Balanced Barcelona

Ramp to the joint use facility

Ramp to the joint use facility

And balanced is the perfect description for Biblioteca Sagrada Família – Josep M. Ainaud de Lasarte (BSF), which is housed in a dual purpose building (the second and third tier are devoted to the library) and manages to serve both Spanish and Catalan speakers in this split personality capital of Catalonia, Spain.

When I went, BSF was in the process of changing its moniker to honor Ainaud, a much heralded parliamentarian, journalist, historian and promoter of Cataluña who lived in the barrio.

Gaudí's miracle

Gaudí’s miracle

It was originally named for the amazing La Sagrada Família cathedral, steps away down calle Provença, which already towers over Barcelona, though its completion date isn’t until 2026.

One of the largest Biblioteques de Barcelona (BCN), BSF encompasses nearly 28,500 square feet and sees more than 1000 visitors daily.  Easily accessible via the huge metro network that whisks you there in minutes, they have wifi and about forty five internet stations.  They hold daily programs, about 200 classes per year and 90,000 items including video games and role playing books, music and books on CD, movies and novels in both Catalan and Spanish.  It stretches them to buy in both languages but it’s necessary.  With few valuable tomes, everything but the most recent magazine goes out (reference materials too).

A friendly guy at the Info Point on the first level pointed the way and as I climbed the stairs, I noted the glossy black floors setting off the sleek furnishings and how plate glass windows everywhere bring the sunlight into this very stylish building which is fashioned around a courtyard that was once a communal garden.

Lobby replete with gegants - gigantic traditional parade figures that are somehow carried by the person inside (even the fire breathing dragons)

Lobby replete with gegants – gigantic traditional parade figures that are somehow carried by the person inside (even the fire breathing dragons)

The structure used to be a mall but was shuttered for 10-15 years until the neighborhood decided they wanted a facility for their barrio.  Reopened in July 2007, the basement has a farmer’s market.

Altogether, BCN has six libraries in the Eixample district, with 40 libraries in total.  Users can check out 30 items for 30 days (15 books or magazines and 6 DVDs plus music or games…) and renew twice and place holds from home.  They also lend books to institutions like social centers and private organizations.

Adults can attend writer talks, movie screenings and discussions, book clubs, lectures, exhibits, classes, plays, concerts, poetry recitals and storytelling sessions.  One series, Molt per Aprendre – dedicates a season to writing and art and the next to photography and creating technology.  You can connect to BCN through a mobil app, RSS feeds, or Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.  Ten branches rent out meeting halls and some lend laptops for in house use.

The cheery chartreuse cloud of Children’s has great views of the terrace outside and the street below.  I hear the unmistakable sounds of a youth program in an adjacent room as I wander beneath duck mobiles, passed Winnie the Pooh, bins of multilingual titles, and board books on wheeled carts.

Área infantil

Área infantil

In the storytime space, mats and vibrantly colored oblong cushions provide seating and a wooden sill does double duty as a bench.

Blue, yellow and green stickers separate titles by age and a big screen TV advertises upcoming events.   Kids can listen to stories or attend dramas and puppet shows and the amusingly dubbed Las Hormigas También Bailan (Ants Also Dance) while their guardians and teachers can get help with concerns or questions.

Decorated with niños’ artwork, red and blue fish swim all over one wall and youngsters can type on eight computers or play educational games on another two.

Talented tots - the mosaic theme recalls some of Gaudí's pieces

Talented tots – the mosaic theme recalls some of Gaudí’s pieces

Library personnel visit schools and work heavily with 11-15 year old students in particular.  They have a homework club to help disadvantaged kids and the bottom floor has an after school ludoteca (playroom) managed by the civic center where, during the school term, parents can pay to leave their child to study, play, get homework help, paint or do crafts.

BSF and the civic center share the lobby and auditorium (when I toured, a theater group for older people was rehearsing) where they put on concerts, exhibitions and other affairs.

Branch director Mònica in her office

Director Mònica in her office

Mònica Medina, who manages this location, had graciously agreed to show me around (and a big thank you to Mercè Muñoz Creus who arranged our appointment).  She’s a charming, intelligent and helpful woman who speaks impeccable English (so, any factual errors are my fault alone).  Despite her youthful appearance she’s been director at BSF since they opened.

We started behind the scenes where they have moveable storage, a staff room and Tech Services.  Much of the cataloging is done centrally so they simply add a cover, their stamp and a barcode, but since BSF can also buy books from stores, TS must catalog those.  They planned to add RFID tags in June and will eventually have self checkout and a conveyor belt for automated returns.

Near the employee area is the teen space where red and black shelves have a face out section in the middle, perfect for catching the eye.

YA (age 14-30 here) shelving.

YA (age 14-30 here) shelving

Young adults helped design this spot and it has displays of their creative efforts and an emphasis on things that appeal to youthful tastes like art, rollerblading, poems, fantasy, science fiction and computer games, plus BSF has rooms they can use for studying or reading clubs.

