6 Irrational Fears that Are Crippling Your Freelance Writing Career

It was almost 4 AM, and I was still glued to my computer, reading my resignation letter for the 4,867 time. My freelance writing business was taking off, and I was making enough money to quit my job and support myself. Granted, I wasn’t rolling in cash like Scrooge McDuck, but I was making enough to support my travel extravaganzas. Yet, I was questioning my decision.

So, I get you. Deciding to quit your job to pursue a career in freelance writing services, feels a lot like jumping off a cliff and trying to craft a parachute on the way down. It’s equal part exciting and terrifying. What if you get rejected? What if it’s hard to find new clients? What if you don’t know the topic well, and you make a flagrant mistake? What if your ideas aren’t good enough? What if you don’t have enough experience?

These fears are something that every freelance writer encounters during their career. It happens to the best of writers, and the worst of writers.

The difference is the best ones know how to overcome their fears and build a lucrative business. It’s all about having the right mindset.

With that in mind, here are six irrational fears that are holding you back.

  1. You Don’t Feel Ready

I’ve seen many great content writers stuck at the starting line, obsessing over every single detail, and waiting for the right time. Here’s the hard truth: if you wait for everything to be perfect, you will never start.

Everything you need is in place right now. In this day and age, when you have access to a seemingly endless stream of resources, building a freelance writing career is easier than it was years ago.

  1. You Are Afraid of Hard Work

Succeeding as a content writer requires a lot of hard work, especially in the early stages when you are striving to build a steady base of clients and figuring out what niche works for you. Be prepared to work 12 hours a day, during the weekend or holiday and pretty much anytime you find a spare second.

I know it sounds tiring and stressing, but despite the enormous amount of work, there’s something incredibly validating about the freedom and control a freelance writing career has to offer.

  1. The Competition Is Stiff

Many writers start their freelance career thinking that it will be easy to find new project constantly. But, they realize quickly that the competition is fierce and need to bring something new to the table to stand out.

Comparing yourself to more experienced freelance writers can be intimidating. Some content writers have spent years building their portfolios and reputation. Savvy writers understand that they have a lot to offer to businesses – fresh perspective, desire to learn and work hard, etc. So, don’t get scared by the competition and keep in mind that your skills will get better with time. Focus on growing your client base and learning as much as you possibly can.

  1. Change Scares You

Most people are afraid of change, which often leads them to make decisions that guarantee everything will remain the same. Even when they are dissatisfied with certain aspects of their lives, they still rarely take action.

You need to accept the fact that change and progress go hand in hand. You cannot grow as a writer or business person if you are not ready to get out of your comfort zone. Remember that your core values won’t change, even when your routine and lifestyle are altered.

  1. You’re Afraid You Will Fail

One of the biggest concerns that are holding you back is fear of falling short, especially when you are just getting started. What if you can’t get enough clients? What if you don’t have enough discipline?

Successful freelance writers are calculated risk takers. They never jump right in and don’t leave too much to chance. They understand that, to evolve and achieve success, you need to get out of the comfort zone. But, they do it through strategic planning, analyzing risks and anticipating mistakes.

  1. Fear of Conflict

Most people have a romanticized representation of writers. They imagine them sipping tea in a brightly lit apartment while typing on their computers.

That’s a nice image, but the reality is different.

Content writing is both art and business. Sure, you need to be creative enough to offer a different approach to a boring topic or to structure your texts in an engaging way. But, you also need to negotiate prices and deadlines, pitch ideas to prospective clients, answer complaints, and so on. So, if you want to make a living as a freelance writer, you need to overcome your fear of conflict.

Final Thoughts

That morning, I resigned from my day job and focused on my freelance writing. Two years have passed, and I’m still enjoying being my own boss and working on my terms. I’m still not rolling in money like Uncle Scrooge, but I’m getting closer every day.

What Should I Major in to Become a Librarian?

If your career goal is to become a professional librarian, be it in a public, academic, school or other type of library, one of the first questions you are likely to ask is about the educational qualifications. Specifically, what should you major in to put yourself in the best position to land a job as a librarian?

First, an undergraduate degree in librarianship is extremely rare, so that is not the common path. Instead, just about all librarian jobs will require a master’s degree in library in information science. This is a professional graduate degree that usually takes 2 years, and many schools offer online programs or other flexible options for those already working. Courework ranges from traditional topics such as reference and reader’s advisory as well as emerging technologies such as programming, web design and database management.

With that said, however, the question remains: what should you major in as an undergraduate to put yourself in the best position to snag a librarian position in the future after getting your master’s?

