Baja California government dismantles library in Tijuana

Due to the pandemic, libraries in Tijuana are closed to the public; however, the employees worked virtually and occasionally visit the sites. But earlier this month, workers at the Benito Juárez public library in Zona Río were surprised when other government workers arrived to evict them. The order, they said, came from Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla, and they were told to transport everything in cardboard boxes.

On the same day, Bonilla told Tijuana media that the city’s central library would be moved to a currently unused building, the old downtown post office.

The old post office building on 11th Street in the Zona Centro de Tijuana.

(Baja California Institute of Culture)

Library workers were surprised, but last November Bonilla publicly voiced his plans after becoming concerned about what he perceived to be a shortage of medical staff, which is facing the pandemic crisis.

In 2020, on several occasions, Bonilla publicly declared that he would donate the seat of state government in Tijuana – a three-story building next to the Zona Río public library – to the Autonomous University of Basse -California. He said the building would be transformed into the university’s Center for Health Studies in order to expand enrollment in health-related careers.

In mid-February, state government employees began to leave headquarters. Those who worked in the building were told that the offices would be moved to a nearby building where the library, the offices of the Secretary of State for Education and the Baja California Institute of Culture are located.

The office of the rector of the Autonomous University of Baja California declined to comment on the proposed donation. At this time, there are no public documents to back up Bonilla’s pledged donation.

The eviction of the library and facilities of the Institute of Culture has been criticized by some members of the community.

Benito Juárez Library

On the very day of the inauguration of Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut), October 20, 1982, then Mexican President José López Portillo inaugurated the Benito Juárez Public Library, Tijuana’s second library. Today, the city has 24.

In 1988, the Rubén D. Luna newspaper and periodical library was added. The site’s archives store newspapers and printed publications dating from the 1930s to the present day.

The Benito Juárez Library has an area of ​​1338 square meters. It contains over 42,000 books and other materials, mostly donated by the Libraries Branch, and special collections such as the Braille Collection, the Baja California Collection and the Bilingual Literature Collection.

From 2017 to 2019, the average annual attendance at the Benito Juárez Library was 17,915 people.

Holding banners and shouting, “Library, yes! Offices, no! dozens gathered on Monday in front of the Benito Juárez library. Several speakers expressed their dissatisfaction and the lack of official information on what will happen to what they consider to be the largest library in Baja California.

Eunice Contreras, a cultural promoter in Tijuana, said that beyond the conservation of books, the library has a role in the community. She said the library also hosts several courses, such as teaching English and adults, children’s summer camps and literary events.

Contreras said that with the disappearance of the space of the Institute of Culture, the city loses a multi-purpose stage with a capacity of 220 people, an amphitheater, a gallery and three exhibition halls of works by Visual art.

Protesters with placards gather

Protesters gathered in front of the Benito Juárez library in Zona Río de Tijuana on Monday.

(Tania Navarro / Union-Tribune de San Diego)

Aída Méndez, one of the organizers of Monday’s protest, has resided in the Infonavit del Río housing complex since 2001. The complex, next to the library, has more than 70 multi-family buildings. Like other protesters, she said she supported the creation of new cultural spaces in Tijuana, but rejected the disappearance of the library and that the opinions of library users were never taken into account.

Another Tijuana resident and music promoter Guillermo García said that a few years ago he was able to finish high school and start his undergraduate studies for free at the Benito Juárez library.

On social networks, several personalities from Tijuana’s cultural scene, including writers and artists from various disciplines, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the move.

The day after the demonstration, the culture secretary of Baja California presented the Centro Cultural Correo project, a space that would house the library and other cultural services.

Pedro Ochoa Palacio, head of the secretariat, said the project is being led by architecture students from the Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana and is still in the design stage, and officials do not know how much money will be necessary to adapt and equip the building.

Empty interior of the old post office.

Interior of the old post office building on 11th Street in the Zona Centro de Tijuana.

(Baja California Institute of Culture)

Ochoa and Bonilla have said the post office building is federally owned, but Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made an arrangement that will allow them to use the site.

The Culture Secretary said the post office building, inaugurated in 1957, will undergo structural revisions. The office did not offer a timeline or estimated cost. Bonilla’s administration ends on October 31.

There are at least two legal remedies, called amparos (protections), filed in Federal Court to stop the operation of evicting the seat of state government in Tijuana and the relocation of the library.

People are packing books in a large room.

Employees of the Benito Juárez library are seen through a window packing books on February 22 as they leave the premises of Zona Río in Tijuana.

(Tania Navarro / Union-Tribune de San Diego)

Bonilla said those who oppose the move are against the creation of a new modern cultural space. However, advocates for the Benito Juárez Library and its building are wondering if the project will actually be completed within the remaining eight months of Bonilla’s administration.

Bernard P. Love