Each year the annual Boca de Oro Festival of Literary, Visual and Performing Arts brings a total of about 10,000 participants to downtown Santa Ana for the free, public celebration. Although Boca de Oro will be online this year, there’s still one aspect of the festival that’s still being held in-person.
This year, event founders Robyn MacNair and Madeleine Spencer, and their team of volunteers, want to station mini-lending libraries throughout all 64 neighborhoods in Santa Ana as part of their Boca de Oro Free Lending Library campaign.
The lending libraries, sometimes called neighborhood lending libraries are small cabinets that contain books. The books may be taken and kept, or returned, for free. Regular readers are encouraged to swap out a book with one from their own collection in order to keep the cabinet full.
The Boca de Oro team is still looking for curators who are interested in hosting a lending library in their neighborhood. Because an in-person book fair is out of the question this year, organizers want to continue the spirit of spreading reading literacy with the mini-libraries.
Santa Ana has a population density of over 335,000, yet the city only has two public libraries: the Santa Ana Main and the Newhope Libraries.
“Books are very important to kids, and to be able to place at least one library that they can walk to is going to make such an impact on these kids’ lives,” said Marta Rodriguez Ramirez, the neighborhood organizer tasked with helping to get neighborhoods signed up.
Spencer agrees that “it bridges that gap” of equitable literacy and pushes a sharing culture of knowledge and books as the lending libraries encourage visitors to swap a book they take with one of their own.
The books are being donated from several sources including local authors, the Consulate of Mexico in Santa Ana and the Makara Center of the Arts, a nonprofit lending library and art center in Santa Ana.
Once the lending libraries are ready to be stationed they will be filled by the Makara Center of the Arts with about 15 to 25 books written by people of color and other historically-excluded communities. It will also include other donated activity books such as cookbooks, artbooks or coloring books.
“I just believe that if we’re able to catalyze and help give people access to books in their own language from representatives of their own culture that are succeeding and thriving in these areas, then kids realize and just recognize that seeing is believing, like you see it, and you know that you can do it,” Spencer said.
Though these permanent lending libraries have been a recurring thought, there wasn’t enough funding to execute the idea before.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Spencer went back to this idea of a citywide neighborhood project reinspired from a trip to Portland, Oregon.
“I saw every neighborhood had really embraced this, and they had this beautiful like, neighborhood village convergence thing, where neighborhoods all work on projects to beautify their own neighborhoods,” Spencer said.
Spencer added that building and contributing to a literary culture in Santa Ana has already been in the works by others in the community.
One of these projects include a literary project founded by local author Sarah Rafael García. The LibroMobile is dedicated to building a community and promoting literacy by driving around Santa Ana and offering live readings, workshops and visual exhibits.
“Everything that’s done, it all moves toward this larger thing, which gives people the opportunity to start to feel this burgeoning lit culture that’s actually occurring. That is the most exciting thing,” Spencer said. “I believe that all of it leads towards something that’s amazing.”
Each curator of a lending library will be maintaining it on their own properties, which includes any sanitation measures required. Sanitation measures may include leaving hand sanitizer inside the lending library box or providing gloves and masks.
The curators are also encouraged to decorate their lending library along with others in their neighborhood to promote individuality, beautification and community art.
Kristina Garcia is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.