Officially, it doesn’t matter, as admissions at library schools do not require any specific major. But traditionally, the highest percentage of students applying to library school are drawn from the humanities and fields such as English. Applicants coming from other backgrounds such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) often stand out more and their candidacy might be given a boost. It is also a good idea, if you are able to plan ahead, to align your major with the type of work you hope to go into after receiving your master’s. For example, if you desire a job as a Social Sciences Librarian at a top university, you would major in something like sociology or anthropology. Job ads will often prefer or even require that candidates have a degree in that area.

But the majority of jobs do not require specific college majors, such as general reference and instruction positions as well as the majority of jobs in public libraries. Additionally, you should always be aware that your library career goal today might change dramatically once you are exposed to a new area through coursework or student work experience. Perhaps the best advice, then, is to simply major in something you thoroughly enjoy without thinking too much about how it could relate to a library career. There aren’t any firm requirements and it can be impossible to predict how those skills might translate into your future dream job.

Finally, it is also necessary to understand that not everyone who works in a library is a librarian. Library assistants and paraprofessionals play important roles as well and do not require graduate study. If simply working in a library environment is your goal, then you can often do so with a college degree in any major and the required training. In some cases a high school diploma will be sufficient. As with any employment , it is beneficial to start looking at job ads early on in the game so you familiarize yourself with common requirements while you still have plenty of time to achieve them.

Community College Librarian: A Job Description and Intro to the Field

Although their job market is far from perfect these days, librarians do have a wide variety of work environments to choose from, including public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, school libraries, corporate libraries and more. But even within those categories there is still a staggering amount of diversity.

Academic libraries are one example where the type of institution plays a major role in the type of job to expect. The same type of librarian, say reference and instruction, will usually have much different duties if he or she works at a Research 1 university, a small liberal arts school or a career college.

Community colleges in particular are a sector of higher education that is growing in importance, and librarians there play a key role.

An Intro to Community College Librarianship

In general, the librarian positions at community colleges are less focused on research and scholarship in favor of teaching and front-line service. (Although in many cases library positions are tenure track-faculty.) Librarians’ duties are much more focused on students, as community college faculty do less research and scholarship. Collection development, of course, is still a major collaboration between the library and faculty. And at some institutions faculty do indeed conduct research and librarians also might help professors during the process of writing grants or similar proposals. But overall, everything is done in direct support of the student.

Community college curricula are often very textbook-driven, and the library’s mission is often to supplement these with appropriate print books, ebooks, journals, databases and media. There aren’t as many “upper-division” classes due to the schools being two-year, so library instruction programs often focus more on introductory level courses and researchers who may be experiencing such lessons for the first time. The available programs at community college are often highly technical in nature, which can significantly alter the ways that librarians can add value.

By their nature open door institutions, community colleges attract an incredibly diverse group of students, which can be a challenge when teaching. But librarians can turn this into a benefit by taking extra effort to listen to the needs of all students and design instructional experiences that will benefit everyone.

The library staff at a community college is typically smaller than you would see at a research university, even when the school is quite big, and as a result librarians often have a variety of responsibilities. Salaries, however, are often higher, often due to the fact that community colleges can be more valued by state and local governments due to the close connection to workforce needs.

Another challenge for community college librarians is the fact that there is often high turnover among a faculty made up a significant percentage of adjuncts. This can make outreach much more challenging, even merely making all faculty aware that there is a library there to support them. (It also should be noted that community colleges aren’t the only place where this is an issue.) With regards to outreach to students, most community colleges are commuter rather than residential, so students often leave right after their classes. By designing and maintaining an attractive, comfortable space, however, librarians can make their building an attractive spot for students to camp out at during the day.

Often there is less financial support for librarians’ professional development than at four-year schools. Some options around this include getting involved on a local level; it is wise check to see if there is a state-wide consortium or nearby city where there are organizational meetings.

Despite some of these challenges, community college librarianship can be incredibly rewarding. Many times students are motivated by the opportunity to change their lives and you can truly see the impact of your work. I’ve found community college students of many different types–some the first in their family to attend college; others older and working or hoping to regain employment; still others completely new to the United States–who were incredibly appreciative of the library’s efforts to provide personalized assistance and help them navigate the often messy world of academic research.

Spending Time On Other Academic Library Websites to Make Yours Better

As librarians we constantly strive to ensure that our websites are easy to navigate and our language is relatively jargon-free. This can be a challenge when there are so many resources and services to highlight and also a wide variety of users such as underclassmen, grad students, research faculty and members of the wider community.

We are constantly tweaking and improving our sites in accordance with best practices, but an objective look at our own pages is often impossible because repeated use has conditioned us to behave in a certain way. We know exactly where to look for what we want. This is one reason why focus groups with new users are crucial for website redesigns.

I was reminded of these points as I perused another library site and came across a sentence that casually referred to the name of the the local catalog, the state-wide consortium and a local FAQ-type help service. Our website has nearly identical pages explaining our corresponding services, and as a librarian I was able to quickly understand what it was about, but seeing acronyms that meant absolutely nothing to me still made me step back and scratch my head for a second. It seemed foreign to me in a way my own library’s pages never could be, no matter how objective I tried to be.

