Saturday, November 7, 2009

Biblioteca Publica Municipal

En route from the U.S. to Nayarit, we were on the road for five days. We’d driven through the sparse, semi-deserts of Durango and Chihuahua and confronted snarling traffic and complicated construction detours through Zacatecas City. San Pancho was still eight hours away. As if a ball of yarn were slowly unraveling, the thread between our two homes lengthened with each mile.

Outside of Zacatecas City a sign announced the tiny town of Santa María de Los Angeles. We wound through the narrow cobblestone streets and bumped over the topes. At the zocalo, the town center, we stopped. The morning quiet of the plaza invited a pause in our journey.

In the square lush flowering plants surrounded concrete benches. At the center was a bandstand, a faded beauty with filigreed wrought-iron railings.

I crossed the park to the buildings on the opposite side. Their decorative facades, with cornices and columns and ornate lettering announced their official status: the Centro de Municipio, the Auditorio Municipal and the Biblioteca Publica, the public library!

Irresistible! The door to the library was open. I peered inside. In the small entry hall a brightly-colored bulletin board had an October display--a science theme with stories about Galileo and telescopes. Next to the Bienvenidos greeting, a sign-in log and suggestion box. a dispenser of hand-sanitizer. No eating or drinking, another sign cautioned in Spanish!

Five children looked up at me from the small, wooden tables where they sat, books spread open in front of them. I smiled, hesitated. As if on cue, their heads turned to look at the woman at the desk a few feet away. Aware of their attention, she put aside her papers, noted my presence.

“¿Puedo ayudarle, May I help you?” the librarian asked. “Quisiera echar una mirada alrededor, I would like to look around,” I responded.

“Por supuesto, of course,” she answered, smiling.

The central room, silent and hushed, was dimly lit, long and narrow with groups of tables in the center. Book shelves lined the walls. Drawings, displays, stories, maps and paintings filled every available space. I stopped first at the non-fiction, books, the Dewey Decimal numbers neatly written on their spines, then at the reference books—Mexican history, encyclopedias and a dictionary. Too big for the shelves they resided on a solid wooden cart. On the back wall, clearly alphabetized, was a smaller selection of adult fiction. Finally, on lower shelves, within easy reach of small hands, all of the children’s books. I almost missed the color- coded card catalog: search by title, author, and topic.

I breathed in the sense of order and calm, the familiar comfort of the library, and I thought about the small neighborhood library where I worked this summer. Our library had computers, printers and busy telephones, so the hushed reverence of this biblioteca was a thing of the past. Still, isn’t time spent in the company of books the same world-over?

I approached the librarian. “Thank you, I said, “You have a wonderful library.”

I wish my Spanish had been up to the task of telling her more. I wanted to tell her that those of us who work in libraries are very lucky. I wanted to say that nothing is as welcoming as a library’s open door. I wanted to explain how the ends of the thread are tied together for me now.

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