November 17, 2017

Sunland Park Library Reopens After Three Year Hiatus

Sunland Park Community LibraryThe Sunland Park Community Library (SPCL), NM, celebrated a grand reopening on August 13th after a three-year suspension. The library had closed amid tremendous budget deficiencies, as well as allegations that the library director, among other city employees, had committed voter fraud. “It’s open 40 hours a week again,” Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea told the Las Cruces Sun-News (LCSN). “The city was forced to close it in 2012 and it has mostly remained closed since then. Last year, we were able to reopen it on a part-time basis, and with a little help it’s back up to par.”

The library closure occurred during a period of great turmoil for the town. A $1.88 million budget shortfall revealed widespread mismanagement of city finances by city staff and elected officials, as well as state law and regulation violations. Library director Luz Vargas was arrested on charges that included false voting, conspiracy to commit false voting, registration offenses, falsifying election documents, and false swearing. Vargas was accused of registering a visiting Texas resident to vote in Sunland Park’s March municipal elections, with instructions to vote for former mayor-elect Daniel Salinas—who was, at the time of Vargas’s arrest, facing felony charges including extortion, receiving illegal kickbacks, fraud, and bribery. Seven other officials faced voter fraud charges relating to elections, and the town’s finance director was suspended.

Although the library survived the first round of budget cuts in July 2012, its doors shut in August. However, the town was able to budget some $40,000 for library operations this fiscal year, which began July 1. The library is now open for business with a single full-time employee, new director Martha Holguin.

THE RETURN OF SPCL

Hired part-time in fall 2014, Holguin worked 20 hours a week to prepare the library for its re-opening. A roof leak had left many of the books moldy and in need of cleaning, and the space was filled with boxes of donations; she described the library as looking “like a storage warehouse.” Existing library records were not compatible with SPCL’s new Biblionix Apollo OPAC, so Holguin had to scan and input most of the books manually.

An upside to the slow process, however, was the library’s visibility in the community once more. According to the New Mexico State Library’s Hitchhiker newsletter, “Customers frequently knocked to ask when the library would be open. Holguin often gave these patrons the opportunity to use the computer lab to look for jobs, work on their taxes, update their resumes, or check email. Senior citizens attending the lunch program next door would often stop by to read the daily newspaper or magazines since books were not ready for checkout.”

Holguin now relies on volunteers to help keep the library operational. Through Youth Employment Services, she has been able to recruit teens in the area who are interested in on-the-job training. “The city has been able to work with programs that have helped steer us to volunteers who want to be part of the library,” Perea told LCSN.

The library also relies upon physical donations. Sunland Park borders both Texas and Mexico, and the city has a good relationship with the Mexican Consulate in El Paso. Perea told LJ the consulate has donated 1,500 books, many in Spanish.

A RESOURCE FOR ALL

Community members and organizations attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the return of the library’s resources. Holguin wished that Governor Susana Martinez could have attended the grand reopening, she told LJ, but is pleased that the library is back up and running. The closest public library up until now was in Las Cruces, NM, approximately 40 miles from Sunland Park. The return of SPCL, Holguin said, has been a benefit not only to the immediate community, but to surrounding areas as well. Texas residents are charged to use their state’s libraries, so they can now visit SPCL free of charge.

“The community got used to the library not being open,” new Mayor Perea told LJ, but the library opening is a positive influence, he said, providing a place where job seekers can fill out online applications in the new computer lab. The library is great for local children as well, he said. “It helps supplement the good education that we have.”

Donations from the Mexican Consulate, Holguin said, created a surplus of books that has made possible the formation of several free lending libraries “to redistribute literature in the community.” Children in the community will decorate six lending library boxes, to be placed in each city council office. As the community has gone so long without a library, Mayor Perea said, these lending libraries are a fantastic way of getting the community interested in books. “They can pick up a book and be entertained for hours.”

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Comments

  1. A hearty congratulations to the Library and Community of Sunland Community, NM. Sending you positive thoughts that your library and funding will continue to grow and enhance your community.