Confessions of a Nocturnal Bibliophile
Stacks and stacks of 30,000 books waiting to be looked through at the Steve Skelton Memorial Library
Discovering the Steve Skelton Memorial Library
Five blocks south of el Parque Central in La Antigua, located at 4a avenida sur #2, sits a local treasure: the Steve Skelton Memorial Library, operated under the auspices of the local American Legion post. Behind the vivid blue stucco walls and through the black iron gates lies a reader’s dream, set in two overcrowded rooms stacked from floor to ceiling with over 30,000 volumes and the most unusual assortment of books in town.
The library and the beginnings of the collection began some seven years ago, with the original idea by Steve Skelton, a retired builder from the U.S. He and the local post commander of the Legion decided to create a library for everyone and pass along whatever profits to local charities. Mr. Skelton was tragically killed six years ago in a construction accident. The American Legion then assumed responsibility for the rent and began accepting donations of books, time and money, and has been keeping the dream alive since then.
What was originally intended as a means of providing money for school tuition to local children has been slowly evolving toward profitability (and eventually tuition fees). Volunteers work the front desk, cheerfully rubber-stamping one’s card, depositing it in a file and with one more date-stamp for the back of the book, you’re good to go. With approximately 90 paid-up library patrons and with a few more good men and women, this operation will be close to the original dream and able to fulfill the original mission.
Six and a half years later, the books continue to roll in by the boxfull: There are some 4,000 more books stored off-site, waiting for a larger home. Inside the small, cramped two-room library, lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves, is everything from ‘A’ Abe (the Woman in the Dunes) to ‘W’ Herman Wouk (they were a few Y authors but Wouk rhymed with book). With perhaps 20 percent nonfiction and 80 percent of novels, first editions, long-out-of print obscure writings, this is a trove of the unusual from the 1950s to present.
There are literary gems and writings of a lesser genre: Cramped into the upper shelves in the nonfiction room, with gilded letters adorning the faded brown covers, is a complete set of the Harvard Classics published in 1919. A paperback Mickey Spillane, complete with lurid cover, circa 1952, can be found under S in the fiction room. There is a large section on Guatemalan history, starting with a first edition in 1909 of “Guatemala and Her People of Today,” by Nevin O. Winter. For those who care, there is one Reader’s Digest condensed book in the stacks. Several “Idiots Guides” to an assortment of perceptual problems line part of another upper shelf. The aisles are narrow, and stacks of books lie on every available surface, waiting for love and a temporary adoption.
The library is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week. Volunteers handle the returns, check-outs and restock the shelves.
The cost per year is $10 for individuals and $15 for families, with unlimited use and privileges. And they really like overdue books, because at a quetzal a day in fines, that’s the profit-center. The library is open to all and not just members of the American Legion. There are other libraries in La Antigua but none as large or as extensive in subject matter. The Skelton Memorial Library has over 3,000 volumes in Spanish. The library needs your help, both financially and physically. With a few more volunteers, the hours of operation could be extended. With a few more memberships the goal of providing tuition to local students can be met. There is a very inexpensive trove of literary treasures waiting at the end of 4a avenida sur. Happy hunting, and take a large bag for your finds and be sure to keep them beyond the due date. Marian the Librarian is waiting for you. Or contact Milo at firstname.lastname@example.org.