The library has thrived and grown through the generous gift of time and money by members of the community, and as is still the case, has relied for the past 50 years on the continued financial support of the people in San Miguel de Allende. The Biblioteca wishes to thank all of the generous persons, groups and companies for their donations of time and money.
The library began in a private home in 1954 and moved in 1958 to its current location at Insurgentes 25. This year, the Biblioteca is celebrating its 50th anniversary at this address and will offer a series of special events. Aside from its holdings of more than 60,000 volumes in Spanish, English, German or French and its many lecture, film and theater events, the library grants scholarships to young students and offers cultural activities.
The beginnings of the Biblioteca
In 1954, Helen Wale invited Mexican children to peruse the many magazines she had at her home on calle Hospicio. As the number of young visitors grew, she installed chairs and activity tables for the children. Several other expats began to offer assistance.
The space soon was inadequate, and in 1955, Mrs. Wale and her volunteer collaborators decided to rent a building near her home to house a children’s library, which they then supplemented with educational materials. The first addition to the holdings was a collection of books of fairy tales in English accompanied by Spanish translations. This was such a success that American students began donating more books and translating them into Spanish.
The volunteers were happy to have achieved their objective of creating a public library for children, but their scope soon broadened. In 1957, they asked the state governor, Jesús Rodríguez Gaona, for space to establish a library that would serve the entire community. The following year, the governor offered the building located at Insurgentes 9 (currently 25), which had been the local slaughterhouse and previously a part of the Santa Ana church and public housing for women.
About 20,000 pesos at that time was needed to restore the building, so several fund raising events were organized for that purpose. After four months of restoration, for which the volunteerscontributed 20,000 pesos and the state government 161,234 pesos, the Biblioteca Pública was officially inaugurated by Governor Rodríguez Gaona on Sunday, November 21, 1958. In a contract issued by the state government and authorized by the federal government, the legal owner of the building, the property was ceded to the civil association Biblioteca Pública de San Miguel A.C.
According to Juan Manuel Fajardo, the Biblioteca’s current librarian,Bibliolteca San Miguel de Allende inauguracion 1958 the first program created by the Biblioteca to offset expenses was the House and Garden Tour. “Another business for the library was the selling of postcards made by the children and by the volunteer artists who helped them,” said Fajardo. “It was the predecessor of La Tiendita” (the little shop).
According to Fajardo, the first volunteer librarians were Gloria Graham, Marny Martín and Toni de Gerez. “Afterward, as the activity of the library increased, a full-time librarian was needed. One of the first was Professor Benjamín García, who taught me to be a librarian,” he said.
In 1975, the Biblioteca launched Atención San Miguel, and in 1982 it started the rural libraries program that has supplied more than 350 rural schools with bookshelves and books.
Fajardo said that in 1993 the area where the Teatro and Café Santa Ana are currently located was ceded to the Biblioteca. “It was previously a part of the Briones family’s home. The building was in ruins and the Biblioteca had tried in vain to reach an agreement with the family. In 1993, the last member of the family died, and the government added the use of the building to the 1958 contract.”
Sala Quetzal, adjacent to the cafe, became the home of the Latin American studies collection. “Toni de Gerez was one of the promoters of this space and she gave it its name,” noted Fajardo.
History of the Biblioteca building
In 1734, a group of priests from the Oratorio, headed by Father José Hipólito de Aguado, founded a community house for poor women who were single, widowed, or abandoned by their husbands. Called Community House of Our Lady of Santa Ana, it was supported by members of San Miguel’s elite. Ignacio Allende’s great-grandmother, Doña María de Retis, bequeathed 100 pesos to the community house when she died in 1743. Several sanmiguelense women lived peacefully in the house until their deaths; some got married or became nuns.
The community house disappeared in 1862 when the government expropriated the Church’s properties during the War of Reform; the women were outcast and the building was left in ruins. Later it became the local slaughterhouse.