Literary Project Sparks Passion for Reading in Cuban City

The library, with readers of all ages, professions and backgrounds, has received many donations. Photo: Courtesy of the Biblioteca Andante.

The project comprises over 600 books, which includes a WhatsApp group, Facebook page, reading clubs and exhibitions.

By IPS-Cuba

HAVANA TIMES – Today one may think reading books on paper is a thing of exclusive circles and the past. However, “Biblioteca Andante” (Roaming Library), founded in Cardenas, Matanzas, proves otherwise. The passion for reading is still well and alive and is being rekindled.

A Spanish and literature professor, and an English teacher with a vocation for writing began the project. Beatriz Lima, who no longer teaches, and her husband Miguel Angel Gonzalez are the promoters. Together, they embarked upon an adventure that grew bigger than they ever imagined in the beginning.

“We had lots of books, separately, and when we got married… well, all these books came together and we continued to buy at book fairs and we built quite a significant library,” Lima told IPS-Cuba.

After long months in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, once they were able to go back outside, they decided to create a project that would help to alleviate some of the psychological damage caused by the pandemic on some of the people within their community.

Biblioteca Andante has over 600 books, of all genres.

“We said: what shall we do with them, because we aren’t using all of these books, which are quite a lot,” she added.

They continued to mull it over: “and loaning them out and if we made a system, like a library, it would have to be a Roaming Library, because it won’t be static, we’d move and take books to different places.” That’s how the idea came about.

Objectives and methods:  How do we go about it?

Living in a small apartment, far from the city center – a city with just over 150,000 inhabitants -, Lima and Gonzalez decided to make the most of their family transport to promote reading.

“One of the questions we asked ourselves was: what is the objective. We said to become cultural and literary promoters and take physical books, which is becoming a lost custom as it competes with digital technology,” the young woman explained.

Children are a key audience, who welcome the “book man” with great joy.

“My husband gets on the electrical bike and carries a backpack with books. We carry more than one sometimes, two or three, so that readers can choose,” she says describing the process.

“Children are a key audience, who welcome the ‘book man’ with great joy, when Miguel Angel shows up with his backpack. Parents say that their children don’t go to sleep if they read from a book from the library first, and that’s really important for us,” she said.

Biblioteca Andante has over 600 books, of all genres: children’s literature, teenage literature, essays, theater; literature in all of its manifestations: stories, novels, some specialist literature and self-help books.

Getting to know our users

“After getting to know our users, the people who ask to borrow books quite frequently, we have broadened our collection and buy new books,” she said.

“We charge people who ask to borrow a book 5 CUP, a symbolic price and we save it so we can buy new books. Our mission is to collect some funds, which don’t even come close to covering the books we buy. We have picked up on the literary interests of those who read physical books, and we have broadened the collection,” she pointed out.

With readers of all ages, professions and backgrounds, the library has received many donations. People contact them via social media and they travel as far as Varadero and Matanzas to pick up donated books, interesting book titles and even some duplicate copies.

Furthermore, Biblioteca Andante has decided to create a Whatsapp group too. People within the project use it to communicate, because “we already envisioned it as a socio-cultural project.”

That’s how the WhatsApp group with the same name was born. It became a national phenomenon – with members from the Isle of Youth, Havana, Pinar del Rio, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Holguin. Connected on this social platform, they talk about literature and share challenges, some related to reviews and creative writing.

The snow ball grows

According to Lima, many people who write joined the group and “another direct effect of the process began. Promoting and rekindling Cardenas’ literary movement, where we are based is part of the project. Writers from all over Cuba are also present.”

The project had a binding effect. The Cultural Center and museums joined and “we began to hold activities and undertake joint efforts with these institutions. The Christian Center of Reflection and Dialogue helps us out with venues, and especially the logistics of organizing events.

“The idea is to continue to promote physical reading, especially among young people. That is one of our dreams. It’s hard work because digital reading replaces it sometimes. However, it’s interesting to see young people use our library, and that makes us happy. We know the road ahead is still very long,” she repeated.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, which led to new restrictions to prevent spreading the disease, they held a first reading group to get to know each other trace out actions directed at writers and readers to appreciate good literature. We also decided to organize monthly readings, with an audience.

Plus, they have organized haiku (Japanese poetry) workshops, in coordination with the local museum, as well as writing and short story workshops.

Another initiative that has come from this experience is their alliance with an existing photography club in Cardenas. They took part in the challenge to interpret images from books and texts, with photos. It will result in an exhibition at the Christian Center once the pandemic situation allows for it.

This project shows that people’s passion for reading is still alive and is being rekindled.

The library is still going    

 Loyal to their initial idea, they continue to promote challenges, books, reading days, interesting facts about well-known authors, and of course, physical books and reading, on their Facebook page, Lima points out.

Observing their full shelf of books, they made Biblioteca Andante a reality and carry on dreaming and aspiring for a future where they can organize a gathering where “all of these people from different provinces can come, as we don’t know each other. Then we can elevate this love for literature and people’s creativity.”

The COVID-19 situation has made things more difficult in Cardenas right now, with a spike in new confirmed cases. However, Biblioteca Andante is still going and the book man continues to take books to people’s homes.

“He had to come back a few days ago, because the block where a user lives had been closed off because of the virus. We’re lending out less books right now, but we’re still lending them out,” Lima said.

Read more news and feature stories from Cuba here on Havana Times.