Libros for Oregon offers cooperative Spanish-language book buying for libraries
Imagine walking into an immense conference center filled not only with books from around the world but with beautiful and innovative displays of mostly Spanish-language books waiting to be purchased. It’s a librarian’s dream come true. And it is a real event that takes place each year in Guadalajara, Mexico, called la Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL).
“In 2016 alone, the FIL featured 2,042 publishing houses from 47 countries,” said Deborah Gitlitz, Outreach Librarian, Bibliotecaria Comunitaria, Wilsonville Public Library. However, getting to FIL can be a challenge for many libraries. Gitlitz is the leader of a team of librarians who started a book-buying cooperative for libraries throughout Oregon with the goal of improving Spanish-language collections throughout the state, and helping libraries connect those collections with their communities. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the state, but finding culturally appropriate books has been difficult, said Gitlitz, who has been to FIL six times as a buying librarian for various libraries.
“The project we put together is called “Libros for Oregon: Collections Connect Communities,” Gitlitz explained. “Its primary goal is to increase access to high-quality Spanish language books for the users of Oregon libraries, particularly users of smaller, rural libraries.” With the help of a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered through the Oregon State Library, Libros for Oregon was born in 2016. The project involved a full year of planning with a pilot cohort of three librarians traveling to FIL on behalf of nine libraries in 2017. Road-tested and now a subcommittee of OLA, Libros for Oregon sent its first non-pilot cohort to the Guadalajara book fair in November of 2018. Thus far, 15 libraries have participated, and two teams of library staff have traveled to FIL to purchase books for the participating libraries.
“You really get a good sense of publishing trends and what is really popular and important to the communities they serve,” said Star Khan, Outreach Services Coordinator for Driftwood Public Library in Lincoln City, who has gone to FIL twice with the Libros cohort. “Also the experience of seeing all the books and being able to go through them physically really helps.” As a traveling librarian with Libros, Khan not only looked for books for Driftwood Public Library but also for other participating libraries. The way Libros for Oregon works is that libraries apply to participate in the book-buying cooperative, each contributing $200 toward traveling expenses for three library staff who go to Guadalajara to make the selections at FIL. Each participating library then also provides a budget for purchasing books for their library, and each library is individually invoiced and pays when they receive their books. It’s a very easy process for libraries who want to purchase books in Spanish. Every year, the Libros cohort will include a librarian who has been to FIL before and has experience in navigating the book fair. “This was my second time and it was a lot less overwhelming since I knew the basic layout,” Khan said. “I already had in mind some favorite booths to visit in order to track down certain items.”
The 2018 Libros cohort also included a library student volunteer from Emporia State University, Lia Gutierrez, who helped record and organize the purchases for the various participating libraries. “I was a bit nervous because I had never been to anything similar to FIL, but the experience was worthwhile,” Gutierrez said. “I have never seen so many books in one place. And the vendor bookstands and book displays were incredible.”
While Libros for Oregon saves many small libraries money by not having to pay staff time and travel to send someone to Guadalajara, the plan is that someone who has not been to FIL goes with the group each year, to share the experience and prepare new participants to be possible Libros team leaders another year. Thus far, the group has included library staff who can speak Spanish, but speaking Spanish is not required. “Spanish isn’t necessary at all,” Khan said. “I ran into many folks who didn’t speak a word of Spanish.” Librarians who travel with the cohort can have most expenses paid through the American Library Association and through Libros for Oregon. Travelers may have to pay for some of their airfare, food and other incidentals, but the goal is to cover nearly all expenses for travelers. More information is available on the Libros for Oregon website, and the address appears at the end of this article. In addition to providing an array of books in Spanish, FIL also offers many professional development opportunities. “Authors give televised presentations. Publishers hold meet-and-greets,” Gitlitz said. “Book professionals from around the world converge in the vast International section and swap business cards.”
Public and school libraries throughout Oregon can apply to take advantage of the book-buying cooperative offered through Libros for Oregon to purchase Spanish books for their communities. The organization, which began with public libraries, would like to encourage school districts or individual small schools to apply to participate in Libros for Oregon –the door is wide open. The application process will begin on February 19th with a deadline of April 30th . Selected participants will be notified by May 20th . For more information please check out the Libros for Oregon website: https://librosfororegon.wixsite.com/home or the Libros for Oregon Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Libros4Oregon/ .
By Linda Campillo
Linda is a retired teacher/librarian and member of OLA/OASL who sits on the Libros for Oregon subcommittee and the International Relations Round Table.