SAN JUAN DEL SUR – Jane Mirandette first started lending books to people in San Juan del Sur seven years ago, from the small collection of reading material that she kept in the reception area of her beach hotel,Villa Isabella.
The concept of book-lending, she says, was foreign to this once-sleep fishing village. “People didn’t know what borrowing was,”Mirandette remembers.
Then one day a young Nicaraguan girl asked if she could look at one of Mirandette’s books while she waited for the bus outside the hotel. After several hours and several missed buses, Mirandette realized the girl wasn’t waiting for a ride at all, but just making an excuse to sit and read a book that didn’t belong to her.
And so was born the idea for the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Móvil, the first free lending library in Nicaragua, which last weekend celebrated its sixth anniversary with a big bash that epitomized the importance of this institution to the community.
Today, the Biblioteca Móvil, located across from the church, has 4,800 registered patrons, both children and adults, and some 12,500 books in Spanish and English. A mobile library project started in 2003, brings an additional 8,000 books around to 27 rural outlaying communities, where children and adults sort through bins once a month to pick out books to hold them over until the next library-truck comes by.
Mirandette has also started a client-library project that provides a $300 “library in a box” starter kit to help get other libraries up and running around the country and in neighboring Costa Rica.
In San Juan del Sur, the Biblioteca Móvil, which has become a popular volunteer program for visiting foreign university students, is now a full-service library, providing story hours, arts and crafts, high-school study groups and computer education.
Mirandette says she is thrilled with the project’s success, especially among children, many of whom have eulogized the library through poems and drawings.
“The children have made it their own,” Mirandette says.
For 7-year-old Tamara Victoria, one of many library patrons to win a reading award during last Saturday’s anniversary party, the Biblioteca Móvil has become a home away from home. Tamara says she first learned to read in the library and still visits five days a week to read with friends.
Her favorite book features Clifford (of oversized crimson canine fame).
The library is also a hit with many adults.
Carlos Adan Fonseca, a local fisherman and construction worker, has worn out several library cards in six years; he estimates that he has checked out more than 3,000 books. Foseca recently thought he had read everything in the library until Mirandette showed him the back room, which will keep him busy for a couple more years.
Fonseca said that when he would go out to sea fishing, he would bring 20 or so books with him to read at night. When he isn’t working, he said he can usually be found in his hammock, plowing his way through two or three books a day, or reading to his kids.
“I have read everything, from romance, to action, to fiction, and even books for women,” said Fonseca, who last Saturday returned another batch of 23 books, everything from biographies on Fidel Castro and Simon Bolivar to harlequin romance novels.
Fonseca is also pleased that the library offers children in the community a safe and “healthy” place to go.
Mirandette, who purchases new titles with donated money and with the help of socially conscience publishers, says she is pleased that what was once a foreign concept has now become a successful community project.
The patrons, she says, are very grateful for the project and take excellent care of the books, helping the library have a return rate that is much higher than most public libraries in the United States.
“People here took to the concept immediately,” Mirandette said. “People don’t abuse the system; most of the abuse is from American backpackers. A library might be casual to [foreigners], but it’s not to the people who live here.”
To find out more about the Biblioteca Móvil, or to help, visit www.sjdsbiblioteca.org, or email email@example.com.