And what if I were a student at that school? Would those acronyms lose me forever? In the age of apps and bite-sized pieces of content, research is increasingly showing that users take a quick scan of a new site and decide almost immediately if they want to stay or go. And if they go, they most often don’t return.

Also, what about navigation? On my own site I know all of the quick clicks to our catalog, to the research guides, to the A-Z Databases list. But many users not only don’t know where those links are, but even what the various services mean?.

This also had me eager to explore other “foreign” sites and try to approach them as I would as a student.

I don’t propose any grand suggestions to these major issues, but I do suggest that spending more time on “foreign” library sites can make a big difference; for helping break you out of the habits you’ve developed on your own site; for putting you in the shoes of a novice user; and for exposing you to a wide variety of possibilities for organizing an academic library website (or public, special, etc.).

Here’s an academic library game you can play to start to do this.

1. Go to a random university homepage. Get to library site as fast as possible. (Sometimes more difficult than you might assume!)

2. Once on the library site, see how quickly you can navigate to a series of pages. Suggestions:

  •         The local catalog
  •         The research/subject guides
  •         The state-wide consortium catalog
  •         The A-Z database list
  •         A list of databases by subjcect
  •         An email address for subject liasons
  •         etc. etc.

You can also ask yourself, what’s on this front page that I don’t care about/doesn’t seem necessary? What should be more prominently displayed? What jargon (local or otherwise) isn’t adequately explained. With these questions you’ll also be much more open-minded than on your own website.

This type of game can help you view a library site as a student and find barriers, which is impossible on your own site due to the fact that you use it every day, and it also makes you more well-versed in online systems and might give some fresh ideas as to what works and what doesn’t when you’re talking academic library websites.

Whose Culture Is It, Anyway? The Long Journey of the Stockbridge Bible

Whose Culture Is It, Anyway? The Long Journey of the Stockbridge Bible

A large folio edition of the Bible printed in Oxford in the early 1700s might not fit the typical profile of a Native American cultural heritage item. But the Stockbridge Bible, given as a gift to the Stockbridge Indians in 1745, is just that and more.

The two leather bound volumes symbolize so much of the tribe’s collective history: the early conversion to the Christian religion, historical ties to the Revolutionary War and the arduous journey from Massachusetts to New York to Wisconsin, where the group would eventually settle and become the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe.[1]

But unfortunately, the Bible would disappear from the tribe in the early 1930s, and its whereabouts would remain unknown for about two decades. Then after it was located, the Stockbridge-Munsee people would engage in a 15-year struggle to regain possession of their prized Bible. Although there was no felonious theft involved, and the final judgment regarding the Bible was issued in probate court, not a packed federal courtroom, the story is a fascinating tale of stolen culture and a devoted effort to reclaim it.

By the time a Massachusetts judge put pen to paper on December 19, 1990, the saga of the Stockbridge Bible had been going on for nearly 250 years. In 1745, eleven years after the tribe allowed an English missionary to set up an Indian mission near their settlement in Massachusetts, Reverend Francis Aysough, a representative of the Prince of Wales, felt compelled to give the Indians a major gift when he heard about their conversion and successful mission town (Siemers 2007).

Aysough had the two volumes of the elegant 1717 edition of the Bible bound. Thomas Coram, a London philanthropist who had been in contact about raising money for mission schools, wrote an inscription on the cover of the Bible, declaring it “the gift of the Rev. D. Francis Ayscough to the Indian Congregation at Housatonic in New England.” Coram also wrote a longer message inside, where he wrote that the Bible “is to remain to the use of the Successors, of those Indians, from Generation to Generation; as a testimony of the said Doctor’s Great Regard for the Salvation of their souls…” (Siemers 2007) These dedications would prove important centuries later.

The Stockbridge Indians accepted the gift with enthusiasm, and made the Bible one of their most cherished possessions, even when they faced some extremely difficult circumstances. Many Stockbridge Indian men fought in the Revolutionary War, but when they returned, they found that most of their land had been taken (Cooper). Because of this, the tribe was forced to move to western New York around 1785. Then in 1820 the Stockbridge were on the move again, this time to Wisconsin. The Bible came along during these migrations, and the tribe even built a special oak chest to protect it (Cooper).

After they settled in their present location of Shawano County Wisconsin in 1856, little is known about the exact location of the Bible over the next few decades. It next surfaced in a newspaper article in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, the Bible had mysteriously disappeared from the reservation and the majority of the tribe had no idea where their prized volumes resided. Two members would eventually find out.

