We haven’t found many examples in Peru of truly modern public libraries. We’ve visited some good public libraries to which it’s clear librarians and supporters have dedicated their lives, and which serve as valuable community resources. But the 21st century concept of a public library as a community meeting and information point doesn’t seem to exist yet in Peru. We were wondering whether the idea to take Peru’s libraries in that direction had yet surfaced in the country.
Today, we found out it has. In a visit to the National Library of Peru, we met Irma Lopez, the technical director of the country’s public library system. She described the project she is getting started on in four underserved regions around the country — Ica, Huancavelica, Apulina, and Jumin. She dreams of using technology to bring Peru’s public libraries into the 21-st century — by equipping libraries with computers and training librarians in new methods to assess and meet community information needs. She wants to create a replicable model that establishes a place where people can learn about the information that’s available and how to apply it to improve their lives.
She understands that one of the biggest obstacles to consistent standards in public libraries is the fact that librarians are frequently replaced by new mayors when they take office, thereby discarding years of experience and training. Because the switch happens often, the position of a public librarian is not considered a career, and so it’s difficult to attract qualified people. For this pilot project, Irma is ensuring mayors sign an agreement to de-politicize the librarian position. The National Library will invest in training librarians, but the intention is for that investment to persist, regardless of who occupies the town hall. Municipalities will fund computers and internet connections.
These types of initiatives are exactly what we’re looking to identify and bring together as part of Beyond Access. The project Irma is launching is a step in the right direction for Peru’s libraries and its citizen engagement and development initiatives. But there’s also a lot that Peru can gain from previous experiences around the world on similar initiatives — many represented within the Beyond Access coalition. We can offer project design guidance, consensus-building methodology, community assessment tools, training modules, impact assessment tools — all so that Irma doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Later, it’s the leaders of these kinds of projects we want to bring together in Washington for the conference this fall. After a week of meeting people from different sectors who all — mostly unintentionally — were expressing the need for a modern public library system in Peru, it was refreshing to meet someone who is working on making that a reality.