Library Service in Guatemala

by Georgi Bordner, Head of Technical Services

First grader checking out her first library book First grader checking out her first library book

During the last week of April, I had the privilege of joining a group of 13 “Librarians without Borders” from across the United States and Canada on a service trip to Guatemala. Our mission was to help the Colegio Miguel Angel Asturias, a private K-12 school in Quetzaltenango, with a variety of projects intended to improve the library and promote literacy. I was part of the group that cataloged and processed almost 200 new books that had been donated to the library, and other members of our team conducted a workshop for the teachers and planned activities for the children, such as stories, skits, and crafts. As one of only five Spanish speakers in the group, I also had many opportunities to serve as an interpreter for the other members of the team.

Having spent a number of years in ministry in Latin America and with Latin Americans, being in Guatemala almost felt like being “home.” However, while the culture was very familiar, working in the school environment was a new experience for me. I enjoyed helping some of the younger children with their craft projects, as we glued “capes” to popsicle sticks to create superhero bookmarks. It was also fun to see how excited the first and second graders were as they checked out their first library books. One little boy read to me from the Garfield book he had selected as he stood in line at the librarian’s desk. I know he was looking forward to reading the rest of it at home!

In addition to working with the children in the library, we had opportunities to talk with the school’s founder and director about his philosophy of education. The curriculum at Asturias is built around monthly themes that teach social values and practical skills in addition to the traditional reading, writing, and math. The theme for April was ecology and the environment, and we joined a group of the older students on a field trip to a local glass blowing co-op, where we learned how recycled glass is used to create a variety of useful and decorative items. We also visited the home of a high school student who lives in a local farming community. He makes the long trip into the city every day for school because the school in his town only goes up to 8th grade, and he wanted to take advantage of the higher education Asturias offers. His father proudly demonstrated the electric pump that he uses to water his crops, built by his older son who learned about electrical work when he attended the school.

We didn’t spend all of our time working! We enjoyed additional activities such as a tour of Quetzaltenango, a visit to a local hot spring, and stops at the city of Antigua and several towns along the shores of Lake Atitlan. I am very thankful to have had this opportunity to explore Guatemala, as well as contribute toward the improvement of the school library there.

A selection of photos from our trip can be viewed on the Library’s Facebook group and Google+ page.