Students to help Guatemalan children check out books for first time

Elementary school students in Guatemala will be able to borrow books from the library for the first time, thanks in part to the work of Western students.

Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) students Suzanne Fernando and Alexandra Ferguson, along with members of Librarians Without Borders from across North America, will travel to the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Quetzeltenango (Xela), Guatemala April 13-28 to collaborate on the development and operation of a school library.

With the support of Western’s chapter, LWB has partnered with the Asturias Academy since 2009 to support the academy’s vision to build a sustainable community library in the school. This year’s on-site work marks a major transition for their library as it attempts to implement cataloging, searching and borrowing technologies to enable students to locate and check out books for the very first time.

Many Guatemalans are restricted from getting a quality education, in part due to a severe lack of access to books and literacy materials. In a country where books are taxed beyond the reach of the 75 per cent of the population who live in poverty, it’s almost impossible to get children excited about reading because many cannot get actual books in their hands.

Over the course of 2012, with the help of a full-time on-site librarian funded by LWB, students far surpassed the reading goal of four books per year, reading on average 14 books per year. Given this enthusiasm, imagine the impact on (the less than 60 per cent) literacy levels of Asturias’ predominantly indigenous students and their families  — once they can check books out of the library and bring them into their homes. This is an unprecedented opportunity in Guatemala.

Last year, Western students Shannon Marrinan and Monica Gagne journeyed to the school to work out details for creating a library-lending project, cataloguing donated books, working on library curriculum with teachers and creating K’iche audio books.