El Salvador

Book Rescue Effort

by | Nov 30, 2001

The January 13 earthquake in El Salvador claimed many lives and homes, but it also played havoc with the country’s cultural patrimony. Biblioteca Gallardo, one of the three or four most important libraries in Central America, now needs to move more than 90,000 of books into safekeeping. The library building, located in the earthquake epicenter of Santa Tecla, was totally destroyed by the earthquake, although the books survived and now run the risk of damage because of aftershocks.

“The collection is immensely valuable and contains materials dating back to the 1600s,”writes Tani Adams, director of CIRMA, a social sciences library and research institute in neighboring Guatemala. “Currently there is some destruction of books that have fallen under some debris, but the bulk of the collection is still sitting on very rickety shelves in rooms with their roofs about to fall or walls about to collapse.”

Volunteers and librarians dashed into still trembling rooms to save the bulk of the card catalog and some invaluable paintings.

“Obviously, this kind of effort will not work for 90,000 books,” Adams commented. Structural engineer and restoration architects are evaluating how to stabilize the building.

The DRCLAS Program for Latin American Libraries and Archives (PLALA) has awarded an emergency $10,000 grant to the library to help it preserve and move its collection. In 1997, PLALA awarded the Biblioteca Gallardo $17,500 grant toward “a project to repair, preserve, and microfilm scarce Salvadoran imprints from the library’s collections.” PLALA is a DRCLAS program to aid Latin American libraries with specific preservation needs. More than 66 Latin American archives and libraries from Mexico to Rio de Janeiro have received PLALA grants since DRCLAS created PLALA with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 199X. PLALA’s Executive Director is Widener Library Bibliographer Dan Hazen. PLALA grants, generally up to $20,000, are determined by a committee of distinguished scholars from universities throughout the United States.

Writing about the effect of the earthquake on the Salvadoran library, Adams indicates that “a good long term storage solution” has been found, in collaboration with the Salvadoran Ministry of Education. “The only crisis is getting the books out of the building,” she added.

CIRMA is coordinating the efforts to raise funds to save the books, while librarian colleagues in El Salvador are taking the lead in doing on-the-ground work. Adams writes that funds will be handled by CIRMA Foundation, a Guatemalan non-profit organization, in order to alleviate the El Salvador staff from having to occupy themselves with these details during this emergency.

For more information on how to help the Gallardo library, contact: Tani Adams, Director, Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamerica (CIRMA), 5 Calle Oriente #5, Antigua, Guatemala; tel: 502-832-0126, 832-1004/6/7; fax 832-2083; tadams@guate.net

Winter/Spring 2001

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