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By Julie Etra

When Mexico established its first official library in 1534, it was open only to the privileged class, and contained presumably mostly religious works and works that supported the domination of Indians by their conquerors. The history of Mexican libraries is extensive (

Today the public library system is operated by the National Network of Public Libraries. It is managed by the by the General Directorate of Libraries, the National Council for Culture and the Arts. The entire system is composed of 31 state networks and 16 borough networks, each composed in turn by all public libraries established or delegated in the state under cooperative agreements between the federal government and local governments. The National Network currently operates 7,363 public libraries which are established in 2,281 municipalities, 93.2 percent of total libraries existing in the country. It provides free library services to more than 30 million annual users.

The structure of the library system is as follows:

  • The State Coordination of Public Libraries is the state agency responsible for operating the public library network. It operates as the liaison between the General Directorate of Libraries, municipal governments and public libraries.
  • The Central Public Library is located in the state capital, and has more resources than other libraries and provides additional services and cultural activities.
  • Regional Public libraries are located in major cities.
  • Municipal libraries are established in all municipalities.

The best, most complete, and well-known library in Mexico is located at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. This library was founded in 1867. Following the defeat of Emperor Maximiliano and the restoration of the Republic, President Benito Juárez, per the decree of November 30, 1867, established the library in the Church of San Agustín. It is by far the largest library in the country housing over 1,250,000 books and documents.

Objectives of the National Library are to collect, organize, preserve and disseminate literature and documents of the country, to support the development of the scientific, educational and cultural center of Mexico, to centralize, preserve and make accessible materials published in various formats, and to integrate the bibliographic heritage of the nation. Within the library exist specialty libraries including the Music, the Teaching, the Map Library, and the Video Library. Of special interest is the Reserve Fund where the oldest and most valuable documents are stored in a three-story 7,572 sq. m facility. The library offers a variety of special programs and workshops, from Mexican films (“Perspectives on Mexican Cinema”) to oral traditions/storytelling, and workshops on Opera.

Also in Mexico City is the José Vasconcelos Library known as a “megalibrary” as it is spread across 38,000 sq. m. It is dedicated to José Vasconcelos, the former philosopher, presidential candidate, and president of the National Library of Mexico born in Oaxaca City. Former President Vincente Fox inaugurated the library on May 16, 2006. Although he stated that this was one of the most advanced constructions of the 21st century, the library had to close for repairs in March 2007 and was re-opened in November 2008. It features a Braille room, garden, children’s room, and periodical room.

Another interesting library is the Public Library of the University of Michoacan located in the city of Morelia in what was an old 17th Century Catholic church. It was founded in 1930 and contains an extensive collection of 15th century to early 20th century documents and publications. With 22,901 volumes, it is considered the third largest collection of antique books owned by public universities.

In Huatulco, the little public library is located in Crucecita on Fonatur property. The librarian, Cristina Anlehu Guillenif, works for the Municipio, the smallest unit of the library system. She is very dedicated to her primarily young audience, although extremely hampered by lack of funds, support, and basic services like Internet. Hopefully when the new administration is in place in January she will receive more support. Donations, particularly new books in Spanish, are always appreciated.



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