I recently got a chance to visit Biblioteca Nacional “Miguel Obregón Lizano” located in San José, Costa Rica.
Founded in 1888, the Costa Rica National Library is in a huge, multistoried building that was inaugurated in 1971. Costa Rica has a long library history which is nicely shown on their lowest level.
With 58 public libraries, the National Library, plus one Bibliobus (you have to see these pictures!), the Sistema Nacional de Bibliotecas (SINABI) is a great example of collaboration we would do well to follow (especially considering the recently averted threats to U.S. library funding). Public libraries with little money can benefit from the efforts and budgets of larger libraries, and projects like Bibliobus encourage children to read and bring materials and services to people in rural communities with no other access to libraries. The whole country (and world!) profit from the electronic and scanned materials available on the SINABI website.
Costa Rica is an amazing country with a rich and wonderfully progressive history and the National Library has done a grand job making sure that everyone can learn about it. They have a large Conservación y Restauración Department where they are preserving old books and other printed materials.
And they have special collections for everything – CR authors, first editions, history, music – basically anything produced in Costa Rica. Though you can’t check items out from the closed collections as they are more for study and research, you can listen to music and use items under supervision. SINABI’s website has digitalized materials from the mid 19th century and forward – newspapers, important magazines, special books about CR, maps, songs, pictures, local histories and exhibitions are all available there.
The staff were so friendly. Although I speak execrable Spanish, the people behind this desk (I’m not sure, but I think the staff needs to fetch these items for you) were patient and even got a patron to translate my questions.
And then luckily, the woman in charge of the website and the reference department appeared. Laura Rodriguez speaks excellent English and talked to me extensively about SINABI efforts in Costa Rica. They have been converting paper records for the last two years and though they probably still have about a million records to go, anything new goes immediately into the database, and journals and newspapers from about 1981 and forward as well as all books from 1996 forward are in the online catalog.
On the main floor, there is a big reading room.
And a little holiday spirit.
And if you need a break, just outside there are green trees and cooling fountains.
They have wi-fi, plus free internet on twelve computers. They also have another 8 computers for customers to access the databases. Laura also told me the National Library has children’s materials interfiled in the collection (because those materials have to be preserved). However, since many CR kids prefer the internet these days, a year ago, they cleverly launched their eBooks for children and youth section, so reading seems just like the internet. This should improve their reading habits 😉 as will the children’s materials and many pro-reading activities at public libraries scattered across the land.
What an asset for this magnificent country!