Monday, May 30, 2011

Three Librarians in Mexico: A Report from the Field

A girl celebrating her quienceañera
This summer I had the pleasure of traveling to Mexico to study Spanish with two of my colleagues. We traveled as participants in Mount Royal University’s Guanajuato Faculty and Staff Exchange. This program takes Mount Royal employees to Guanajuato to study Spanish and brings employees of that university back to Calgary. Along with a lot of time spent studying, exploring bustling streets, relaxing in picturesque plazas, discovering magnificent archeological ruins and seeing the delights of Mexico City we had the opportunity to explore a few of Mexico’s libraries – although it took some determination to do so.

We never actually got to enter the first library on our list as the language-learning library at the school was closed for the summer. We left a set of nose prints on the door as we each gazed in at the shelves of resources off limits to us. It took two weeks to successfully find and enter the main university library, which also serves as the local public library. Without signs to indicate regular library hours or holiday closures it took a diligent series of visits by my colleague at different times of the day to determine that yes, the library was definitely closed for vacation. A few weeks into our visit the summer vacation ended and we were finally able to explore this library. It was a nice space and the librarian was welcoming and took the time to chat with us about it. A good chance to practice using our developing Spanish skills.

Guanajuato cityscape
From two libraries that we stalked with consuming interest to a third that we stumbled on by accident in Mexico City’s inner city. Although the streets just outside the library were very busy on the Saturday morning of our visit we were the only patrons in the library. The library staff were happy to welcome us and told us about the programs offered by the library. We explored the space and noticed that the collection, as with the university library in Guanajuato, did not have many new additions and the tables were covered with books drying after a recent leak. Just outside we admired the ceilings in the archways which were covered in murals painted by one of Diego Rivera’s students while trying not to get in the way of a pair of young men using the space to learn to walk on stilts.

Beyond libraries, my experiences in Mexico gave me some small windows into the interesting history and culture of this society. For example, the impressive archeological remains attest to the amazing achievements of the people living in Mexico 2000 years ago. Even today there are over 60 different indigenous languages that continue to be spoken. The elaborate parties associated with the quienceañera celebrations (these are parties that celebrate girls when they turn 15) are an interesting tradition and a pleasure to observe if you stumble across these groups pausing for photos on the steps of churches.  Libraries may not play a big part in Mexican culture but that doesn’t mean that books don’t. In Guanajuato there were bookstores in almost every shopping plaza we visited. One month in Mexico was long enough to let me know that I need to spend a lot more time exploring this fascinating country.

~ Francine May

1 comment:

  1. Apparently, there is more to Mexico than meets the eye. I would never have imagined that libraries could be any fun.