San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the busiest cruise ship port in the Caribbean. During a quick port stop, I was busy too checking out a couple of libraries. One had books, but sadly, the other didn’t.
Andrew Carnegie, the kick-starter king of libraries all over the world, must have predicted the importance of San Juan. He donated a hefty $100,000 for the Neoclassical Revival style Biblioteca Carnegie completed in 1915. And as you see in the photo below, it still looks brand new.
But don’t get too excited! Despite being built to withstand a beating from Mother Nature, a human-orchestrated reno-project transferred the furniture and books to other libraries on the island.
This happened over a decade ago, and they still haven’t moved them back. A real shame when you consider how many books and visitors the 50,000 square foot building could hold, and the lack of another public lending library nearby.
Periodic government meetings taking place inside, and a tiny portion of the building, at the end of the first floor, is a private children’s library. Or something like that. The friendly security guard showed me around, and we tried to communicate, but unfortunately my Spanish needs more practice and a longer visit!
The Biblioteca Carnegie has some impressive neighbors. On one side the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, aka the Puerto Rican Athenaeum, founded in 1876. A funeral was underway when I walked by.
On the other side is the Moorish Casa de España dating from the 1930s and used by a private social group for members of Spanish descent.
Behind the library, the National Park Service operates the historical fortress, the Castillo de San Cristobal. The city was completely walled in by the Spanish. But in 1897, a third of the wall was demolished to ease traffic flow.
Old San Juan is filled with historic buildings that date back five centuries. La Casa del Libro is not a public library but a museum and is located within two combined Spanish colonial homes. The buildings were charming with high ceilings, tiled stairs, wrought-iron balconies, wood-beamed ceilings, and an inner patio.
This House of Books contains collections of old and new books, some 500 years old, old printing equipment, with special exhibits. During my visit, the exhibition focused on the graphic artist Irene Delano, a Canadian immigrant to Puerto Rico.
To my fellow writers: I was on this cruise to attend the Cruising Writers’ annual conference with classes onboard a ship. What a fantastic course and way to learn more about the craft of writing! This year it was held on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas seven-day trip from Fort Lauderdale during November’s NaNoWriMo. We had three full days of classes lead by a Hollywood screenwriter turned novelist, a literary agent, and another author /writing coach. If you are a writer, consider heading out to sea on the next one. For more info: https://cruisingwriters.com
Karen Stensgaard is the author of two novels, AQUAVIT and BLUENESS. The stories don’t take place in the Caribbean, but the main character is, like me, on a cruise!