Monday, August 19, 2013

Silence In the Library: Borrowing Books in Barcelona

Barcelona has an excellent library system. There are 36 libraries in Barcelona, which may seem like few until you actually think about the neighbourhoods and how small, in my opinion, the city is. According to the official website of the library system,  there are on average 2 volumes per inhabitant in the collection (meaning approximately 3 million books); 27 libraries out of 36 have multimedia collections (read: DVDs of movies and TV shows, CDs, videogames), and each and every library has free Wi-Fi. The whole library catalog is naturally available online. Ayuntamiento (the city government) spends 15€ per inhabitant to fund the library system: that's a lot of euros from the city budget well spent, in my opinion.

And get this: anyone is allowed to obtain a library card in Barcelona. Anyone. You live in Barcelona or elsewhere in Spain? Have it. You live in Europe? Have it. You are visiting for three days? Have it. You are here illegally? Have it, I guess, no one will ask you how long you are here for and why. To get a library card, you need a valid ID, which could be your DNI, NIE or a passport - any passport. You do not need to prove you live in Barcelona, you do not need to provide a permanent address, you do not need to explain why you want the card. I am not sure if this is due to upholding the human right to information and knowledge, or the Barcelona library system is just so all-inclusive just because, but basically, if you are here and you want to borrow books and movies, you are free to do so.

You can fill a form online to get a card or go to the nearest library directly. The card will be made on the spot for you anyway, so whichever option you prefer for whatever reason works fine. As I said, you will need to provide a valid ID with the name matching the form filled and the picture matching your face, along with a local address, but nothing will be actually mailed to that address, so it could be temporary accommodations or your friend's mailbox. So you show up at the library, ask for a card, give the librarian your ID, and they print the card out in 5-10 minutes, which you are free to use right away. With the card, you are allowed to borrow 15 books or magazines, 9 DVDs, and 6 types of other media (CDs and videogames for example), for 30 days, from any library in the system. That's 30 pieces on entertainment for a month. In Spanish, Catalan or any other language you can dig out. For free. It is truly very impressive.

You can renew each borrowed item three times, provided that it is not reserved for another library user. If you fail to renew or return the item by due date, each day you are late is marked with one penalty point per item. Once you accumulate 50 points, your card is automatically blocked for 15 days, during which you cannot use it to borrow other books, reserve a computer or use other library services. If you lose an item, you need to buy an exact replacement for it, and if you can't find one, the library will indicate the material or cost necessary to reimburse the loss. Sounds pretty fair to me! Oh, and one last thing: you don't need to present your card when returning the borrowed materials, so you can ask a friend or a relative to return them for you if for some reason you can't make a trip. Cool? Very cool.

I personally have started using my card already: I have three books and one hiking map on loan at the moment, and I'm in love with the future possibilities, considering how impressive a DVD collection in my local library (Poblenou-Manuel Arranz) looks. I'm a bit afraid to forget to return the books, but the library website helpfully tells me that I will receive an email reminder three days before the due date.

Great job, Barcelona libraries.

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