Jim and Grace Davis yearned to learn more about their ancestors and the history of the Stockbridge tribe. In 1951, the husband and wife made a pilgrimage to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to visit the original settlement. The Davises explored various historic sites, took in the sights and sounds of the town, and learned a lot about their forbearers.  Then they entered a building called the Mission House Museum. When they saw their tribe’s priceless Stockbridge Bible sitting in a case, they were stunned. (Cooper, Siemers 2009) How did the two volumes end up in a museum run by whites over 1,000 miles away from the tribe? And how were the rest of the tribe’s members unaware of its location? To understand the answer, we must return to 1908.

At that time, the exact whereabouts of the Bible within the tribe were unknown. Earl North, a local minister, wrote in a Calvinist newspaper that “the Bible was found in a deserted house and was carefully cleaned and put in a place of safety at the home of Mr. Jameson Quinney.” There is little evidence to back up this assertion, and other accounts say that the Bible was not lost and re-discovered, but rather brought to Quinney because he was a tribal leader (Siemers 2009). One fact suggesting that the Bible was never neglected or placed in inhospitable conditions is its present spectacular condition: “Considering its age … it doesn’t appear to have suffered any damage” (Siemers 2007). But on the other hand, the tribe was facing conflict and severe economic hardships at the time, so it could have been temporarily misplaced as the tribe dealt with more pressing issues.

Regardless of what actually transpired, awareness of the Bible increased greatly as a result of the article and its possession by Quinney. The publicity would prove to have significant consequences. Quinney showed off the Stockbridge Bible at a Presbyterian Synod meeting in 1915, and by this point, word was spreading about the unique and valuable item. Soon after, he transferred the Bible to a safe on the altar of the John Sargeant Memorial Church for security. It is said that around this time Quinney was offered several thousand dollars for the two volumes, which he refused (Siemers 2007).

Then in 1927, an article in the Milwaukee Journal took the abandonment angle to a new level. After giving inaccurate information about when and how the Bible had been acquired, the story describes how Kuni (Quinney) rediscovered it. “(Kuni) was poking aimlessly around a rubbish heap in 1875 when he saw what looked like a piece of good leather.” This is likely an exaggeration of the earlier minister’s report, and this same story was retold in an article published in the local Shawano Advocate. The latter article has been described as “full of racial bias,” (Siemers 2009) as it describes the Indians mistreating the magnificent item by stashing it in a pile of trash. It also depicts them as hoarding the Bible for themselves instead of letting the whites control it. The Milwaukee Journal says that act of misplacing the Bible made the Indians “disconsolate, for surely the wrath of the white God would come upon them.” These two articles played a strong role in spreading the story of the Stockbridge Bible to new people. One of these people was Mabel Choate.

An affluent collector of antiques from Masachusetts, Choate planned to build a museum to honor the Reverend John Sargeant, who initially converted the Stockbridge tribe in the 1700s. She naturally wanted as many of their documents and artifacts as possible, with the Stockbridge Bible being the crown jewel of their possessions. By this time, Quinney was nearing the end of his life. He took the Bible away from the church and back to his house, perhaps fearing that the tribe was at risk of losing it to whites after the publicity of the newspaper articles (Guthrie, Siemers 2007).

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The Current State of Libraries in Mexico: Service, Connectivity and Culture

Read the previous part: Problems Plaguing Mexican Libraries in the 20th Century and the Plan of 1984

Since the plan of 1984 was so well organized, it was much more sustainable than previous programs, and today, each town with a population of at least 5,000 people has its own public library. Mexico boasts the largest public library system in Latin America, which is a particularly impressive feat considering that the nation is less than half the size of Brazil in both geography and population (Lau 2010b). Public libraries are funded under a three-tier system within the government. Broader library policies and acquisitions and collection development practices are decided by the federal government; building construction and facilities maintenance are the responsibility of state governments; and staff hiring and payroll are handled by the municipal governments (Lau 2010a 3629). Each of Mexico’s 31 states as well as the Federal District have a central public library which fulfills a management role over the network of libraries within that state.

Overall, Mexican libraries are well-renowned for their rich historical significance and unique and rare collections. To examine a particular case, the Public Library of the State of Jalisco holds eleven incunabula, volumes that were printed from 1450-1501, as well as three thousand books printed in the sixteenth century, and 350,000 historical documents spanning the sixteenth century to the early twentieth, which include the Archives of the Royal Court of New Galicia and the Archives of the Supreme Court of Justice.

