By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Almost two weeks ago Rio de Janeiro state’s department of culture reopened the Biblioteca Parque da Rocinha (Rocinha Library Park), in the largest favela community in Brazil, over a year after its initial closure.
The Secretary of Culture for the state, Leandro Monteiro, also announced that the department plans to reopen the library in Manguinhos, in Zona Norte (North Zone), on March 29th, and the state library of Rio, or BPE (Biblioteca Parque Estadual do Rio), in Centro, by the beginning of May.
This is an uplifting turn of events during a troubled time for the city, and hopefully part of a larger effort. Although there are still no plans to reopen the library in Complexo do Alemão, another of Rio’s largest favelas.
Inspired by similar projects in the Columbian cities of Medellin and Bogota, the Rocinha library was part of a pioneering project to bring reading into the heart of some of Rio’s more troubled neighborhoods.
According to information provided by the State Department of Culture, they are “spaces created in volatile areas to give users immediate and easy access to information.” The work includes “an atmosphere of coexistence and convergence in the community, contributing to the reduction of violence and to social inclusion.”
In 2016 it was controversially closed, along with those in Manguinhos and the city centre, by a government blaming the financial crisis for a lack of funds.
The department of culture also announced that it’s going to be investing R$1.7 million per month to reopen the libraries and keep them running.
Inaugurated in 2012, the library in Rocinha (Biblioteca Parque da Rocinha) loaned out books over 14,000 times, issued 5,000 library cards, and serviced an estimated 145,000 visitors until its closure in 2016.
Originally seen both as symbols of a brighter future for Rio’s favelas and as models for sustainable building, these libraries failed to live up to their potential as they became dogged in financial disputes and government mismanagement.
Swedish expatriate living in Rio and operator of destination management service Rio Love Story, Tavi Norén, shares his thoughts for how positive the news is for the community.
“Specifically for the younger generations, it is very important to have access to global information and global education and that is what libraries provide. Also, libraries are sanctuaries where you should be able to focus and be undisturbed while learning, something that the Rocinha youth can benefit from much.”
He adds, “Hopefully the library will continue to stay open and support the community as it did before closing.”