Guadalajara’s Intellectual Freedom “Buzz”
I was honored to be an invited speaker at the three-day library conference within a conference, “Information in the Building of Society and Citizenship,” which was held November 28–30 during the 2011 Guadalajara Book Fair. This style of library conference—in this case, the 18th International Colloquium of Librarians—is becoming increasingly common; in 2010, I spoke at a similar event in Pula, Croatia, at an annual book festival. The atmosphere reminded me of the Chicago Humanities Festival, which is similar to TED events and SXSW in Austin, Texas. Librarians and libraries become part of the general cultural “buzz” around books and ideas—precisely where we need to be seen and heard.
But first, let me share the overall “vibe” at the book fair: Judging from the lines of children and adults outside the convention center, the local press coverage, and the welcome signs in front of hotels and restaurants, this event is firmly embedded in the Guadalajara cultural scene. The second largest in the world, the book fair is clearly part of the Mexican government’s effort to sustain an even-more-vibrant reading culture. As ALA President Molly Raphael has noted, there were books, books, books—and on paper! Not an ebook in sight. I was also fascinated to see a booth devoted entirely to gay and lesbian materials, and the Ecuador booth filled with books about alternative lifestyles in Quito. As the intellectual freedom snoop, I observed that, amid the dozens of booths featuring children’s materials, there were children’s books that contained more nudity than the US market would tolerate. There was also exquisite jewelry and crafts from prominent Mexican artisans and a tequila tasting booth. I was even able to talk to a local representative from the Guadalajara Jewish community about Jewish newspapers in Mexico.
Second, the library conference. At my panel, “Libraries Serving Diversity,” chaired by Helen Ladron de Guevara of the University of Guadalajara, what would you guess I talked about? “Intellectual Freedom: It’s Global; It’s Local.” It warmed my heart to look out into a crowd of 300 and see that at least half were wearing “I Read Banned Books” stickers. There were four other excellent speakers, covering topics such as “Biocultural Diversity: Recovering the Word, Dissemination of Information,” “Information as a Legally Protected Common Public Good,” and “Promoting the Preservation of Information and Cultural Diversity.”
But the audience really loved Alberto Rebolledo’s “Use of Information and Libraries Providing Support for and Building Awareness of Sexual Diversity in University Groups: The Value of a Human Being.” Many years ago Mr. Rebolledo started the gay and lesbian group at the University of Guadalajara and the only place on campus offering them a meeting room was—you guessed it—the library. He expressed his appreciation for that support and appealed to Mexican libraries to provide young people with gay and lesbian–themed materials to help them feel comfortable about their identities. I was pleasantly surprised, in my subsequent conversations with him, to learn that in the large Mexican cities—and even in small villages—there is far more acceptance of the LGBT community than I had imagined.
As always, engaging with librarians internationally is a life-changing experience and I always take away far more than I give. I met people from around the Spanish-speaking world and beyond, including two Nobel laureates. It was great for an aspiring Spanish speaker like me that many were willing to teach me some Spanish in exchange for speaking English to me. ALA seems to be much respected in Mexico, and I hope to continue working there whenever there is an opportunity.