Spanish is one of the great languages of the world, spoken by around 350 million people, making it the world’s third most spoken language. I had the opportunity to visit the National Library of Spain while in Madrid.
The middle of February may not seem like the best time to visit Madrid but it was an agreeable and sunny 16 degrees as I walked along the Paseo de Recoletos towards the imposing building that is the Biblioteca Nacional de España. I was to meet Mar Hernández-Agustí, Head of Technical Processing, who was going to tell me about the library and the way it operates. Thereafter, I was to have a tour of the recently refurbished building that houses the national collection.
Mar explained that the library’s collection comprises more than 26 million items, including over 30,000 manuscripts, nearly 3,000 incunabula, about 500,000 samples of printed documents dating back to before 1831, over 6,000,000 modern monographs, and over 130,000 magazines and newspapers. It also has an important collection of engravings, drawings, posters and photographs.
The collection of printed scores and manuscripts comprises over 500,000 works and, there are over 550,000 sound documents, 80,000 audiovisual volumes and an important collection of antique and modern maps from all over the world.
The origins of the collection came from the royal palace, a few kilometres across the city. King Felipe V founded the Palace Public Library, and he created the predecessor of the current legal deposit requirement, making it mandatory for printers to deposit a copy of every book printed in Spain. This requirement, with theonus on the printer rather than the publisher, remains to this day.
With such a large collection, even the vast spaces of the refurbished and extended library, opened by King Juan Carlos in 2000, cannot hold everything. A second large repository is based at Alcalá de Henares, some 25 miles east of Madrid. Mar explained that there is a daily run between the two centres, so that should someone doing research in Madrid request an item based in Alcalá by Internet it will be available in the library the following day.
The legal deposit system requires that three copies of each new book published be deposited at the National Library. Two are sent to Alcalá and the other is kept for cataloguing in Madrid. One copy is kept in pristine condition, the second is retained for public use and the use of the third copy varies according to the type of publication it is. Unlike the United Kingdom, Spain does not have a Cataloguing-in-Publication Programme, so all material received from the printers has to be catalogued from first principles. To manage the volume of material effectively a team of contract cataloguers works shifts to get the new books into the catalogue as quickly as possible.
Walking round the cataloguing department reminded me of others I have visited all over the world. Reference works and manuals were much in evidence, and staff were dealing with the same issues: identifying if a book was a new edition or a reprint, and debating who was responsible for the intellectual property.
Spain has moved from IBERMARC to MARC21, so the data format in use was familiar to me. As more and more countries adopt MARC21 as their national data standard, the exchange of bibliographic information becomes much easier.
Later in my visit I was given a fascinating tour of the building by Araceli Sanchez-Pinol of the International Relations Department, starting in the impressive reading room decorated with portraits of prize-winning Spanish authors.
I also had the good fortune to see some treasures of the collection, including an early complete and illustrated edition of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The curator explained to me that such editions are very rare due to the fact that most volumes illustrated with engravings have had the illustrations removed and sold separately.
The library holds a fascinating collection of modern prints by contemporary Spanish artists. It is a legal requirement that one example of a limited edition print is deposited with the library. Thus a national collection of the best of contemporary Spanish print-making is guaranteed for future generations.
Spain is a nation whose people have a deep love and respect for the printed word. People read in Spain – on the bus, in the park, in their homes, and independent bookshops abound. It has a great literary heritage which is in the very secure and caring hands of a great institution: the National Library of Spain or, as it is otherwise known, the Guardian of the Spanish National Memory.