable to find a website for it.  The children’s librarian had never heard of story-times, and the children’s area was set up mostly to help with homework, rather than to encourage reading for pleasure.  In some ways, their collection development policy was almost the opposite of ours: they collected textbooks and non-fiction to support homework, and their fiction section was very minimal.  They had adult magazines on hand for parents to read while waiting for their children to finish their homework.  The furniture in the whole building was straight 1940’s hardwood chairs.  Upstairs I found the archives, where they kept newspapers dating back to the 1950’s or a little before.  They were in date order, but had no indexes or microfilms for newspapers going back even further.  In talking with one of my local contacts in the area, we both agreed that Santa Cruz does not have a culture of reading for pleasure at all.  Santa Cruz is a slightly smaller city than Maracaibo with 1,616,000 inhabitants, and I was somewhat surprised that it’s the sole public library, as Santa Cruz is filled with colleges and universities, both public and private.

-Kathy Smargiassi

Guest blogger

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One Response to Public Libraries in Venezuela and Bolivia – a Guest Post by Kathy Smargiassi

  1. Pingback: These are a few of our favorite things (at public libraries) | The Librarian is In

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