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Press Release ID: 2453

Monday, January 18, 2016

Keefer explores Nicaraguan libraries with the International Library Cultural Exchange

In May 2000, Jane Mirandette found herself in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, semi-retired and owning a bed and breakfast hotel. She realized quickly that there were no children with books in their hands.

Nicaragua had no lending libraries. Books were kept behind the desk in government-run libraries in large cities. A person would have to request a particular book, and staff would retrieve it. Then the person would sit in the library and read it. No one was allowed to take books out of the library.

Mirandette grew up with a tradition of reading and she felt strongly that children needed books. Her “lending library” started out in the patio of her newly-purchased hotel. Later it expanded to a small building across the street, and it currently resides in a much larger, newly renovated building a block away.

Fast-forward to November, 2015. The San Juan del Sur Biblioteca, which is supported by donations, was about to celebrate its 14th anniversary. A group of librarians, sponsored by the Colorado Association of Libraries International Libraries and Cultural Exchange Interest Group, made plans to journey to Nicaragua, visit libraries, help with the celebration, and do a bit of sightseeing as well. Sue Keefer, Director of Learning Resources at Otero Junior College, joined the group on their mission.

After arriving in Managua, Keefer and her fellow librarians received an explanation of a “library in a box,” something Mirandette and her staff had created to help others start libraries in their areas. A library in a box consists of a tub full of books, simple craft projects to go along with the books and check-out materials. Each box has materials worth about $300. There are 64 Library in a Box Recipient Programs functioning in Nicaragua using this system. 

The next day the group visited Puedo Leer (I Can Read), which has been in operation for 10 years. Two of the library staff explained the operations of the library with the help of a translator to a very interested group of librarians.

The library was supposed to be closed, but the door was open. Soon, a young boy came in, ignored everyone, put his books in the proper place, walked over and chose two more, and then went to the checkout desk.

“He probably had more photographs taken of him that day than he had his whole life,” said Keefer. “He told our group of librarians that his name was Santiago. He was 5. He seemed undaunted by the attention, and left soon after, books in hand. He had no idea that he had just made our day.”

The Puedo Leer librarians deliver books to 24 schools so that teachers can read books to their classes. Each month they rotate the books. They also do a “read in the park” program, and read in a room at the Hotel Corazon.

Each person can take two books out per time. Teachers can take 15. The library has 1,025 member cards. But all is not about lending books and reading. They also help children with homework. Volunteers give English classes. On Saturdays, they make crafts.

The next stop was a Christian school and homeless shelter. Books, stuffed animals and snacks were given to the children. Adjoining the school is the shelter, which consists of two small rooms. Twenty children, a couple of single mothers with children, and an older woman live there. They were also given books, snacks and stuffed animals.

Sleeping arrangements consisted of thin pads placed on a concrete floor. There were eight pads too few. After the group left, they decided to purchase enough bunk beds so everyone would have a bed. Mirandette checked with the manager of the shelter for approval.

The librarians arrived at San Juan del Sur that night. The next morning, they walked the one block to the library that started it all, San Juan del Sur Biblioteca. The SJDS library (  has computers for patrons to use (with Wi-Fi), children’s and adult books in Spanish, some books in English, stuffed animals for the children to play with or borrow, homework help, crafts and presentations. The Poudre River Public Library District in Fort Collins, became the sister library to SJDS in 2013. The PRPLD set up the automated catalog and circulation program and host the server that runs it.

The mobile library, Biblioteca Movil, which is an offshoot of the main library, is also housed there. More than 3,000 children who attend rural schools have library cards through the mobile library. There is a competition among the schools; the school that turns in the most books wins a Christmas Fiesta.

Mirandette established the Hester J. Hodgdon Libraries for All nonprofit foundation ( to support the SJDS library and to promote lending libraries throughout Central America. The foundation is named after her grandmother, who lived with her family until she was 12. “I had more books than anyone else in my school,” she said. “Because of my grandmother, I could read at age 5.”

On her last day in San Juan del Sur, Keefer and her fellow travelers participated in the library’s 14th anniversary celebration. Mirandette hosts a celebration every year. To participate, the child has to be in good standing; all of their books must be in. However, if a child loses a book, he or she can either bring in another book to replace it, pay $3, or work for the library for three hours.

The celebration is a major event in the town. This year’s theme revolved around Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Two of his children’s books, “Del Tropico,” and “A Margarita,” were featured, and many of the crafts had a tropical theme involving fish and birds. However, the most popular table had temporary tattoos, which were donated by one of the Colorado librarians. Games were played and piñatas were broken.

The library provided a meal of arroz con pollo, salad, bread, and iced tea. About 650 people were served. Following the meal, awards were given for various achievements, such as a poetry contest, most books checked out, etc. This year the Nicaraguan Minister of Education was in attendance, as well as ANIBIPA librarians (Asociación Nicaragüense de Bibliotecarios y Profesionales Afines /Association of Nicaraguan Librarians). After the awards, birthday cake was served to all.

On the last day, on the way back to Managua, the group stopped by the shelter again to deliver the bunk beds. “Although disappointed that the residents weren’t there, we left the beds with the caretakers. We heard later that our gift was greatly appreciated,” said Keefer.

“Although we also enjoyed such sights as the Masaya Volcano; activities such as zip-lining, a sailboat trip with swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and a visit to a beach where we saw live sand dollars; and were treated to amazing food, we all agreed that the highlights of the trip were watching the children get excited about books, helping with the anniversary celebration, and providing beds for some children who needed them. We received much more than we gave,” said Keefer.

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OJC’s Library and Learning Resources Director, Sue Keefer (front row left in hat), with the others from the Colorado Association of Libraries International Libraries and Cultural Exchange Interest Group in Nicaragua.

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San Juan del Sur Library staff.

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Delivery of the bunk beds the group donated to the homeless shelter they visited.