The network of public libraries in Barcelona consists of 40 centers that add almost two and a half million documents (exactly 2,455,515 last Wednesday). The ratio of documents per inhabitant of the city is 1.5, which is recommended by international standards for towns the size of the Catalan capital. And the people of Barcelona have a library on average between 15 and 20 minutes on foot.
Apart from the municipal system, the Biblioteca de Catalunya has a collection of more than four and a half million copies.
So, does Barcelona need the State Public Library? We are talking about a new building designed by the Nitidus Arquitectes and Serveis d’Arquitectura Betarq studios next to the França station, with 16,168 useful square meters and a budget of 55 million, which construction will begin in 2023 and should be completed in 2027.
Although it triples the area of the largest municipal library in Barcelona (the Jaume Fuster, 5,636 square metres) and more than five times the cost of the latter (the Gabriel García Márquez: 9.6 million euros), a glance at the more or less equivalent facilities recently inaugurated abroad relativizes magnitudes. The Oodi Central Library in Helsinki (2018) has 17,000 square meters and cost 98 million; the Calgary Central Library (2018) is 22,300 square meters and cost 215 million; the Dokk1 building in Aarhus (2015) has 60,000 square meters (the library ‘only’ occupies 35,600) and cost 280 million; the Birmingham Library (2013) is 31,000 square meters and cost 217 million; the Stuttgart Public Library (2011) has 20,000 square meters and cost 79 million.
The answer to the question formulated above is obviously ‘yes’ from the three administrations involved: the Government of Spain, which provides the money; Barcelona City Council, which provides the land, and the Generalitat de Catalunya, which will manage it.
“The Provincial Library of Barcelona will have much more power than the rest of the city’s libraries”
General Director of Cultural Promotion and Libraries
“The Provincial [empieza el baile de nombres] it has been contemplated in all the library plans of Barcelona for decades and without it the system is incomplete”, says Josep Vives, general director of Promoció Cultural i Biblioteques de la Generalitat. And he adds: “In the same way that the Vall d’Hebron Hospital has a burn unit, among many other services that smaller hospitals lackthe Provincial will have much more power than the rest of the libraries in Barcelona, of which it could also be the center that generates ideas and activities”.
If the name used is Biblioteca Central Urbana, it means that a representative of the city council is speaking. “The Central Urbana will crown, but will not close, the network of public libraries in the city”, says Jordi Martí, Councilor for Culture. The mayor does not see a contradiction between the consistory’s commitment to the decentralization of culture and the future colossus. “That we defend and execute the distribution of spaces and activities throughout the city does not mean that we are against large facilities with great potential -says Martí-. Of course, we must define very well what it has to offer to be useful. The challenge is to create a cultural center that can occasionally attract people from all over the city.
María José Gálvez, General Director of Books and the Promotion of Reading, settle the nominal issue: “It will be the Public Library of the State of Barcelona yes or yes: the law says so”.
Until now, the commission made up of the Government, Generalitat and Barcelona City Council has not spent much time thinking about the contents of the continent. The evil eye that from its already remote first formulations has haunted the project has made the authorities concentrate on guaranteeing the start of the works. There are at least five years ahead to finalize the offer.
“We visualize a cultural reflection center around the book, with a dense program of activities”
Councilor for Culture of the Barcelona City Council
The custody of the copies of the legal deposit, the acquisition and conservation of bibliographic heritage and the construction of a proposed collection of 600,000 documents go hand in hand with the condition of Public Library of the State, but only for that the party is not made. “We envision a center for cultural reflection around the book, with a dense program of exhibitions, debates, conferences…”, adds Martí.
“It will have an auditorium with 300 seats and another with 120. And Barcelona has the magnetism to attract any author in the world,” Vives enthuses.
“The library has multipurpose spaces whose uses will be defined by the users,” says Gálvez. Equipment with these characteristics has to go beyond promoting reading to offer a new paradigm. In this sense, it can host from theatrical presentations to concerts. And in the needs program we have talked about a comic library and taking children and young people into account. Interactions with technology and science are turning out to be attractive to these audiences.”
Although generalist by definition, it would not hurt if the State/Provincial/Central Public Library had a specialty that differentiated it. Or several. The three administrations coincide in one. “Barcelona has been and is a world publishing capital and we have to take advantage of that,” says Martí, and Vives and Gálvez agree. The possibilities around this capital are endless and exploring them is “natural”, in the words of Gálvez. Vives also reveals the technological strength of the city as an attractive territory, as well as its proximity to the França station and the proximity of the Parlament.
The management of the library will be “legally and statutorily” the responsibility of the Generalitat, emphasizes Vives. However, Martí claims, “as the city council has done since day one”, maximum integration within the Barcelona system managed by the City Council and the Barcelona Provincial Council. “Otherwise it won’t make sense,” he says. “When the elephant is plugged into the existing cultural system, changes and corrections will be necessary -advances Vives-. But our commitment to the Barcelona Library Consortium is total”.
“I hope there are no management problems”
General Director of Books and Reading
Gálvez, despite the fact that his work will end when the Government hands over the keys to the ‘flat’, is optimistic: “I hope there are no management problems. The Generalitat and city councils are already working together in the state libraries of Girona, Tarragona and Lleida. But it is true that Barcelona is a special case.”