Santa Genoveva library in the Paraná Delta, Argentina
“The Biblioteca Popular is very important”
Gladys Fontana already lost her heart to the Biblioteca Santa Genoveva in the Paraná Delta while still a child. She always remained faithful to the library. Now that she has retired, she takes part in workshops on the library boat Bibliolancha.
Like most pupils at the Escuela del arroyo Felicaria here in the Paraná Delta, I have known the library since I was nine. Back then, my classmates and I would go with our teachers for medical check-ups at the first aid centre next door to the library. We would wait for our turn surrounded by books. For a girl who loved reading like me, this was one of the most magical moments in the entire school year.
When I left school I got married and moved to a different part of the delta, so I could hardly ever visit the library because it was so far away. Later I moved once more – I still lived close to the river, but was also nearer to the library again. I began to volunteer there. Every Tuesday after work I would help sort through the books or would assist the library staff with looking after schoolchildren from the nearby schools. I was one of the many volunteers in what are known as the bibliotecas populares – a widespread phenomenon in our country. The libraries can only survive because so many people from the local communities are willing to invest their time and energy there.
Bibliotecas populares are to be found all over Argentina, especially in areas that otherwise have no public libraries. They are not only places where one can find books; they also serve as important meeting places for the community, where people come together to take part in discussions, workshops or other activities. For me it is very important to have a place like this. Bibliotecas populares also have a special significance for children: I always loved watching them leaf through the books and then help them to find what they were looking for.
I worked as a volunteer for a number of years; then I stopped and devoted my time mainly to my grandchildren (I have seven!) – though I still kept in contact with the library. And because I still really enjoy reading, and read a lot, many people still ask me for book recommendations. It gives me a lot of pleasure to give them some tips.
I love crime novels, and my favourite is of course Agatha Christie. I also read about a lot of other subjects, however: particularly books about religion, astrology, psychology and history, though also romance novels and poetry. When it comes to poetry, I prefer female poets: Juana de Ibarbourou and Idea Vilariño from Uruguay, Gabriela Mistral from Chile and the Swiss-Argentinian poet Alfonsina Storni. Most of all I like reading when I take the passenger ferry to Tigre. It takes roughly two hours to get from my house to the port – time I spend reading.
For a while I also attended writing workshops at the library. We would take the library boat Bibliolancha all the way to Bajos del Temor; we would then read and write on the boat. The Bibliolancha has just turned ten years old. This extension of the library makes it possible to visit schools and reach children who would not otherwise have access to books and libraries.
The library boat Bibliolancha is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2017, though the Biblioteca Santa Genoveva was founded back in 1958. It is well established in the Paraná Delta and firmly rooted in the region. Offering a wide range of services, it contributes significantly to giving the island residents a sense of identity. Thanks to the Bibliolancha and the “Travelling Books” programme, books are brought directly to schools or to the school boats that bring pupils to school. The library additionally features a “school for island handicrafts” with courses and training in ship mechanics, basket weaving, construction with bamboo cane and other natural materials from the local region, as well as theatre courses, writing workshops and rowing courses.
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