Librarian promotes literacy in Guatemala

CSU Monterey Bay reference and instruction librarian Sarah Dahlen personifies public service.

She has worked as an adult education teacher in a family literacy program in Arizona, and, in 2013, used her library skills to help youngsters in Guatemala through Librarians Without Borders (LWB).

Map of GuatemalaFounded in 2005, LWB is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization founded by “socially-minded librarians who wanted to address the information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world,” according to its website.

This month, Dahlen is heading back to Central America with LWB, leading a dozen librarians and library students from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Spain. They will be in Guatemala for 12 days, split between the city of Quetzaltenango and the remote village of Chajul.

In Quetzaltenango, the group will work at the Asturis Academy, the fifth time since 2009 Librarians Without Borders has sent volunteers to the K-12 school. Over the years, they have helped to establish a library, build its capacity and set up a circulation system.

“We will be helping them catalog some of their books and presenting library-related programming for each grade,” Dahlen said. “They are hoping to start checking out books to students during our visit.”

The second stop on the trip is a children’s library in Chajul. The staff has asked for help incorporating literacy skills into story time. “Our group will lead a story time and art activity with the children as a demonstration, and have conversations with the librarians about additional programming ideas,” Dahlen said.

The CSUMB librarian’s attraction to the non-profit and its work is the result of shared values. “Like LWB, I am committed to intellectual freedom, reliable access to credible information, linguistic and cultural diversity and collaborative problem-solving,” she said. “I embrace the opportunity to realize these principles beyond my own library.”

Lending libraries are uncommon in Guatemala, and getting an education is difficult for many, due in part to the lack of access to books. In a country where books are taxed beyond the reach of the 75 percent of the population who live in poverty, it’s almost impossible to get children excited about reading because they can’t get books in their hands.

Read the trip blog

LWB group photo