My Own Invention

Mary Nix, column editor

Through The Looking Glass to Puerto Rico: Mayaguez Children's Library Celebrates its Tenth Anniversary

Jackie Winter

Imagine peering through The Looking Glass into the past and seeing a luscious tropical island, the island of Puerto Rico, with its ripe mangoes, melodious coqui frogs and flamboyant trees. Look more closely and you'll see beautiful, bright-eyed children with empty hands and bare bookshelves in their homes and schools. The one public library has long been inoperative and the one bilingual bookstore has very little in stock for these special children.

You ask yourself, where will they go to read? How will they learn more about the world that is so much greater than their own? Who will provide the necessary literary tools for them to use to deepen their understanding of other people and other ways of life?

Wait! As you continue looking, a very friendly, vivacious, bright yellow lion puppet appears with the answers! LUCAS is his name, and his mission is to emphasize the need for sharing books with readers. LUCAS stands for "Learning and Understanding Children in All Societies," or, as the Spanish-speaking children would say, "Lee Un Cuento y Aumenta tu Sabiduria."

Whether he is in the reading room of the library or at a shopping mall or in a hospital ward, LUCAS warmly invites all readers from toddlers through young adults to come to the main plaza in the center of the city and visit a marvelous place called the Mayaguez Children's Library/Biblioteca Juvenil de Mayaguez, Inc. Watch his lips and you will know that LUCAS is describing a vibrant, growing, unique, nonprofit, tax-exempt, bilingual, independent public library offering daily services and reading enrichment opportunities for all those previously empty-handed children.

I founded MCL/BJM in 1991 because I was desperate to meet my two young children's critical need for good books and educational resources. From modest beginnings, MCL/BJM has rapidly grown to house an impressive collection of more than 21,000 circulating Spanish and English fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults on all reading levels. General reference resources, other educational material, and a special Puerto Rico reference collection are also available to students doing research for their assignments. In addition, the library provides one of the island's few Braille and large print collections for children, a special toddlers' reading collection and activity room, and a large computer centre for public use.

Monday through Saturday library service makes it possible for individuals as well as busloads of student groups from many public and private schools throughout the island to enrich their knowledge and improve their reading skills. Children have additional opportunities to increase their reading experiences by participating in dramatic story hours, after-school tutoring programs, annual reading/writing/art competitions, summer reading camps, and computer classes. Likewise, MCL/BJM outreach initiatives for children in Mayaguez and neighbouring towns promote reading through weekly story hours in parks and plazas, Reader-to-Patient programs in local hospitals, and Reader-to-Prison rehabilitation programs for juvenile offenders.

In order to be able to share books with children, a large support network is needed for the ongoing growth and development of the library. At present, the MCL/BJM has the services of a small staff of Americorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) workers financed by the Corporation for National Service and the help of a few volunteers from the local community. Financial support is currently dependent on occasional monetary gifts from individuals, civic groups, small businesses, and local government representatives. The local Westernbank generously underwrites the cost for the physical facilities and utilities as an effort to emphasize the importance of reinvesting in the education of the wider community.

Evidence of the outcome of this type of sharing is found in a list of the MCL/BJM's accomplishments over the past ten years. More than 270 volunteers have shared their time to process books and provide help to approximately 35,350 users as individuals or in 490 school groups. Over 1,341 families have joined the library, and more than 2,415 individual child members have participated in the numerous reading enrichment programs such as daily tutorials, the competitions, and the 18 summer reading camps.

Yet, in order to continue offering daily effective and efficient library services and to expand the number of special programs for children, more financial help is needed. The vision for this expansion includes the hiring of a full-time children's librarian, paying the salaries of the full-time staff, creating a web page on the Internet, purchasing more Spanish and English books, and buying and equipping a bookmobile/van to reach thousands of children living in low income housing projects and in remote villages throughout the island.

Peering through The Looking Glass at the children of this beautiful island and remembering LUCAS's words about bringing children and books together and encouraging them to form lifelong partnerships of understanding, can't you envision ways to share your resources with this unique library in western Puerto Rico?

Jackie Winter is the founder of The Mayaguez Children's Library/Biblioteca Juvenil de Mayaguez.
For more information about the MCL/BJM, please contact Jackie Winter or the director,
Juan Carlos Gaston, at The Mayaguez Children's Library/Biblioteca Juvenil de Mayaguez,
#53 McKinley St., Plaza Colon, 3rd Floor Westernbank Building, Mayaguez Puerto Rico 00680;
phone 787-831-1595; fax 787-833-2392; email

Volume5, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, 2001

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"Through The Looking Glass to Puerto Rico: Mayaguez Children's Library Celebrates its Tenth Anniversary" © Jackie Winter, 2001.
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