San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Young Ticos take a ride on the Bibliobús

“Bus! Bus! Bus!” 

A crowd of chanting children hangs on the fence and welcomes the brightly painted bus that has just parked outside the school’s front gate. Once a month, the small bus that has been converted into a mobile library and dubbed “the bibliobús” visits selected schools around Costa Rica.

Its wheels have gone round to cover hundreds of miles and visit thousands of children during its four trips per week. At each school visited, students get to sit in the bus to hear a story, choose books during free time and make art projects at tables set up outside, in the shade of the bus. The National Public Library System (SINABI) supplies and staffs the bibliobús. 

Recently, the bus stopped at CEN CINAI Gravilias, a public school that doubles as a daycare center. Carolina Gamboa Lizano, the bibliobús’ librarian and storyteller, said most kids show up at the school at 6:30 a.m. and stay until 6 p.m. The bus serves schools with students of varying economic levels, and these are considered “marginal students,” she said.

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Nikole Durán, 10, boards the Bibliobús with other students.

Gabe Dinsmoor

“Often, the bibliobús is the only access children have to books,” Lizano said. “We need to catch them when they’re little and put books in their hands. Hopefully I can help them like reading – it’s a key to success.”

The story of the day was “The Three Little Pigs and the Big, Bad Wolf.” Lizano held an electronic tablet up for all to watch the story. Of the seven groups of 130 students that passed through the bus, most were attentive and well behaved. Others had to be threatened with being sent back to the classroom, after which they quickly hushed. They didn’t want to lose their bus privileges.

After the story, Emilie Vargas, 3, sat and colored outside at the miniature plastic tables. She chose an intense orange for all the figures from the “Three Little Pigs,” and said she liked the story, even though she had heard it before. Seeing on the electronic tablet made it different, she added.

Her teacher, Melissa Chacón, is in charge of 18 children aged 2-6. For both Chacón and the students, the monthly visits from the bus are always exciting. “The bibliobús is incredible,” Chacón said. “We have very few materials and this allows them to go to another place where maybe they can be a little happier.”

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Bibliobús librarian Carolina Gamoba tidies up for the kids.

Gabe Dinsmoor

At the moment, books on the bus are showing some wear and tear. But a shipment of 300 new reads is expected within the month, according to Olga Rodríguez, director of Costa Rica’s public libraries.

“We hope to teach the kids … to love to read,” Rodríguez said. “They are our future and we want to see them educated so they can be informed, critically-thinking citizens.”

In 2011, the bibliobús visited 14,000 children. Rodríguez said favorite stories include “Mommy, Tell Me a Story” and “Animals of the Farm.” “Today we read to them, tomorrow they read to themselves and soon they will be reading to others,” Rodríguez said.

Sofia Mora, 11, said her favorite story is “Romeo and Juliet.” She read it last time the bus visited, this time she couldn’t find it. She said the story of the “Three Little Pigs” was OK, but “it’s for little kids.” All age groups using the bus get the same story. Mora hopes that on the next visit from the bibliobús, there will be a copy of “Romeo and Juliet” waiting for her.

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