...una biblioteca es un gabinete mágico en el cual hay muchos espíritus hechizados. Despiertan cuando los llamamos; mientras no abrimos un libro, ese libro, literalmente, es un volumen, es una cosa entre las cosas.      - Emerson

Public Libraries Using Spanish


SOL 76   July 10, 2002

A fond and grateful farewell to Dr. Arnulfo Trejo, who se nos adelantó en el camino on July 5.  A few, just a few, of the accomplishments of this great librarian and humanitarian are recalled in tributes by some of those who knew him best.  Read them and let his bighearted example inspire your work.

SOL 76 Contents:


1. Oregon's greatest writer?

7. The language(s) of politics
2. A school library question 8. All-Star special: Big-leaguers like Spanish just fine, thanks
3. Pan-American children's literature group 9. Best SOL book giveaway ever
4. Non-fiction series galore for young readers 10. Revolutionary virtual library in Spanish
5. An influential Mexican film 11. Affordable audio transcriptions
6. Flag salute in Spanish 12. The artist in you

1. The donkey librarian, Porfirio

Se la encontraron allí, junto al río Willamette, por el lado donde descansan cada año los gansos salvajes, y era una casa tan vieja y tan vacía que parecía haber sido abandonada desde los días del Diluvio Universal, y la tomaron porque un abogado defensor de inmigrantes les dijo que en Oregon es legal tomar posesión de las casas abandonadas…Por su parte, Porfirio, aunque pasara las horas de sol comiendo la grama, dormía, filosofaba y jugaba con Manuelito en un cuarto anexo a la residencia que tal vez en sus buenos tiempos había sido una biblioteca, porque estaba repleto de almanaques y libros acerca de la crianza de pollos. Allí no irían a buscarlo ni la migra ni las autoridades municipales porque nunca, ni siquiera en tierra de gringos, se ha hablado de burros bibliotecarios.

They found themselves beside the Willamette River on the side where the wild geese nest each year, in a house so old and empty that it looked as if it had been vacant since the time of the great Biblical flood.  They moved in because some immigration lawyer told them that in Oregon it was perfectly legal to occupy abandoned houses...As for the donkey Porfirio, though he spent the daylight hours grazing, he slept, philosophized, and played with little Manuelito in an adjoining room that in better days had perhaps been a library, filled as it was with almanacs and books about raising chickens.  Neither the INS nor the cops would ever think to look for him in there, because never, not even in the land of the gringos, had anyone ever heard tell of donkey librarians.

--Eduardo González Viaña, "El libro de Porfirio"; hamfisted translation by Flaco

Last month Eduardo González Viaña went to Egypt to accept the Instituto Cervantes' literary award, which finds a place on his mantelpiece in Oregon alongside the Juan Rulfo Award for short fiction (1999's Premio Internacional de Cuento Juan Rulfo) and Peru's National Literary Prize.  The passage above is from Los sueños de América, a phenomenal Spanish-language bestseller in the U.S. Its 19 masterful stories, at once warmly humorous and wrenching, center on the experiences of Latin American immigrants in this country--experiences as familiar as they are extraordinary.

 Flaco would like to know why WorldCat says only four public library systems in Oregon, for example, own this book (mad props to Eugene PL, Salem, Chemeketa, and good ol' WCCLS). 

González Viaña, friend to his paisano Mario Vargas Llosa, is the real deal, folks. In Egypt he was hospitalized briefly for a case of indigestion that must’ve been truly colossal--the doctors wanted to operate--and we wish him continued good health so he can write more great stuff.

2. Question: Arranging a bilingual school library

From: Martha C. Petty

Subject:  New librarian

 Here's my first question:
 I am re-opening a library in a bilingual elementary school.  I'm deciding whether or not to integrate the collection so
 that Spanish and English titles are mixed in the Reference, fiction, and non-fiction sections; or to separate the
 sections so that there is a Spanish reference section and an English reference section, a Spanish fiction section and
 an English one, etc.  What are your thoughts? 

3. All-American kid-lit council created

In Peru a couple weeks ago, children’s literature creators and supporters—authors, illustrators, publishers, and educators—formally founded the Latin American Academy of Children’s and Young Adult Literature (Academia Latinoamericana de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil) with the stated goal of fostering unity and cultural exchange in the kid-lit scene across the Americas.

By the way, this is the sort of thing you can pick up, if you read some Spanish, from the ambitious and up-to-the-minute internet newsletters Imaginaria (see SOL 75) and Librusa (SOL 73).

4. Rourke expands Spanish-language and bilingual offerings for kids

Appealing nonfiction for elementary schoolers, in thematic sets of six volumes, is the specialty of Rourke Publishing.  You can find descriptions of the company's wide variety of Spanish-language titles at Rourke's website; if you're looking for bilingual books, ask about their forthcoming series that focus on sports, explorers, U.S. state symbols, and hands-on physics experiments.

We had a chance to look over Rourke's Spanish translations of the Famous Inventors, People Who Made a Difference, and Life on the Farm series.  The format and layout of all the books is lavishly attractive: striking full-page photographs, paintings, or prints face straightforward large-print text that is mostly informative and intriguing.  At the end of each 24-page volume is a glossary of unfamiliar words and expressions, an index, and a list of related books and websites (all of them in English). Only the farm books hit some false notes with their idealized presentation of an agricultural universe where hormones and hazardous pesticides don't seem to exist.  Some of the target audience already has significant exposure to this stuff and deserves the chance to read about it. 

To find out how you can win one of these wonderful sets for your library, free and clear, keep reading...

5. Cuarón, Quidditch, and Canoa

The runaway hit Y tu mamá también is this year’s top Mexican movie in the U.S., and the word here in Hollywood is that its young director Alfonso Cuarón is short-listed to maybe helm the third Harry Potter movie (right, there’s only been one of those, but Chris Columbus has already announced plans to bail after the second). If this means a new Spanish teacher at Hogwarts, versed in the kind of colorful colloquialisms that so enriched Y tu mamá, then Flaco is down with the idea.

No question about it, Cuarón is hot right now. But who inspired him? The LA Film Festival last month gave him a chance to screen and discuss three of his favorite films; one of them was Canoa, a groundbreaking 1975 social drama directed by Mexican master Felipe Cazals. Though their descriptive notes are kinda sketchy, the gang at will give you change on a $20 bill if you buy a tape of this modern classic from them.

6. Let your freak flag fly, as the kids say

Your patriotic friend Flaco has been saluting flags for weeks now, the car-mounted ones that proved we were indeed one planet under the fickle gods of soccer. They’ve been waving on the streets and highways all over the place: the flags of Korea, Mexico, Brazil...seeing’s how we gave you "The Star-Spangled Bandera" last time, you might like to see the Pledge of Allegiance, suddenly getting some well-deserved-scrutiny, translated into Spanish at

7. Voting with your feet?  Then hand over your boots!

Just like your library,  practical politicos are pushing polyglossia all across the U.S.  This recent Denver Post story about GOP Spanish-language outreach efforts might interest you.  An excerpt:

Latinos, traditionally Democrat, have become the newest sweethearts of political parties and corporations, with their billion-dollar buying and block-voting power.

Within the past 15 months, the Republican National Committee has hired a director of grass roots to take the message to the street, kicked off a Spanish TV show airing in specific markets, including Denver, and has hosted training for potential Latino candidates.  

And what, you ask, is the message? According to a hack, it’s "one of empowerment and opportunity."  Which you have more of, in your library, than either major party has in its platform.  So what are you waiting for?  (But what, Flaco wonders, is a "director of grass roots"?!)

A rather more fact-packed analysis by Dr. Domenico Maceri of the University of California at Santa Barbara indulges us with this amusing anecdote about our almost-multilingual president:

For example, during the 2000 election he asked an audience for their "botas" (boots) instead of "votos" (votes).

"Yet," Maceri concedes, at least "Bush tried to connect in Spanish, forcing Al Gore and Democrats to follow suit en español."

In the race for New Mexico's statehouse, also, language is a strategic implement. Candidate Bill Richardson has an Anglo name but grew up bilingual; his Republican opponent John Sanchez has a Hispanic surname but when it comes to español you can't trust him to do much more than order a round of margaritas. As you might expect, Richardson has challenged Sanchez to debate him in Spanish as happened in Texas’s gubernatorial race a few months ago.  An article about these political contrivances will appeal to the wonk in you.

8. Talkin' beisbol

It’s the All-Star break, sports fans, when much of the nation stops to cool off and pop open a few hard-earned cans of refreshing oat soda from Milwaukee, site of yesterday's midsummer classic. Consider the National League’s marvelous starting outfield of Bonds, Sosa, and Guerrero: two of those guys are from the Dominican Republic. As children, one of them shined shoes and the other drank from mud puddles and has never learned English or French (he plays for the Montreal Expos). Says he likes it that way. A bilingual  ESPN sportswriter’s profile of the amazing Vladimir Guerrero, "Beyond Words," is a revealing look at the complex role that language plays in the big leagues and beyond:

Guerrero is insecure, too, about never having learned English. But now he's too comfortable to change that, despite prodding from Expos management, because he likes his simple life the way it is -- tranquil, to use his word. Speaking only Spanish in a city of French and English provides a shield for his shyness, the language barrier becoming just that, a barrier between him and an excess of attention. Fame? "Not interested," he says through a smile. "Brings problems."