As of 2005, the literacy rate in Mexico had climbed to 86.1%, and 2010 Census estimates are up to 91.4% (US Dept of State, Censo de Población), representing a very impressive increase over the past century. Today, however, internet access has in many ways become the crucial issue that literacy was to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. First, there is still a big discrepancy in public library services in urban and rural areas. In cities and larger towns,  the libraries are naturally much larger and technologically equipped, while in more remote areas world wide web connectivity is practically non-existent. In recent years, providing internet access to public libraries has become a major task of the Mexican government, at both a local and national level (Lau 2010a 3630). In addition to efforts from inside the country to promote technology, the libraries have benefitted greatly from some outside donations, in particular from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2002, President Vicente Fox announced that the foundation had pledged $30 million “to provide computer and Internet access, staff training and technical support to approximately 1,200 or 20 percent of public libraries across Mexico” (Rios). Six years later in 2008, the Gates Foundation would once again return to Mexican public libraries, this time to award its annual Access to Learning Award to the Vasconcelos Program, an innovative initiative created by the state of Veracruz to provide computer access and training to underserved populations within the state. The program was named after José Vasconcelos, the first Minister of Education who launched Mexico’s first public library program back in 1921, and deploys a staff of workers, most proficient in the local indigenous languages, to rural communities in Veracruz, who spend around two weeks “teaching a variety of computer and Internet courses and updating local technology access points” (Gates Foundation).

These initiatives to connect and train Mexican society in digital age technologies are promising, but other states must follow suit in order to bridge the gap between cities and towns and rural areas. Pausing for a moment to consider the present state of libraries in Mexico in the broader context of their historical development, many of the same themes still hold true. The struggle for libraries to serve the general population has been a consistent theme, from the overt subjugation of the early monastery libraries and early colonial public libraries to the struggles for literacy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Access to the tools of learning, whether they be printed books in today’s case, the internet, has always been a privilege of the upper classes and a major challenge for rural and indigenous communities. While ensuring that knowledge be made available for all citizens has been a major goal within Mexico from the moment of independence, we have seen how such ambitious goals cannot be realized without institutional support and a strong investment in education. The public library mission of José Vasconcelos ultimately failed for this very reason, and the careful planning and ongoing assessment of the 1984 National Program for Public Libraries was what led to its continued success. In this vein, contemporary public library efforts to bridge the gap in internet connectivity across the regions of Mexico need to have organizational foresight and be focused on long-term, not temporary, solutions. Above all, they must recognize the richness of Mexico’s historical heritage and its diverse indigenous populations, and make sure to work so that the promise of the information revolution reaches all of the nation’s citizens.

Works Cited

Arroyo García, Israel. Constitution of 1857.Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture. London: Routledge, 1998. Credo Reference. Web. 11 May 2011.

“Background Note: Mexico.” Diplomacy in in Action. US Department of State. 14 December 2010. Web. 11 May 2011. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35749.htm

Bixler, Paul Howard. The Mexican Library. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1969.

“Censo de Población y Vivienda 2010.” Web. 11 May 2011. http://www.censo2010.org.mx/

Coulmas, Florian, and Konrad Ehlich. Writing in Focus. Walter de Gruyter, 1983.

Durán Juárez, Juan Manuel. “Public Library of the State of Jalisco, Mexico.” Web. 11 May 2011. http://www.varastokirjasto.fi/guadalajara/solis.pdf.

Fernandez de Zamora, R. M. 1991. “Library Resources in Latin America: A General Panorama.” IFLA Journal 17.1 : 45-54. 9 May 2011.

Francis, Michael J. Iberia and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Credo Reference. Web. 11 May 2011.

Jones, Phillip. “Indispensable in a Civilized Society”: Manuel Payno’s “Las bibliotecas de México.” Libraries & the Cultural Record 42.3 (2007): 268-290. 11 May 2011.

Lafuente López, Ramir. Un Mundo Poco Visible: Imprenta Y Bibliotecas En México Durante El Siglo XIX. México : Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1992.

Langman, Ida. “Mexican Libraries Move Ahead.” Institute of Education News Bulletin 35 (1960):  45.

Lau, Jesús. (2010a.) “Mexico: Libraries, Archives and Museums.” Lau, Jesús. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition: 3624 — 3646.

Lau, Jesús and Janet Lee. (2010b.) “Libraries in Mexico: Context and Collaboration. An Interview with Dr. Jesús Lau, President, Mexican Library Association.” Collaborative Librarianship 2.2: 96–101.

Magaloni, Ana María. “Mexico’s National Program of Public Libraries.” Journal of Library and Information Science. 10.2 (1984): 111-117.

Manrique Figueroa, César. “Libros, lectores y bibliotecas del México colonial.” 11 May 2011.

Martinez, Juan Angel Vazquez. La funcion social del tlacuilo, los amoxtlis y los amoxcallis (Serie Tesis premiadas). Secretaria de Educacion Publica, 1995.

Musmann, Klaus. “The Ugly Side of Librarianship: Segregation in Library Services from 1900-1950.” in Tucker, John Mark., ed. Untold Stories: Civil Rights, Libraries, And Black Librarianship. Champaign, IL : Publications Office, Graduate School Of Library And Information Science, 1998.

