Though Biblioteca Seis Punta Arenas (#6) in Chile is not the southernmost public library in the world, it’s awfully close (I think Puerto Williams, just over one hundred miles south, probably gets that honor if one rules out McMurdo). In January (their summer) while in Punta Arenas, the largest burg in windy and wild southern Patagonia, I had the pleasure of visiting it.
I spotted the bike racks, pretty wrought iron and varnished wood benches and Biblioteca street sign (as opposed to our reader symbol, it’s an open book) a few blocks from central Plaza de Armas and across from a bus shelter. Admiring the pink and white etched bricks on the sidewalk…
…I entered a foyer where standing banners advertise available resources and invite users to submit their complaints, suggestions and compliments. Amid maps of Chile and informational pamphlets, a table captures natural light streaming in through plate glass. Tots waiting for parents to finish perch on tiny seats next to a small display of kid’s stuff. Crossing the gleaming tiles, I went down to meet Ninfa S. Vidal, Jefe Biblioteca Pública N° 6, whom I had written to in advance for permission to take pictures.
Ninfa came when they moved here in 2001. Her degree is in Technical Administration but through the years, she’s taken continuing education classes, earning a diploma in Library Management from Alberto Hurtado University and other credentials. She also spent time at libraries in Spain learning about their practices and policies so she could implement the best of them at Número Seis.
We started in the basement with Biblioteca Infantil, which can be sealed off to keep noise from filtering upwards.
This charming room boasts multicolored chairs and fancifully painted furniture – little movable shelves are painted with scenes of sharks and orcas, literate teddy bears and crowded streets. Patterned pillows and primary hued carvings accessorize while a poster proclaims reader’s rights and suitcases full of cultural titles whet your desire to travel, at least virtually.
First year students start reading in March, and five months later can read a little by themselves. So in August, for El Mes del Niño, each six and seven year old gets a book. Having their very own book encourages reading and during the same fun filled evening, beginners receive a #6 membership as parents and teachers beam with pride.
The library also had an exhibition of images of outstanding children’s authors and does a lot with kids in both government and private kindergartens. There are school visits and at least one story session per week (often daily during the school year).
Facebook shows chess workshops for kids and teens and a lively story hour with puppets, kamishibai and other activities. Youngsters in costume perform plays and speak to a regional writer and painter. Halloween brings Tales of Terror and game playing nights. Adults get lectures on Antología de los extremos de Chile (Anthology of the Extremes of Chile) and Gnostic Astrology or go to health and UFO talks or scrap booking with all the tools provided. Photos of community meetings and the latest titles pepper the page.
Up one floor we stopped to chat to the incredibly friendly and obliging staff. Three full timers work in the 6500 square foot facility. Catherine’s spot is near the comics, anime and manga.
They also have Rincón de la mujer and Rincón Jurídico y Referencia – women’s and legal and reference corners. Large heaters occupy each level as even in summer it’s usually pretty chilly this close to the pole.
We headed up three flights…
…passing the lobby where what looks like a life size sculpture of an orc guards your possessions on coat hooks below cut out letters warning if you don’t hang your stuff you risk misplacing it…
…to the light and airy study mezzanine at the top. Students are on holiday now, but during term, #6 is hopping and gets 150 people a day.
Magazines and newspapers are here and, its windows plastered by flyers of library happenings, a nicely appointed staff room with storage and overflow crafts, as well as cooking equipment, a fridge and television.
There’s a second stairway and a spiffy technology lab where all ages can learn Word, Excel, internet and e-government. Perfect for older people who may need skills to write to youthful relatives or find a job, you get a certificate once you’ve completed the course successfully. Outfitted with a printer, cabinets, whiteboard and overhead projector, it’s a benefit of DIBAM, the National Library and Archives Department.
Punta Arenas has five bibliotecas públicas – #6 is the largest and is a legal depository too. Along with Number 47, it belongs to, and so receives materials from, DIBAM. The other three libraries depend on the municipality for support. Ninfa’s location also has Friends who apply for federal grants and raise funds for projects and books.
To promote literacy, each month, #6 brings “Traveling Boxes” to neighborhood associations, charities, sports clubs, retirement homes, hospitals, prisons, preschools, and day care, community and senior centers.
On April 23, World Book Day (designated since it was the date in 1616 when Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (early Peruvian writer) all died), they have events and prizes for readers in five categories – the very young, children, adolescents, adults and elders. The gift books are sponsored by a local company or donated by an institution (part of Ninfa’s job is soliciting contributions) and winners get a diploma certifying them as the best readers as well.
Above the stacks, a saying on a plaque roughly translates to Mistreating a book is destroying a dream and a print of an old woodcut of a woman retrieving a book from a well is captioned When a good book quenches our thirst.
Smiling Waleska was busy barcoding things for the national catalog, (a project begun in 2008 by Sistema Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas (SNBP), ensuring a future when all Chilean public library materials will be accessible online) but along with Catherine, took the time to make me feel at home.
The Sistema does some printing and produced a lovely diary and a calendar tailored to libraries in Región de Magallanes y Antártica Chilena (there’s even a shot of happy toddlers in #6’s adorable children’s space). And SNBP handles the website, which offers downloadable articles, books, movies and audios.
Number Six has wifi and five free public computers that are first come first served and if no one is waiting the 45 minute sessions can be extended. They have around 17,000 books, magazines, graphic novels and a small selection of media that people can borrow, but most videos and DVDs must be viewed in the building. Cards are free for residents and with the Aleph System, customers can borrow from any library in Chile. The 2000 cardholders can check out three items for a week or more depending on demand.
It seems wherever you turn, the cultural heritage and bountiful beauty of the country are celebrated and old black and white photos of indigenous people and past events emphasize this. Ninfa proudly showed me volumes by Pablo Neruda and Isabel Allende, perhaps the country’s most well known literary icons, and a prehistory of Chile. Number 6 also has a sound archive for Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego with 737 recordings spread over fifty compact discs. On National Heritage Day, #6 hosts programs and last year to commemorate Chilean chanteuse Violeta Parra, they positioned a speaker to play her songs onto the street.
It’s been a fascinating tour and I feel so welcomed. Ninfa is lovely and personable as she rattles off answers to my questions, but my Spanish is so bad I can’t understand much until patron Vicky Guisande pops in. Now living in Croatia, but here on family matters, her work in the tourism industry ensures her English is great. What a stroke of luck! Vicky was tremendously helpful in garnering information for this post, though all mistakes here are mine – well, perhaps a few are Google Translator’s as a question about home delivery, their service for those too sick to leave the house, came back implying home birth 😉
I was so impressed by the dedication and hard work of the #6 employees. Everyone is very committed to improving the lives of the population by bringing them books and activities. Citizens of this remote city are truly blessed to have such a marvelous library!