Biblioturismo: Colombia

This summer, I decided to take a short vacation to Colombia. My initial intent was not to turn the trip into a library-and-archives-bonanza, but that’s pretty much what it ended up being, to my delight. I love to travel, and this trip to Colombia was to get to know a place I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time, and to visit colleagues whom I’ve come to call friends through our work on the Infotecarios blog. 

Bogotá

Arriving on a Saturday evening, I spent four busy days in the capital city of Colombia, Bogotá, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that I started the library and archives activities. On Sunday, I took a detour to the páramo, in the Sumapaz ecological reserve just outside of Bogotá, with a group of about 30 very friendly and welcoming Colombian outdoor enthusiasts. We climbed to an elevation of about 3,800 meters (12,400 feet) in the driving rain and biting cold, but the amazing views and being high up in the haunting desolate landscape of the páramo was unforgettable. The next day I took it slow and did a

"Nuestro Norte es el Sur." Graffiti on the streets of Bogotá. This work was nearly painted over by the historic preservation committee, but the community resisted and repaired the part where the city tried to "restore."

“Nuestro Norte es el Sur.” Graffiti on the streets of Bogotá. This work was nearly painted over by the historic preservation committee, but the community resisted and repaired the part the city tried to “restore.”

walking graffiti tour, learning about the alternative arts scene, the ephemerality of the work graffiti artists engage in, hearing the stories behind the expressions of protest, reconciliation and healing; and the palimpsests that are the walls of the Spanish colonial buildings in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá.

After resting from the hike with plenty of museums, good food and hot drinks I was ready for the day-long tours of the Archivo de Bogotá and the Archivo General de la Nación (Colombia’s national archives) bright and early the next day. I began at the archives of the city of Bogotá, which is housed in an amazing building specifically built to accommodate its purpose of stewarding the administrative and cultural heritage of the city. The building is an example to other Latin American countries planning infrastructure for their national or municipal archives. Everything about the building has archives in mind, from its energy-saving features that work with the natural climate and environment of Bogotá, to its philosophical design as a space that incorporates the senses and the archives into the purposes of the various wings. Hearing: classrooms and auditorium; Sight: exhibition spaces; Touch: the reading room; Smell: the natural spaces where one can breathe the air of the city.

Later that day, I toured the Archivo General de la Nación, which is doing amazing work in regards to advocacy for the archives profession in Colombia, frequently hosting talks, workshops and conferences in conjunction with the Sociedad Colombiana de Archivistas. It’s also only a few blocks from the Archivo de Bogotá, forming a sort of amazing mini-park of archival awesomeness.

In the evening I gave a small talk to a group of graduates of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, which has a library school and will be launching a master’s degree program in cultural heritage and memory later this year. It was a great opportunity to meet with other new professionals in Bogotá. The next day I was able to meet with the director of the library science program, who gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the university archives and told me more about the new master’s program in Archivística Histórica y Memoria that will be launching soon.

Medellín

After a whirlwind tour in Bogotá, I hopped on a short local flight to Medellín to warm up a bit and see some of the countryside. I was received very warmly by my dear friend Santiago Villegas-Ceballos, a local tech and library celebrity who seems to know just about everyone in the Antioquian library scene.

Santiago, Natalie and Jaider at the Escuela Interamericana de Bibliotecología in Medellín.

Santiago, Natalie and Jaider at the Escuela Interamericana de Bibliotecología in Medellín

After a first day of getting to know the City of Eternal Spring through its gastronomic avenues and alleys, I had the pleasure to visit the Escuela Interamericana de Bibliotecología, where my colleague Jaider Ochoa gives classes on really cool (and cutting edge) topics such as data science and open data.

The reading room in the Sala de Prensa, at the University of Antioquia.
The reading room in the Sala de Prensa, at the University of Antioquia.

We also visited the University of Antioquia’s main library, where among the typical information services in an academic library, it also had a large area for consulting historic newspapers. Many of the patrons to this section of the library (which is open to the public), come to collect evidence on their loved ones’ murders and disappearances in the armed conflict, so that they can begin the official reconciliation process. It was a reminder of the power that information can play in the peace process, and that librarians and archivists are on the front lines of the healing process.

Santiago then took me on a cultural tour of Medellín, where we checked out the Museo de Antioquia, which has a large collection of Fernando Botero works, both paintings and sculpture. Then we took a ride on the cable cars to the Comuna 13 neighborhood, where the cable cars are a form of public transit that connects some of the poorest neighborhoods in the hills surrounding the city to Medellín’s business and commercial center, effectively cutting commute times by hours, especially for the disabled, elderly and those with children in tow.

Riding the cable cars to Comuna 13; and exploring the San Javier library park in Medellín.

Riding the cable cars to Comuna 13; and exploring the San Javier library park in Medellín.

In many the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, the famous Parques Bibliotecas, or library parks, operate in an ecosystem of a large library also connected with essential public services–a one-stop shop. These library parks provide a space where community members can go to access books, local information, hold meetings, and take classes to learn anything from sign language to computer literacy. When I visited the San Javier library park, it was bustling with activity: a class on digital literacy, children attending story time, and local residents leafing through the materials on community issues in the Sala de mi barrio. 

Then, after some horseback riding and a huge bandeja paisa for lunch, I jetted back to Bogotá for one last night and was warmly received by my good friend Mauricio Fino-Garzón, whom I’ve had the opportunity to “desvirtualizar” with several times in Miami prior to seeing him on his home turf.

And that, my friends, was a whirlwind of a library, archives and museum bonanza in Colombia! I highly recommend visiting this beautiful and friendly country if you have the opportunity.