Navarrete, Federico. “The Path from Aztlan to Mexico: On Visual Narration in Mesoamerican Codices.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 37 (2000): 31-48.

Pagaza García, Rafael. Las obras de consulta mexicanas, siglos XVI al XX. México: UNAM, 1990.

Pasztor, Susan B. “Education.” (2004). In Mexico: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Credo Reference. Web. 11 May 2011.

Payno, Manuel. “Las bibliotecas de México: La gran biblioteca y la pequeña biblioteca de México,”

Boletín de la Sociedad de Geografía y Estadística de la República Mexicana (May 1869): 3-14.

Peñalosa, Fernando. “The Development of Libraries in Mexico.” The Library Quarterly 23.2 (1953): 115–125.

Rios, Rob. Library Hotline. Library Journal. June 3, 2002, Volume XXI, No.22.

Romero, Ignacio Osorio. Las bibliotecas novohispanas Mexico: SEP, DGB, 1986.

Ruy Sánchez, Alberto and Margarita de Orellana. “Artes de México : Biblioteca Palafoxiana.” 2003.

Fernández de Zamora, Rosa María. “Mexican Library History: A Survey of the Literature of the Last Fifteen Years.” Libraries & Culture 32.2 (1997).

“2008 Access to Learning Award: Vasconcelos Program.” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Web. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/atla/Pages/2008-vasconcelos-program.aspx. 11 May 2011.

Problems Plaguing Mexican Libraries in the 20th Century and the Plan of 1984

Previous part: History of Literacy and Libraries in Mexico: Public Book Initiatives

Around the same period, many of the same problems plaguing the public library system were also seen in the National Library. Peñalosa, writing in 1953, states that although the National Library was unrivaled in terms of its vast holdings and prominent status, it had made very little progress in the way of services and organization since its inception. It had discriminatory circulation policies, as “only professional people and research workers could check out books” (120).

There was also a shortage of staff, and most workers had little knowledge of classification schemes and organizational best practices. Much of the National Library’s holdings were already in poor physical condition, and the lack of organization was so poor that “valuable works rotted on the floor or were piled high, wrapped in newspapers” (Peñalosa 120). Also, despite the library’s status as an official National depository, there was very lax enforcement of the law, and many important works lacked representation in the collection. Genaro Estrada, a prominent Mexican bibliographer, went so far as to say that reference service was lacking to such a degree that the Mexican library patron was “a lonely hero who carries on his work without any encouragement, within an atmosphere of abandon and misery” (Langman 45).

Following this bleak period around the middle of the twentieth century, libraries in Mexico would languish for the next two decades, with little progress or development.

In the late 1970s, however, public libraries entered their “second golden period,” and this time, superior funding and organization and long-term thinking lead to much more successful results (Lau 2010a 3628). In 1978, Guadalupe Carrión, the director of public libraries, began to construct a new plan on a national level to develop a widely used library system, but his approach was much more practical than the quixotic dreams of Vasconcelos, and he had the benefit of a significantly higher literacy rate and continued efforts to reach out to indigenous populations with educational programs (Pasztor). The first five years of this plan centered on the reorganization of the existing libraries, including an in-depth assessment study of various “indicators and parameters for building, equipping, and creating library collections” (Lau 2010a 3628).

This foresight and assessment was exactly what was lacking from previous efforts, and Carrión also addressed the issue of lacking service principles and inadequately trained staff by organizing an intensive library 3-month library workshop where roughly 500 staff members were trained at three different locations in Mexico. After this thorough assessment of the existing public library system and the creation of a workforce equipped with specialized library skills, Mexico’s National Program of Public Libraries, the official plan, was announced in 1984 by Ana Maria Magaloni, its director general. This plan was ambitious but precise, calling for a public library in every State capital city by December 1984, a public library in every municipality larger than 300,000 inhabitants by December 1986, and enabling library service in every municipality (all 2,377 of them) by 1988. The plan also outlined in detail how the State governments and municipalities would need to work with the Secretary of Public Education in terms of space, collections and even funding for staff payroll (Magaloni 1984). Over the course of the next five years, the plan was put into action and a strong system of public libraries came into place (Lau 2010a 3628).

