From November 25 – December 2, 2018, I participated in a Library and Information Services Journey to Peru, led by former American Library Association President Dr. Camila Alire. Our group of eight consisted of academic and public library directors and some guests. In addition to sightseeing and cultural immersion, our charge was to visit academic, public, and special libraries in Lima and Cusco to conduct facilitated discussions with our Peruvian library colleagues.
Lima is a bustling, cosmopolitan city of ten million located on the Pacific coast, serving as the the country’s commercial center. One-third of the population lives there. Combining restored Colonial buildings with modern architecture, its notorious traffic is reminiscent of Los Angeles. Our first stop was Biblioteca Municipal de Lima [Municipal Library of Peru], located on the main plaza, serving as an archival repository of historical records of the region.
We had the opportunity to have an extended discussion with Maria Emma Mannarelli, Director of the Biblioteca Nacional de Peru [National Library of Peru]. The National Library is housed in an open, modern building celebrating the country’s prominent writers. Committed to preserving Peru’s cultural patrimony, the Library contains impressive labs for conservation of historical manuscripts and vintage photographs.
Not only does Sra. Mannarelli oversee the National Library, she is also responsible for the country’s network of public libraries. She spoke candidly about the challenges of maintaining public library service throughout the country, particularly since funding is dependent on the local mayor, who may have other priorities in resource allocation. Even a city as large as Lima only has in her estimation three functioning public library branches.
That afternoon we were able to visit one of these prime examples, the Public Library of Miraflores, considered the most attractive and vibrant in the city. Library Chief Beatriz Prieto gave us a tour, and informed us about their proactive outreach activities including bringing books to senior centers, low-income communities, and even the beach! This stimulated our perceptions about how we could more effectively serve our surrounding communities.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was our meeting at Pontifical Catholic University [PUCP], an elite private university founded in 1917. We engaged in a lively, interactive discussion with Library Director Kathia Hanza and her unit heads. Not surprisingly, they face similar challenges of U.S. academic libraries: how to most effectively embed library resources within the curriculum; build dynamic collections with limited resources; actively solicit the support of Deans and the Vice Rector [Provost]. One member of our group, Dean of Libraries at University of Nevada-Las Vegas, offered to send two of her faculty members to PUCP to advise on assessment and developing persuasive metrics. Through the efforts of Lehman Library webmaster John DeLooper, we were able to advise PUCP how to incorporate LibGuides [Research Guides] into their course management system, a practice we had only recently developed.
Pontifical Catholic resides on a beautifully landscaped campus with noteworthy modern architecture. Library colleagues showed us their brand new Engineering Library, an appealing, state-of-the-art edifice facilitating access to multimedia technologies and 3-D printing. Every seat was taken by students working at the end of the semester.
From Lima we ventured to Cusco, the original Incan capital, a gem of Colonial architecture surrounded by the Andes with dazzling, ever-changing light Cusco is situated at 11,000 feet. Unfortunately, our visit to Universidad San Antonio de Abad was cancelled due to a labor strike. However, we toured El Centro Bartolome de las Casas [CBC Library], a unique special library of 53,000 volumes documenting Andean culture featuring anthropological, cultural, demographic, linguistic, and literary monographs. We also visited the recently restored Convent of San Francisco de Asis, which has a manuscript library of 18th and 19th century tomes of ecclesiastical history undergoing preservation.
And we pursued some leisure activities, including the Larco Museum in Lima, which has an outstanding archeological collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. On our final day, we visited a girls’ orphanage in Cusco, which involved both meaningful interactions and community service. Dining was a consistent pleasure, partaking of Peru’s extensive produce (3,000 kinds of potatoes!), and sampling ceviche, alpaca, octopus, and guinea pig. The Peruvian people, warm and gracious, were wonderful hosts.
No visit to Peru would be complete without a sojourn to Machu Picchu, the sacred ruins of Incan civilization, located within a breathtaking setting. Justifiably one of the seven wonders of the world, this testament to Incan achievements in architecture, agriculture, and astronomy inspires awe, reflection, and sobriety. While the invading Spanish ultimately decimated this advanced community, they nevertheless documented it through their historical journals and narratives, contributing to our knowledge of the legacy of this unique civilization.
Thank you to Kenneth Schlesinger, Chief Librarian, Lehman College for this article.