Upon stepping into Municipal Library Gustavo Izquierdo of Trinidad at #265 street Marti in the commercial and administrative area of the city center, my senses were assailed with the scent of old (and I mean ‘weary’ old) books. The building itself was stately but in desperate need of repair, as much of Cuba is. It contained rows of shelves, neatly lined with well used, yellow paged books, many with rebuilt bindings and all somewhat faded of color. The black and white tiles on the floors were rather striking and under all that age, the past splendor of the original building could not be denied. I closed my eyes for a moment and easily imagined a huge ballroom full of dancing, beautifully dressed guests. The shutters, if there were any, hung in tatters on crooked window frames, no blinds were present so that natural light and dust were free to drift in. There were no doors on the baño which was tragically outfitted with ‘more than’ seriously challenged plumbing. The center courtyard was home to what must have once been a lovely fountain but it clearly had not seen flowing water in years. And yet … like everywhere in Cuba, there were people making the most of what was available to them and the quest for learning was all around us. Individual rooms around the courtyard were buzzing with office activity and very small class rooms held adults studying with an educator. Two older women were learning English, making me smile.
According to information collected by the *UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) on behalf of UNESCO with 2015 estimates based on people aged fifteen or over, Cuba has an outstanding literacy rate of 99.7%! Education is available to everyone in Cuba and mandatory from 6 to 15 years of age. Students are offered free education through university, medical school, technical schools and other professional programs. Everyone in Cuba is expected to work and everyone is expected to read. There are some 400 public libraries in Cuba and all are overseen by the National Library director. There is a large library in every municipality and a smaller library in each community. There are even branches in remote areas on the island. I was very pleased to learn through publiclibrariesonline.org that all public libraries in Cuba also provide services for people with disabilities. There are libraries in every school, classes are required to attend the library once a week and often they are open for evening classes, as well. Adding to Cuba’s extraordinary commitment to reading and education, there is a University in every province of Cuba that provides a five year library degree program where graduates receive a BA degree in librarianship and the science of information.
Pat Corlin Photography
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