The Value of a  Book  


Working in a library for most of my adult life, of course, I would want my report to focus on books and libraries. I was very surprised to find out that there are over a thousand libraries on the island, and, that Cuba’s literacy rate is amongst the highest worldwide at 95.7%. Those are some very impressive numbers for a country with very limited outside resources! We learned that their push to promote literacy was just as widespread as their desire to learn more (just check out the “Lit Table” section). Despite the language barriers our group experienced, it wasn’t hard to sense the passion that the Cuban people held for any type of written work.

Our group had a chance to witness a public display of the Cuban’s desire for more.

One of the main focal points of Havana is the huge Used Book Market that’s located in a central area of the city. There were many vendors trading and/or selling their books at extremely low prices. Many of the books were written in English but most were in Spanish. The book subjects varied from any-and-everything about Fidel and the history of the revolution to American titles. We spotted the Spanish version of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. The Used Book Market is often the destination of class field trips. The picture below was taken on a Saturday, which is a powerful statement for the emphasis still being placed on education and literacy since the revolution.


Another focal point adorning this area is the Institute of the Book. In addition to the library it contains, the four story stone Institute sponsors Saturday afternoon book launching. 

Authors publicly present when a new book is published on the island. This particular author was presenting his work on family health. The interest level was very high as many of the participants asked questions (in Spanish, of course).

We learned that the Cuban people are very family and community orientated so I wasn’t surprised that after the discussion people rushed to buy multiple copies of the book to share with others. One lady purchased ten books!


Another fascinating library that we visited was at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center.

Often, when Americans think about libraries we envision large air-conditioned public spaces with wall-to-wall shelving units, among other things. This library was just the opposite of that theory, but just as functional. Although it’s about the size of a narrow kitchen, I could feel the strength and power generating from the collection. The library offered a circulating collection of books, magazines and newspapers covering multiple topics. It had several small tables for patrons, a computer and a framed picture of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement on the wall.




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Africana Studies Dept, The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio 43606
Phone: (419) 530-7252 Fax: (419) 530- E-Mail: AAlkali@UTNet.UToledo.Edu