Mònica oversees 25 workers, 18 of whom are full time and BSF has six librarians holding at least a bachelor’s in library science (the director must have an MLS).  As a student, she always worked in libraries, first in secondary schools and a polytechnic, then in the last year of her studies she got a grant with the ERASMUS student exchange program and went to a Dutch museum library to do a practicum.

Customers can borrow/return from/to any of the metropolis’s or province’s locales, though a loan from outside Biblioteques de Barcelona costs 1.2 euro.  The website has downloadable eaudiobooks for those with limited vision (the Spanish blind have their own private foundation to get books from called ONCE), ebooks and newspaper, science and children’s databases.

They have workshops for people to learn to use technology, and if no class is going on you can use the machines in these rooms.



BCN will teach you how to use the library and you can take the exam to get the digital proficiency certificate often required to get a job here.  Their ten Antenes Cibernàrium media centers also encourage cyber skills and have modules designed especially for those 55+.

Assistive equipment is a forte with page readers, audio-description DVDs, magnetic ring transmission for hearing aids, large print volumes, Braille keyboards, talking computers, magnifiers and five branches have classrooms for new technology with joysticks for paraplegics (some operable with your chin).  Sign language interpreters are available for any class or program.

La ciutat invisible - magnetic books

La ciutat invisible – magnetic books

The installation above highlights books (the black squares magically attached to their silver backgrounds) that were produced in conjunction with The Invisible City, an effort to make voters aware of the lack of viable career choices for young adults.  The project aims to transform policies and so create new job opportunities.  As they say, “To make possible the birth of new realities, we must imagine them.”

Staff and volunteers venture into the community to work with old people, going to hospitals and nursing homes and if someone asks they’ll visit a residence.  There’s a reading club for seniors in conjunction with the civic center and they have booths at fairs and the local outdoor market where they advertise services and sell old material.  For example, this branch specializes in general and environmental sciences so they have a stall at the Barcelona science event.  BSF coordinates with social services and after the rest of the place closes at 9pm, classrooms can be used for studying until 1am!

DVD racks

DVD racks

Ingeniously, feature film DVDs are slipped into space saving plastic sleeves so you can easily flip through them.  Nearby TV series and documentaries have regular video cases, and you’ll find the language area with German, English, French, Italian and Portuguese offerings.  A yellow lantern signifies the large assortment of Chinese fiction and DVDs.  The organization of shelves here is meant to look like a labyrinth – when you get to the end you find a surprise of information.

Local history contains a part of their namesake Ainaud de Lasarte’s personal collection and lots on the Eixample/Sagrada Família section including works by those with ties to the vicinity, notably Antoni Gaudí, the inspired architect who in 1882 began that magnificently intricate sandcastle of an edifice that is La Sagrada Família.

Local history

Local history

Though four administrations help fund them (the governments for Spain, Catalan, Barcelona and its province) 60% of monies come from the city, and BCN has its own budget and can carry monies over for future requirements.

The 30 million euro (about 15€ per resident) received annually is leaps and bounds over the level of support just 17 years ago, when less than 13% of the public used them.  To amend that pitiful situation, they came up with a long term plan and formed a consortium run by Catalonian and metropolitan councils which created the thriving institution we see today.  Their mission called for sustainable construction, local involvement, a commitment to diversity and culture as well as information, and a quality professional team to serve patrons.

Llibres anglesos!

Llibres anglesos!

The system’s website helpfully has Català, Castellano (their Spanish) and English versions and I love that it defines bibliotecas as “locally based, public social centres open to everyone.”  No wonder nearly half of Barcelonians have a card, plus they mainly come on foot as a location is usually within easy walking distance!

They must do a good job publicizing as one quarter of those with cards are from outside the European Union, which mimics population statistics.  In recent polls they have consistently been rated the most valuable city service and 60% of the citizens say they use the library regularly.

BCN has lots of S/CSL (Spanish or Catalan as a Second Language) stuff to help immigrants and specific programs welcome them and address their special needs.  Library kiosks let patrons complete municipal forms and procedures and conveniently, some locales share a facility with other important neighborhood institutions like senior housing or a school.  Each branch has a director and can design their own programs to suit their community.

Intriguingly sculpted yet comfy

Intriguingly sculpted yet comfy

Your BCN card doesn’t just work here – you can get discounts at bookstores, museums, cinemas, music shops, galleries and theaters, and the e-newsletters often promote other specials.

They have Literary Itineraries – tours that explore Barcelona’s rich bibliographical heritage and take participants to places that relate to books and authors, including private quarters usually inaccessible to the public, and you can join these trips virtually too.

Ilustració científica

Ilustració científica

The maze of nonfiction stacks on the top floor reveals another delightful feature – numerous books of lovely scientific illustrations are interspersed with the rest of the special science collection.

Vivid nonfiction shelves

Vivid nonfiction shelves

Biblioteca Sagrada Família – Josep M. Ainaud de Lasarte is a marvelous addition to the area and along with BCN provides an invaluable resource to the lucky folk of this spectacular city.

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