Libraries We Love: The Rural Libraries of Cajamarca
This Libraries We Love is a very special library project, run by volunteers all the way in the Andes in Northern Peru and supported by Sarah’s Rural Library Fund in the UK. The Rural Libraries of Cajamarca (Las Bibliotecas Rurales de Cajamarca) is a non-profit making, community based organisation which loans and transports books to the indigenous population of peasant farmers, developing literacy, equality and education through access to books, as well as preserving the cultural identity of the community. We love The Rural Libraries of Cajamarca because at its heart, it celebrates the importance and encourages the love of books within people’s everyday lives and shows that the desire for literacy is a universal one, no matter the remoteness of where you live.
The Rural Libraries of Cajamarca Network was founded in 1971 by Father John Medcalf and has been adapted to suit the needs and expectations of the rural population using the service. The network is run entirely by volunteers, consisting 45 coordinators, who carry the books in backpacks over the mountains and exchange them every three months, and 500 librarians, who keep the books at their houses for local people to borrow up to two for a week at a time. Amongst the indigenous population in the Andes there are currently 74,000 registered readers within the network, although this number does not take into account the many other ‘listening readers’ who either can’t or don’t have the time to read but benefit from the books by listening to other people read from them.
The Rural Libraries have published 130 different books on a variety of topics which have been requested by readers from the indigenous population living in isolated communities. Amongst popular subjects are books which encourage the continuing of traditional crafts and skills such as weaving, dyeing, herbal medicine and farming skills, as well as the Peruvian constitution and law books which help local farmers and the community as a whole to establish their legal rights – essential, as the world’s second biggest goldmine operates on a mountain within the community. Stories are also shared throughout the network and across generations; traditional tales have been recorded by the elders in the community which have been transcribed and then published for the younger generations to read back to their families.
Living a basic lifestyle with no electricity, heating or plumbing and sustaining themselves from the land, the indigenous population have little access to the education system and books are viewed as unrelated to the lives of the community. The Rural Libraries Network has proved to be not just important in making links between books and people, but to the community’s way of life. One librarian and his family said that since the project began they had ‘lost the shame’ of living as second class citizens within Peru.
The Rural Libraries Network is supported in the UK by Sarah’s Rural Library Fund, a charity set up in memory of Sarah Heery, a librarian from Liverpool who visited the project in Cajamarca and was thoroughly impressed by the project and the commitment and enthusiasm shown by all of its volunteers. Sarah’s family and friends have been raising money for the Rural Libraries Network through the Fund since she died in 2008 and the Fund is the only regular donor for the project. They aim to raise £10,000 a year to support the running of the project and fundraise through a number of events in Liverpool and London.