Even the blind benefit (photo: CNEWA files)
Comic books are a big hit (photo: CNEWA files)
Quiet place to read of troubled times (photo: CNEWA files)
Hoda is 14 years old and lives in Nazareth. Before the Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP) opened a library in 1972 Hoda didnt know about the treasures hidden in books. She loves people and through reading has learned about them and their homes in faraway places. Now she can be found in the library every afternoon enjoying her favorite pastime.
The Pontifical Mission for Palestine is the sister organization of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Nadine works at the Gaza School for the Blind. Once a week she makes the 90 minute drive to the Jerusalem PMP library. She usually takes a carton of books away with her and has them translated into the Braille system.
The vast reference and media department of the Bethlehem library provides an added bonus for the students who attend the towns university. These resources have been especially helpful to 19-year-old Yasir who utilizes them during his remedial English lessons.
Since 1959 when the Jerusalem library opened, the PMP library system has been providing cultural and educational opportunities for the religiously mixed communities of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem. Each library is unique but all three are geared to serve the individual reader as well as the community. Students are encouraged to come to the libraries to do their assignments because they can find assistance and calm not often available in their homes.
The libraries are staffed by members of the lnstituto Teresiana. We know them in the United States as the Teresians. Women belonging to the Institute are either lay or professed members. The Institute was founded in Spain in 1911 by Father Pedro Poveda who was an author and educator. The members devote their lives to furthering Christian education irrespective of age, class or nationality. Each member is required to study for a degree or other professional qualification. The Association is now international and in many countries the members run education centers.
Members of the Instituto Teresiana who work in the libraries do more than catalog and check books in and out. They are women actively involved in the lives of library members. It is not unusual for a librarian to visit residents who are too old or sick to come to the library. Language lessons and cultural clubs are provided. An environment is fostered where teachers can come and exchange problems and ideas. Teachers frequently participate in workshops and receive training through seminars sponsored by the libraries.
The PMP libraries are located in areas where no school library programs exist. PMP librarians integrate programs and resources into the curriculums. In addition to books and reference services schools benefit from poetry and film programs, field trips, study clubs, contests and lectures organized by the librarians.
A look at the library shelves in all three branches shows literature available in Arabic, French, English, German, Spanish and Italian. People can be found reading popular periodicals, classics, text books and novels.
In some towns the libraries are a link with the outside world. For example, the members of the cloistered orders of Carmelites and Benedictine nuns visit the libraries monthly and withdraw books and periodicals. A nun who tries to promote the cultural and educational advancement of the Ethiopian community in her area does research at a PMP library. The library in Bethlehem, which opened in 1970, is the only source of study aids for a dedicated priest of a small remote village. A Greek Orthodox priest who teaches in the Armenian school borrows books from the Jerusalem library.
The majority of people visiting the Nazareth library are high school students. Adult members who frequent the library are skilled laborers who come in after work for leisure reading.
At the Bethlehem library many of the readers are from low-income families and the three area refugee camps. A unique feature of the library is the audio visual equipment available for loans to schools and institutions. On Friday afternoons educational films are screened with discussions afterwards. Because of the large Spanish speaking community in the area a Spanish club was founded where social and cultural topics are discussed.
The Jerusalem library, the largest of the PMP collection, began with only one reading room containing 300 volumes, today it has 20,000 books. In addition to students, teachers, office workers, businessmen and retirees visiting the library, foreign housewives often request advice on all aspects of Jerusalem life.
A large number of the United Nations community stationed in Jerusalem frequent the library and enjoy reading the books in different languages.
The young schoolchildren like Hoda who receive a caring welcome when they enter a PMP library are only a few of the systems beneficiaries.
Because of the development and expansion of the PMP library system communities as well as individuals have been enriched. The dedication of staff members to carry the learning in books beyond the library doors contributes to the intellectual and spiritual well-being of their communities.
Tony Nesnas lives and works in Jerusalem. Conception (Chuchi) Pacia is the former head librarian at Bethlehem University.