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Dial-up library helps San Juan Students.

When Hector L. Acevedo became Mayer of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in January, 1989, one of his main goals was to find a solution to the city's lack of public libraries.

There ate only four public libraries-in this City of some 450,000 people. Almost every public school in San Juan has a library, but these are available to students only during school hours, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The lack of public libraries, the long travel times to those libraries, and the short operating hours of school libraries impose a special hardship on students from low-income families, since they usually do not own a dictionary, encyclopedia or other good reference books.

The creation of new public libraries was explored, but construction and operating costs were high and funding was not available.

Study with Me Program

Instead of building new libraries, Mayor Acevedo created the Estudia Conmigo" (Study with Me) program, a computerized reference library accessible to students by telephone or fax. To fund a major portion of the capital costs of the program, the Mayor and other city officials devoted extensive time and effort to securing the involvement and financial support of local business leaders.

International Business Machines (IBM) donated the first ten computers, and the city added twelve more shortly thereafter. The Grande supermarket chain donated a supermarkets to be used as "fax pick-up stations" by the students. Computer Gallery donated a fax to every municipal police station, to be used in the same manner. Burger King donated all the fax machines installed at the library offices.

The Study with Me program began operating on February 3, 1992, housed in a building built by the city at a cost of $400,000. The program's annual budget is $150,000.

The program provides students with access via telephone to an electronic storehouse of information. The students call with questions and may receive assistance and information by phone or fax machine at supermarkets or police stations throughout the city.

The center accepts calls from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Mondays through Thursday and from noon to 5.:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Fridays are reserved for office work. The office is staffed with a wide range of specialized personnel, including teachers of every subject taught in school, librarians, and undergraduate honor students. These undergraduate students assist the teachers and process information as needed.

The center fields an average of 600 calls per evening. Demand for the program's services has been so great that additional personnel had to be hired and a drive-in window will be added to the building by the next school term.

Last May New York City Mayor David Dinkins visited the center at the invitation of Mayor Acevedo. Another notable recent visitor was Nobel Prize-winner Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica, who had the opportunity to talk with and answer the questions of several students during his visit.

For more information on the program, contact Jesus Joel Perez, Executive Assistant to the Mayor, P.O. Box 4355, San Juan, P.R. 00902; phone: (809) 724-7171.
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Title Annotation:City Ideas That Work; San Juan, Puerto Rico
Author:Fletcher, Jeff
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 25, 1993
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