Building School Libraries in Peru

by Jill Mitchell

On May 17th, I ventured on a study abroad trip to Peru with the University of North Texas. Cusco and Machu Picchu have been on my proverbial “Bucket List,” and when this opportunity arose to study library science in Peru, I couldn’t pass up the experience.  The 27 graduate students in my group were led by Toby Faber, Barbara Schultz-Jones, and Janet Hilbun. Yvette Corazoa and John Kurtenbach acted as liaisons to the three K-12 schools where we would assist in developing and modernizing their libraries.

This online scrapbook depicts my work in the school and my weekend travels.

Coincidentally, the adult reading program for the summer of 2011 was “Novel Destinations,” which fit perfectly with my mindset and mission of going to Peru. Fortunately the Meridian Library District graciously allowed me three weeks off to go on my adventure and offered 35 books in Spanish to donate to the schools.

Cusco is nestled in the Andes at approximately 11,200 feet and is a colonial city founded on Incan ruins. Half of the country speaks Spanish while the indigenous population speaks Quechua. I worked at Colegio Nacional del Cusco, an all-male public school that caters to the poorer population of Cusco. Their librarian, Pepe, has no budget for the library and has not allowed circulation of the materials due to theft.

Upon our arrival to Colegio, there was an antiquated computer and very old texts, with nothing purchased since 1978.  So the suitcases full of books were a tremendous help as the school’s collection grew to approximately 1,000 books. The Peruvian equivalent of the PTA also donated seven computers when they observed that UNT was there working and assisting their school. News spread quickly through the Cusco region and television crews came to interview the professors and Pepe on several occasions.  Hopefully, this notoriety will help the community support the continued effort to improve their school library.

Although I was there for only three weeks, it felt like three months.  My days were packed with barcoding books, cataloging, translating circulation policies between Spanish and English, and organizing the library when the shelves arrived. I have been asked several times what my favorite part of the trip is, and I would say it was watching the boys enter the library and snatch up books off of the shelf!

Jill Mitchell is Adult Services/Personnel Manager for the Meridian Library District.

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