Continue reading: The Current State of Libraries in Mexico: Service, Connectivity and Culture

History of Literacy and Libraries in Mexico: Public Book Initiatives

Read the previous part: The Foundation of Mexico’s National Library: History and Cultural Context

After the triumph of the Mexican Revolution, there was a strong movement to make books available to all of the nation’s citizens. Although by this point, this very same goal had been seen before, both at the time of the first public libraries and later on with the foundation of the National Library, this time it had more government support. In 1921, a Ministry of Public Education was founded, and José Vasconcelos was appointed the first head. One of Vasconcelos’ most important plans was to start a nationwide public library program. This program was of a much larger scale than the informal public library movements in municipal governments back near the time of independence. Vasconcelos’ vision for what he could accomplish was rather idealized, as “his dream was to take books to every town in Mexico,” reaching both urban and rural areas. The Ministry of Public Education succeeded in creating around 2,500 libraries across Mexico, with small but diverse collections which contained both literary classics as well as technical books (Lau 2010a 3628). Although Vasconcelos had genuinely positive ambitions and a great number of libraries were created by his Ministry of Education, their maintenance proved to be another story entirely, as summarized by Bixler:

The record of (the Ministry of Education’s) performance is erratic. Too often libraries have been created only later to be left with inadequate continuing support. New books, often for ‘reference’ only, have been few, and assistance in their use small … Books alone, of course, do not create a library. They require organization for accessibility, facilities within a building adequate for use, a trained staff to administer its contents, and most important of all, readers. (9-10)

Overall, the national library project of Vasconcelos lacked foresight as well organization, and it was abandoned by 1940. Sadly, many of these public libraries would disappear in the following years (Lau 2010a 3628). Bixler’s account well summarizes the major ongoing problem with library development in independent Mexico: a tendency to open libraries without addressing crucial aspects of organization, facilities or reference.

Bixler also addresses the continuing issue of literacy by designating readers as the most important group in the development of libraries. Indeed, although the overtly discriminatory access policies of years past were loosening by this point, strong obstacles in the education system remained, which would have much of the same effect. At the same time as the nationwide library program, the Department of Education began organized literacy campaigns, which had some success but was for the most part limited to urban areas. Indigenous and mestizo populations in rural areas were essentially denied education until the 1940s and 50s, when the government first began to recognize indigenous languages in the schools alongside Spanish and took a more bilingual approach to promoting literacy (Bixler 10-12).

To provide some context, the struggle for literacy was also prominently on the agenda of the American Library Association in the early 20th century, and many of the conclusions are comparable to the situation in Mexico. William Yust, a librarian at the Rochester Public Library, addressed the ALA in 1913, stating that “libraries cannot flourish in illiteracy as trees cannot grow in a desert,” and concluded that “education must precede the establishment of libraries” (Mussman 81). The public library projects in Mexico struggled for so long because of high overall illiteracy rates, and the situation of education in rural areas lagged far behind the ambitious goal to provide every town with books and a library.

Continue reading: Problems Plaguing Mexican Libraries in the 20th Century and the Plan of 1984

The Foundation of Mexico’s National Library: History and Cultural Context

Read the previous part: Libraries at the Time of Mexico’s War of Independence

While the topic of public libraries was discussed in numerous other municipal legislatures around this period, a small number of projects would actually be implemented, the most notable being the State of Mexico Central Public Library in Toluca in 1827 (Peñalosa 117). This is due to the fact that the governmental dialogue was starting to shift to a new goal which embodied these same ideals on a larger scale: the National Library. The movement for a national library was a drawn-out process spanning nearly half a century, and although stemmed from a noble ambition to allow the general population access to recorded culture, it ended up serving a much more symbolic rather than practical role, due to the same ongoing problems.

The decades immediately following Mexican independence were marked by a constant political struggle between liberals and the conservatives. Well aware of the struggles of poverty and illiteracy that plagued the nation, the liberals made the National Library one of their biggest goals, as recounted by Jones:

Those who lived distant from Mexico City in provincial cities, rural towns, and Indian pueblos had little access to education or currents of culture offered by museums and libraries .. What became clear was the need for a national library, a collection located in the capital city in which the nation’s bibliographic history and continuing output could be gathered and made available to all persons. (270)

A plan for the National Library was first presented to the Mexican congress in 1828 and an official decree followed in 1933 from President Valentín Gómez Farías. The National Library project, however, did not progress further due to economic struggles and, more importantly, political instability which lead to a rapid shifting of national priorities. From 1833 to 1855, the Mexican presidency changed hands thirty-six times, which served as a strong obstacle for the liberals to achieve their mission. Nevertheless, further attempts were made, most notably in 1846, and 1851, and books were collected and gathered to be assimilated into the National Library, which still lacked a location (Jones 272).

Matters appeared to be helped by a new constitution established in 1857 which emphasized individual liberty and took steps to limit the power of institutions, including the Catholic Church (Arroyo García). Conservatives, however,  rebelled against this constitution’s ideology, sparking a conflict against liberal president Benito Juárez, who had just ordered that the National Library be located within the University of Mexico. This rebellion once again took attention away from the plans to move forward with the National Library. A few years later in 1863, the situation continued to worsen with the French Intervention, in which Juárez was removed from power and Austrian archduke Maximillian was thrust into the role of emperor of Mexico. Maximillian rejected the idea of a National Library serving the general population in favor of an imperial library supporting his regime (Jones 272).

