San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Friendship Library lends books out of Atenas restaurant

La Carreta looks like a lot of sodas: The wooden tables are evenly spaced, the surfaces are brightly painted, and paintings of fincas adorn the walls. The menu is enormous and serves just about everything, from ceviche to hamburgers to hearty soups.

But La Carreta has something that few other restaurants have – its own library.

Robert Isenberg/The Tico Times

The Friendship Library was the invention of former librarian Linda Ledbetter and accountant Bruce Brasington, two expats from the United States who settled in the town of Atenas, west of San José. Over the years they have accrued more than 2,000 books, which they offered to house in the La Carreta restaurant.

Unlike a traditional library, there is no card catalogue, enrollment, or late fees. Patrons don’t even have to hush their voices on the premises. The books are divided into simple categories (fiction, nonfiction, Spanish-language, etc.), which are spread between two different dining rooms. In theory, guests could walk off with a book indefinitely, but they could also donate dogeared titles from their own homes.

Robert Isenberg/The Tico Times

La Carreta spent several years on a corner of downtown Atenas, right next to the central park, before moving into the current location about a year and a half ago. The former house is bright and quirky, and the books add a special ambiance. Part of the pleasure of browsing these volumes is discovering Brasington and Ledbetter’s diverse tastes: There are business handbooks, language primers, every variety of paperback novels, and a copy of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ficciones” in the original Spanish.

As it happens, Atenas already has a public library, part of the National Library System (SINABI). But it is a testament to the Friendship Library that the cantón’s largest biblioteca has about 12,200 volumes – only six times more than the restaurant’s.

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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Robert Isenberg

Dear Readers,

First off, I want to thank you for writing in. It is not often I have to receive corrective comments, but they are always appreciated. What is clear is that the books have a far more complex provenance than I realized, and the result of my understanding was to provoke hard feelings — the very opposite of my intent, and a mistake I would not have made had I better familiarized myself with the Atenas community. My apologies for prodding sore nerves, especially during a time of good cheer. As I learn more, I hope to amend this story to reflect its more multilayered context. In the meantime, I would also love to offer some volumes to Kay’s. I believe strongly in publicly accessible literature, and if a library must continue to be built from scratch, nothing would make me happier than to contribute.

Fondest Regards, and Happy New Year,


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George Bisset

I have heard about the troubles with this library, but if Kay and Hubby have closed the postres, and the books are serving the same purpose now in nearly identical circumstances, why is this such a large problem? Is there some other restaurant that wants to host them?

I have a large number of English books that I am looking to donate to someone in the west valley. This sounds like a good place to do it.

Peace, amigos.


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Claudia Leon

George, Kay’s never closed, it continues to operate under new ownership. Harold & Lisa Beasley, the new owners & hosts, are also continuing the tradition of facilitating an on-site library. Everyone just had to start from scratch, after the previous library was highjacked. Many books have already been donated again, so your volumes would find a great home there!!

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Claudia Leon

I can well imagine how the above, all too brief article about a lending library of mostly English language used books will upset many of the US and Canadian citizens, who now reside in Atenas. Over the years, they donated these books to live on the shelves of a different restaurant called ‘Kay’s Gringo Postres’. When Ms.Ledbetter & Mr.Brasington took possession of these books by removing them from ‘Kay’s’, deep resentment over this action erupted throughout Atenas. This little piece unfortunately and so very unnecessarily stirred the pot again. I won’t comment directly to either the events that transpired or legal ramification, since I lack knowledge about both. However, I would have expected a journalist to delve just a little bit deeper into an issue, before presenting it as fact. One little hint about the eclectic nature of the collection. It is not so much based on two people’s ‘diverse tastes’, as on the multitude of diverse people, who previously owned the books. But I noticed that Mr.Isenberg earned an MFA in creative writing, the ‘creative’ part of which might explain this cavalier attitude. I sincerely hope that this seasonal fluff piece won’t negatively affect the owners of ‘La Carreta’, who have built such a great place for all of us to enjoy!

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