Hidden inside an unassuming building in the centre of Bogotá is the country’s best English-language library.
The Colombo Americano has played an important role in Bogotá since 1945, when it was set up as the country’s first bi-national centre. Now composed of four different branches dotted around the capital, not to mention its presence in many other Colombian cities, its centre on the edge of La Candelaria (Calle 19 #2A-49) is still the largest and most important, and houses a very impressive library.
With around 35,000 books, journals and comics in its collection, and around 80% of them in English, there’s plenty of variety to be found. As well as a huge fiction collection, the library also offers a remarkable range of books on other topics, such as history, art and entertainment. One thing that stands out is the library’s extensive comics collection, which encompasses super heroes, manga and a number of highly acclaimed graphic novels from recent years, such as Blankets and Fun House.
Books for everyone
Given that the library shares a building with the Colombo’s teaching facilities it naturally caters to students and teachers, with many shelves dedicated to grammar reference, exam preparation and teaching methodology material. As library assistant Alejandro Ramírez notes, the demographic of visitors changes throughout the day. “In the morning we get a lot of teenagers who are usually more interested in reading fiction for fun,” he says, “Later on we get a lot more students doing their homework and preparing for class.”
The library does a good job of welcoming people who are not studying at the institute. With extremely reasonable yearly membership fees ($20,000 for teachers and students from other schools and universities, and $30,000 for non-affiliated members), getting hold of more books than you could ever dream of reading is unlikely to break the bank.
The library is also an innovator in making eBooks available to its members. Using a system called Overdrive, you can log in and download reading material as well as audiobooks directly to your device. Around 1,200 titles are currently available via this service, meaning that once you’re signed up, you don’t even need to leave your house to find your next favourite read.
The library and its resources are only one of the services that the Colombo Americano offers to the general public. As part of its mission to strengthen links between Colombia and the US through a free and open cultural agenda, and by fostering English in the country, the centre also broadcasts a weekly radio show (available through multiple channels including a Facebook webcast) as well as concerts and artistic events in its theatre, and workshops on such diverse topics as 3D printing and how to create digital special effects.
The library also has a space for the arts which has been used for many free exhibits in recent years. The current exhibition, Bogotá Rewind, presents an evocative image of some of Bogotá’s most memorable sights over the years. It’s worth dropping in and soaking up some of the atmosphere of the capital from years gone by.
With this variety of events and services, the Centro Colombo Americano’s library deserves a visit from anyone with even a passing interest in reading and general culture. Whatever aspect of the Colombo’s activities interests you, you’re sure to find something inspiring in this well-kept secret in the heart of Bogotá.