Meeting Asturias’ Librarians, Part 1

LWB’s successful Librarian Stipend project has made it possible for the Asturias Academy in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to welcome two librarians. In March, it was announced that Nicholas Newlin, mostly recently working at the Library of Congress, would be coming to Asturias. He is joined in the library by Dorita Dominguez (from the local area), who is developing a lecture program to promote analytical reading and critical thinking.

The 2012 Guatemala trip team is looking forward to working with Nic and Dorita—in less than a month! This post presents our first introduction to Nic, from an interview conducted by Carolyn Doi. Stay tuned…more will follow!

Name: Nicholas Newlin

Hometown: I was born in Colorado and then moved from there to DC after going to school at the CU Boulder. I applied for a part-time position that I had seen advertised in the Omaha World Herald and it took about a year to get it.

Tell us a bit about your library experience and what you were doing before moving to Guatemala:

I had been working with the Library of Congress in DC for several years, but have long been interested in the development of libraries Latin America. I went to school at Maryland in College Park. At the Library, I worked for the first year in the stacks shelving books and delivering calls to readers (stacks are closed). I then moved to the Manuscript Division. They are in charge of organization and description of personal papers of influential Americans.

Finally, I ended up again with the Collections Management Division and worked in the main office as well as did database administration and statistical reports. The main focus of this position was offsite storage at Ft Meade, Maryland, where the library has less than a measly 1% of their collection—that amounts to about 4 million books! It is really state of the art: books are arranged in boxes by size and everything is located according to barcode (book, box, shelf…) with bookstacks about 50 yards high and great environmental controls. Requested items go back and forth from the Library twice a day.

What inspired you to go to Asturias?

The environment and challenge that LWB and the Director, Jorge Chojolan, had offered. Also, I wanted a stable position that would get me to Latin America so that after the library here at school was organized and programming was offered to the older students, I can work on projects in the community.

Mostly, this means working toward greater visibility for libraries that exist, and establishing venues for paraprofessionals and professionals working here in Guatemala. It is important to get people to think more about reading and how important it can be for young people, and of course Latin America has so many.

What is the role of the library and a librarian at Asturias? Do you get the sense that this is different from North American schools?

The main roles of the librarian, for my part, have been to organize the collection so that it is useful and accessible, then work with students in group and individual reading, and also integrate the resources into the curriculum and overall trajectory of the school. While students feel comfortable throughout the building, I think that the library provides a good space for quiet time and reading as well as a chance to relax (during recess many kids come up to work on puzzles or play chess), and I have tried to make it is open and welcoming as possible.

But, since the library is quite new yet, I think that its role in the school will evolve; it should become a place to pursue research, a place that students come for homework help, to check out books to read on their own time, and of course for games or puzzles. I think that as a media center it is very similar, but the students probably approach it a bit differently because they haven’t had much exposure to libraries. There is a greater emphasis on providing instruction as much as access to the books, which I do think is a bit different.

So far, what’s the coolest thing you’ve done or the most beautiful thing you’ve seen in Guatemala?

The sunrise hike to el mirador from San Pedro in Lago Atitlan. It was really a nice morning and with a great group of people; I will definitely be back there and visit the hostel where I stayed. I am excited to get to a few soccer games and to see more of the markets, which are some of the most dynamic places that we come across down here. Also, being around the younger kids at school is really nice because they are quite happy and so innocent.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Librarians Without Borders » Meeting Asturias’ Librarians, Part 2 — April 12, 2012 @ 7:22 am

  2. Librarians Without Borders » Lending Library Project at Miguel Angel Asturias Academy — April 17, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

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