Explore SJ Libraries: Biblioteca Latinoamericana

It’s the start of a new year which means there’s no better time to start exploring some San Jose Libraries. The San José Public Library system has a total of 24 branches and, unfortunately, we don't get a chance to visit them all. For this blog, we will be examining the Biblioteca Latinoamericana Branch located on South First Street and see everything it has to offer.


Rich History- How a Small Group of Mothers Made Big Waves

The Biblioteca Latinoamericana branch currently resides next to the Washington United Youth Center and Brenda Lopez Plaza, but this location hasn’t always been its home. As a matter of fact, Biblioteca Latinoamericana began as a small collection of Spanish books started by mothers at Sacred Heart church on Willow Street in 1973 during a rise in the Chicano movement. These mothers wanted to make sure their children felt a connection to their culture and started the collection to strengthen their children’s ties to their Latino culture. What started as a small collection soon grew and so did this group which would eventually be known as Los Amigos de Biblioteca Latinoamericana. With the help of the community and then Los Amigos president, Enrique Angulo, the group managed to secure a grant to start a bilingual library. 

The library moved to a 4,750-square-foot building on Locust Street which was the former cafeteria of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School. It became an official branch of the San Jose public library system in 1979. The collection soon outgrew this spot and when the lease was up in 1997 the community and Los Amigos rallied to find sufficient funding to build a new library. It wasn't easy, though. The recession hit everybody hard and the city could just not afford to build a new library. Hope was rekindled however when los Amigos received a generous and anonymous donation of 25,000. This led to more efforts to fund the project and they eventually raised nearly 1 million dollars. There was also a $1 million federal grant and a commitment from the San José Redevelopment Agency of $14.8 million that would go towards the library and the creation of a youth center in the area. 

In 1999, Biblioteca Latinoamericana opened its doors and has since been a leader in providing bilingual and cultural programming here in San José. It also holds the honor of having had one of the largest Spanish Collections in Northern California when it was first conceived and while most San José Public Libraries have great language collections, Biblioteca Latinoamericana’s Spanish collection is quite impressive. 
Check out these photos of what the branch used to look like: 1978 Biblioteca Latino Americana Branch Library, 1977 The People Place, Bilingual

This is how the branch looks now:

Biblioteca Latinoamericana Collage

A Library Surrounded by Art

Biblioteca Latinoamericana is surrounded by murals highlighting the Latino culture of the area. It has a large mural over their patio that was once part of the original library in the 70's. There are remnants of a "Fountain of Knowledge" located near the patio as well as several engravings in the ground of all the people and organizations that helped contribute to the construction of the library and youth center. There is another mural within the community room called Los Viajeros Vienen a San Jose created by Maria Alguilar in 1991 and was once part of the San José International Airport until 2010 when it was installed in Biblioteca Latinoamericana. It tells the story of two travelers as they visit San Jose and it highlights different venues but most notably the Freedom Train.


Art Outside Biblioteca Latinoamericana

The artwork featured inside the library is called La Vida en Los Dichos (Life in Proverbs) and was created by Pilar Agüero-Esparza in 1999. It is five murals on canvas that cover themes related to San José such as education, history, and legacy. The murals are each composed of several panels and focus on different Spanish proverbs or Dichos. The Dichos are translated into English using 3-Dimensional text and are located next to each of the murals.

La Vida en Dichos Mural

La Vida en Dichos Mural

Libros y mucho mas…

Biblioteca Latinoamericana offers a wide variety of programs and events for the community it serves. One of the main goals of the branch is to offer as many bilingual programs as possible in order to make their programs accessible to a wide array of people, “I want to focus on programs that are culturally and linguistically sensitive to needs of the community we serve” says Librarian Adrian Barrientos. He has worked for a cumulative time of 10 years at Biblioteca Latinoamericana and his goal has always been to have the needs of the community in mind.

The branch offers bilingual storytimes two days a week as well as other programs that promote bilingual early literacy skills. The library also hosts cultural celebrations such as when they celebrated the branches “Quinceañera” or 15 year anniversary and their more recent visit from Univision's, Maria Leticia, who read books to children and discussed the importance of early literacy.

Programs at Biblioteca Latinoamericana
There are always new programs in the works and, as always, the library is doing all it can to meet the needs of the community as Librarian Lizzie Nolan explains, “Biblioteca's community is really dynamic. Being situated right next to the Washington Youth Center and the Washington Elementary School- there is never a shortage of activity.  The community loves the library and I like working hard to make sure that it is a trusted and fun place for all.”

Librarians Lizzie Nolan and Adrian Barrientos

All Star Staff

While Librarians, Lizzie Nolan, and Adrian Barrientos, are busy creating programs and maintaining collections, the rest of Biblioteca’s staff eagerly helps all who enter their library. Whether it is helping print out important documents or locating books for a school project, the staff at Biblioteca are well prepared to help with your informational needs. Biblioteca’s staff is proud to go above and beyond to provide excellent customer service. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, make sure you check out this awesome San Jose Library.

Biblioteca Latinoamericana Staff

Which Library Should We Explore Next?

What’s your favorite thing about your local library? Maybe it’s been awhile since you visited, so make sure you keep an eye out for future blogs featuring other great libraries in the San Jose Public Library system. Your local library may be next!

Special thanks to the wonderful staff at Biblioteca Latinoamericana!


Love this post and love learning about each of the branch's and their staff. Keep up the good work!!

Great photos! Loves these murals.

This post was so great to read! I love all the photos of the art and the stories behind what makes the branch what it is today! I look forward to hearing more about the other libraries that you explore, I know that I still have a lot of branches to get to myself!

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