Center For Studies And Research Of The Amazon (nepeCAB)
MLS, Universidade Federal do Amazonas, 2000
Photo by Sebastião Alves
The Amazon State Public Library, in Manaus, Brazil, closed in 2007 for renovation. Five years later, it was still closed. So was the only other public library in this city of two million, located in the northwest state of Amazonas.
By April 2012, Soraia Magalhães, an applied librarian and researcher with the Center for Studies and Research of the Amazon, had had enough. She discovered the Amazon StatePublic Library at age 13, and its palatial beauty and bounty of books inspired her career. She wanted it reopened.
Magalhães and several colleagues launched Abre Biblioteca, or Open the Library. Within a month, they had gathered 2,686 signatures on an online petition that was delivered to the governor. They created a Facebook page that garnered 4,400 fans and an Abre Biblioteca graphic that caught on. People across the city stamped it on T-shirts and posters.
They also held public events and demonstrations. In August 2012 on the blazing hot streets in front of the library they offered library services, including a public reading of books and newspapers, cultural activities, and a book launch and author signing. Graffiti artists tagged the construction panels surrounding the library with spray-painted calls to reopen it.
The government responded with three reopening dates—and missed them all. So Abre Biblioteca got louder. During the inauguration of a public square in Manaus in December attended by city officials, the group chanted “Abre Biblioteca!” Magalhães has chronicled (and photographed) their efforts on her blog, Caçadores de Bibliotecas (Library Hunters).
This time the governor heard them. He promised to reopen the library in January 2013. That reopening was a near-miss. But then on January 31, the library opened its doors to the public.
In her email announcing the opening, Magalhães says, “This…achievement [was] made possible through the commitment of many persons—librarians, artists, teachers, students, and more!!” Her colleagues, however, have taken notice of her role in the campaign to reopen the Manaus library and her dedication to library service: nearly 30 Brazilians nominated her as a Mover & Shaker.
Magalhães is passionate about what libraries can provide in a democratic society. Since October 2011, she has visited 45 libraries in 22 cities across Amazonas as part of a study to assess the state of its public libraries. “Eight of these cities do not have libraries, and the remainder [operate] in adverse conditions,” she says. She hopes to visit all 62 Amazonas counties. There’s no limit to her commitment.