The Librería Donceles is like a cup of warm hot chocolate.
The imperfect, unconcealed cracks in the floor are the soft waves of steam rising up from the mug. The 16 mismatched rugs laid across different parts of the room are as comfortable and spongy as marshmallows. And the antique artwork found across the different shelves and side tables have the rich depth of the ideal melted chocolate.
Tracing the books across the shelves, customers can’t help but notice the perfect amount of wear on each novel. It is impossible not to feel as though Pablo Helguera, the director of adult and academic programs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and creator of Librería Donceles, picked up the phone, called every Hispanic parent and grandparent in the world for his or her favorite books, and placed them on the walls himself.
After completing an earlier project in which Helguera exchanged his own artwork for Spanish-language books, he launched a new type of project in 2013: Librería Donceles. He funded it with a Kickstarter campaign that got the support of 56 backers who donated a total just over $5,000. In the summer of 2015, the New York location opened to the public before traveling to other major cities such as Chicago, Seattle, and finally Boston.
Even with a cement ground and exposed roof, a place has never looked so welcoming. The one-room, open-concept bookstore is designed to make patrons feel like they are sifting through the books of a relative or an old friend. As they walk across the uniquely patterned rugs and sit underneath the warm light of vintage lamps, a spell is cast over you to sit in that comfy lounge chair and stay forever. If only that was possible.
But the organizers of Librería Donceles, now the only Spanish-language used bookstore in Boston, knew from the start that the library’s stay would be brief. Although Jamaica Plain’s Urbano Project of Edison Square currently houses Librería Donceles, the Boston-area location is the last stop for Helguera’s most recent effort to provide affordable novels to Hispanic communities around the country.
The Urbano Project, a nonprofit that educates teens through art directed toward social change, thought that housing this exhibit would be the perfect way to give back to the community. The shop runs on a pay-what-you-wish system, so Spanish-language books—which are often expensive and difficult to track down—are now easily-accessible and affordable for the local communities.
Anthony Peña, the Studio and Programs Coordinator at the Urbano Project, feels that the decision to collaborate with Helguera was made with the nonprofit’s roots in mind. While libraries and bookstores of surrounding communities want to know what will come next, Peña recognizes that Urbano’s current focus is clear.
“It’s more important to start with what’s closest to you, with what you’re apart of before you start branching out,” Peña said.
Because this is the final stop of Librería Donceles’ tour, the library may stay beyond its initial March end date until April, but an expiration date on the Boston location is inevitable as the books will be sent away. After the library’s popularity in Phoenix, the organization who hosted Librería Donceles’ temporary stay in the city opened Palabras, its own store inspired by the artist’s idea. The books from the Jamaica Plains location will be back to Phoenix to support the store Helguera inspired.
The bookstore itself attracts more than fluent speakers of Spanish. Eucaris Jimenez, a student fellow of Urbano who works at the bookstore, helped a customer who had only basic Spanish-speaking skills find a book with less complicated language. Jimenez spends as much of her time as necessary on each customer to make sure he or she finds the novel that is best suited to their needs, whether to improve their Spanish or read for pleasure.
Employees like Peña and Jimenez reflect the essence of the bookstore itself: welcoming, familiar, and there as a helping hand.
The store has a framed picture on the wall with the expression “Una presencia amable vale más que todos los regalos,” which translates to “A kind presence is worth more than any gift.” The quote perfectly captures one of the messages the art exhibit tries to send: that the community surrounding the bookstore has a value that cannot be minimized to anything material—even the books it sells.
Although the bookstore will be gone from Boston within the next couple of months, the people of Edison Park and Jamaica Plain will be continuously grateful for the sense of community that it gave them, and the hope and determination it will continue to give them in gaining equal access to affordable reading materials.
“My favorite part of this project is that people say they don’t want the library to stop,” Eucaris said. “That they wish it could keep being in Boston for longer, or just keep being here forever.”
Featured Image by Mary Kate DiNorcia