The big bombshell in baseball linguistics, though, was last week’s widely reported story of the Yankees’ decision to strand Orlando "El Duque" Hernández without his longtime interpreter. Insiders are whispering that this isn’t so much a policy decision as it is payback for the Cuban’s sub-par pitching. All of which is reportedly raising issues of discrimination and worker rights.  Decide for yourself, if you're so inclined; read about it in an article that says, among other things,

The issue is a touchy one, especially with the skyrocketing number of Latino players. According to the Center for Sport and Society at Northeastern University in Boston, Latinos make up 26 percent of the game's population - double the number of a decade ago - and 43 percent of minor leaguers.

Nevertheless, Major League Baseball has not adopted an overarching policy...

9. Dreams do come true!  Win some books!

Newly minted SOLista Tsipi Wexler, over in Haifa, Israel, sends us a link to a piece covering the latest surveys of Spanish-speaking Internet users: "In Any Language, Hispanics Enjoy Surfing."  That in turn links to the recent Pew study charting phenomenal growth in Web use among Latinos.

This is valuable information, though some of the findings are a trifle unsettling: the respondents' most popular site is that of, and "20 percent of those surveyed [said] they have searched the Net in their dreams."

If you're dreaming of how you can get your hands on some fine Spanish-language kids' books for your library, then simply be the first SOLista to correctly answer this question ¿In how many languages does Google offer a user interface?  (Never mind that not all of them are real languages.  This ain't a trick question.  Also, there will be no ties--different from ambiguous games like soccer and, uh, baseball.)

The prize?  A complete six-volume set of library-bound books for elementary schoolers from Rourke Publishing, as mentioned in Item 4.  That's a $77.70 value (what was the score of the All-Star game again?), so get busy already!

10. "...hay que tener una gran dosis de humanidad..."

Millions know him only as a face on a tee shirt, but the flesh-and-blood Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a medical doctor and an eloquent writer and speaker.  Now a well-designed online multimedia library, all in Spanish, brings together a wealth of works by and about Che.  Find it at

11. Do you need transcriptions of audio tapes in Spanish?

From: Nina Moss
Subject: Transcriptions from Spanish

Transcription service in Spanish is now available from a cooperative group of Argentine students.  This service, which originated in Buenos Aires as a self-help project, is being coordinated by Mirtha Lezcano (mslezcano@hotmailcom), an ESL teacher who leads grassroots projects there.

The cooperative does an excellent and timely job of transcription, and charges a highly competitive fee. A finished transcription can be had in approximately three weeks:  one week in transit to Argentina and about two weeks to process the tapes; the transcriptions are returned by e-mail.  The fee is $5 per labor hour, normally about 7 hours for a one-hour recording. Complete confidentiality is observed; the tape is erased after transcription is completed.

If you wish to make use of this very economical service--and in the process help the cooperative--send your tape(s) via regular mail to the address below.  To ensure the privacy of your informant(s), do not include names on the tape box. We also suggest that you send only copies, not the original tapes. 

Professor Lezcano- Att.  G. Deni
Argentina Cooperative Connection
326 Emilio Mitre
1706 Haedo, Buenos Aires

Note:  The cost for 5 tapes to arrive via regular mail from the U.S. to Argentina within 6 days is $9; a $4 mailing will take 40 days to arrive.  For further information about this service, please e-mail Mabel Preloran, Ph.D ( Maria Casado ( ), coordinators of the US-Argentina Cooperative Connection, both of whom have used the service extensively.

12.  For everyone

Not long ago Flaco was lucky to see an exhibit devoted to one of his favorite painters, José Clemente Orozco, at the San Diego Musuem of Art.  Some words on the wall have been sounding in the thin man's head ever since:

La pintura más elevada, más lógica, la más pura y fuerte, es el mural. En su mera forma, se une a las otras artes--a todas. Es también la forma más desinteresada, pues no es para el goce individual, no puede esconderse para el provecho de unos cuantos privilegiados. Es para todo el pueblo. Es para todos.

The noblest painting, the most logical, the purest and most powerful, is the mural.  Its very form joins the other arts--all of them.  It's also the most equitable kind of painting, because it’s not for anyone's private enjoyment.  A mural cannot be hidden away for the pleasure of a few privileged viewers.  It's for all the people.  It's for everyone.

--José Clemente Orozco, "Nuevo mundo, nuevas razas, nueva arte"

Substitute biblioteca for mural, change just a couple other words, and you've got a fitting pæan to the bedrock virtues of the public library.  What you're doing in your library each day--all that hard, sometimes tedious work--is a lot like what the muralist does.  That makes you an artist.

May you be a great one.  Keep your brushes clean and your eyes clear.  Class dismissed.

Bruce Jensen

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