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

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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