During his time in power, some of Mexico’s treasured collections which had been gathered for inclusion in the National Library were sadly boxed up and shipped away to Europe and the United States. This period of intervention would only last until 1867, when Mexico prevailed against its imperial conquerors, and the National Library was once again back on the agenda. The turmoil from the war lead to a rather chaotic national agenda, but President Juárez, who had returned to power, made it a top priority, and he was also aided by some other important liberal figures who fought valiantly for the cause. Jones argues that the most influential of these figures was Manuel Payno, a writer and local politician who wrote two key articles in newspapers and magazines which expressed the need for continued federal funding to complete the National Library project. He pointed out many of the previously mentioned shortcoming of the existing libraries, and added that those which claimed to be for public use were only open certain hours of the day, with so little space, chaotic organization and nonexistent instruction for patrons. Payno’s writing eloquently demonstrates the crucial role of the National Library for Mexico as an emerging nation:

The alphabet, another marvel, makes eternal both thought and word, preserving in living substance the man of genius, even as these fragile pages will in centuries be reduced to dust—such are the thoughts that come to my pen upon writing this single word: “LIBRARY.” That such an institution is indispensable in a civilized society, as necessary as food, no one doubts. Thus, what should be done is not to collect books without taste, with neither criterion nor discernment, in humble, dark quarters distant from the center of cities, but to erect a dignified, grand monument to inspire the august ideals of scholarship and of scientific inquiry. (Payno, tr. Jones)

In 1867, the Mexican secretary of education decreed that the Church of Saint Augustine in downtown Mexico City, near the central square, would be converted into the National Library. President Juárez had already expropriated and nationalized a number of university and religious collections, and later that year, the National Library opened its doors. The long-time dream which had encountered so much resistance was finally a reality. At this time, the library held over 100,000 volumes and Dr. José María Benítez was named its first librarian (Penalosa 119).

Although the establishment of the National Library was certainly a major triumph, much of the value surrounding it was merely symbolic of Mexico’s progress as a nation, as Payno’s writings certainly suggest. Zamora states that “the liberals conceived of the library as an instrument of culture and progress,” establishing the National Library “to meet an emotive and romantic need to have libraries as a symbol of modernity and progress, regardless its pragmatic usefulness” (228). In reality, Mexico was still suffering the same problems as before, including widespread illiteracy and limited education, and the National Library did little to practically solve these concerns, jeopardizing its ambitious mission to allow all of Mexico’s citizens access to the nation’s bibliographic output. These inequalities would only become exacerbated under over the course of the next few decades and the regime of Porfirio Diaz, a Mexican statesman who had initially supported Juárez and the liberals before becoming embroiled in a battle for the presidency after he lost the 1876 election.

When he assumed power, he would run an authoritarian regime for over thirty years. To his credit, Díaz brought some political stability to a nation that greatly needed it and also was responsible for significant economic development, but this came at a great social cost. There was intellectual and literary progress in Mexico, but in the form of exclusive societies solely for the cultural elites. For everyone outside of the small upper class, civil liberties were greatly curtailed. When Díaz rigged the 1910 elections and sent his opponent, Francisco Madero, to prison, the mounting tension between the elites and the agrarian workers reached a breaking point, and the Mexican Revolution began. In what would turn out to be a decade long battle between conservatives and two factional revolutionary groups, liberal forces finally emerged victorious (Francis).

Continue reading: History of Literacy and Libraries in Mexico: Public Book Initiatives

Libraries at the Time of Mexico’s War of Independence

Previous part: Spanish Libraries in Mexico: Shift from Religious and Private to Secular and Public

The next major event of interest to libraries is Mexico’s War of Independence, which took place from 1810-1821, resulting in the separation from Spain and the creation of a new republic (Francis).

Around this time, in line with the spirit of the independence movement, libraries in Mexico continued to become more secular and liberal in character, although they would continue to face many of the same access problems as in the colonial period, even if the official politics had changed. One of the first library developments in independent Mexico was the understanding of the need for public libraries by several local governments.

This resulted in the creation of the first state library in Oaxaca in 1826. This library was more secular and general in nature than any of the libraries in the colonial period, although it still contained around 50% religious books (Peñalosa 117). In this period, the discrepancy between official policy and actual status was becoming even more pronounced.

Although after independence, “public institutions were decreed to be for the entire population,” (Lau 2010a 3625) few institutional changes actually changed the situation for the masses. Libraries may have been officially open to anyone, they continued to serve only elite patrons, as 80 percent of the Mexican population (of ten years of age and older) was illiterate, and thus, the vast majority of the population still lacked access and the institutions continued to serve a very select group (Zamora 1997 228).

Continue reading: The Foundation of Mexico’s National Library: History and Cultural Context