Q&A: Stella Frentress talks research on ‘urban temples’ in Bogotá


Source: Stella Frentress

Biblioteca Pública Virgilio Barco in Bogotá. Stella Frentress is studying public libraries in the Colombian capital city with a Summer Undergraduate Research Grant.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Summer Managing Editor

While many students who receive Summer Undergraduate Research Grants remain in Evanston, Stella Frentress ventured all the way to Bogotá to study public libraries in the Colombian capital city.

The Weinberg junior is pursuing an ad hoc major in urban sustainability, and is specifically examining why libraries are so popular in Bogotá — Frentress said several of them see more visitors each day than the Library of Congress and the British Library. The Daily caught up with Frentress to learn more about her project.

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

The Daily: What made you interested in coming to Bogotá to learn about the libraries here?
Frentress: I am studying cities, and I am studying sustainability. Bogotá started coming up a lot in my readings as being this really innovative place, this place that’s seen a lot of dramatic changes over the past few decades. But that was the English literature. I read (pieces) in Spanish, and it was very contradictory to what I was reading in English. My research project is to bring English research about this system that’s been overshadowed by a lot of the other projects that are happening in this city. It’s a very successful system of public libraries here that’s been created in the past 20 or 30 years.

The Daily: What’s a typical day for you while you’re here?
Frentress: I thought I was going to be grinding hard, but it’s not as much as I thought it would be. I can be affiliated, even as a foreigner, with the public library here, so I can go and I can check out books and I can go home. There are various libraries I can visit — I keep gravitating toward one because I really like it. I get up, eat food, and then I either go to a library or a cafe. But I find my days are a little short because of transportation time. I will usually leave at 3:30 or 4 p.m. to make it back to my apartment. I try to leave home every day, just to do something.

The Daily: What is the public library system like in Colombia compared to the U.S.?
Frentress: These libraries are not just for reading; they’re cultural centers. There’s a talent show of different cultural styles of music and dance happening in one room, and then there’s an art class happening for moms and kids downstairs, and there’s academic talks and movie screenings. People go on dates to the library; people just go hang out at the library. There’s food, there’s free Wi-Fi, so people come in and watch sports with their friends at the library. It truly does feel like a space that is well-utilized, that is accessible regardless of where you may stand.

The Daily: What’s been the most interesting or challenging things you’ve discovered in Bogotá?
Frentress: The most challenging thing is how to grapple with the way I see myself as a foreigner and the way other people see me as a foreigner, and trying to limit my interjections of what I think I already know about this place. Trying to limit my preconceptions but not stifle them. The most interesting thing is trying to balance what it means to be a foreigner with the resources and education I have in context with what I’m doing here. It’s actually kind of hard to explain my research to people here. I’m looking at public libraries. One of the first things people (tell) me is, ‘you should leave Bogotá, Bogotá is terrible.’ And I’m like, ‘it’s so interesting.’ Trying to explain my research is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. It’s way more difficult than actually doing research.

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg