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October 3, 2023

Where culture counts 

North Lanarkshire Council’s threat to close 39 leisure centres and libraries to plug a budget shortfall has been (temporarily?) lifted. But these are always the low hanging fruit for the bean counters when the books aren’t adding up. The same applies to the Scottish Government’s decision to reimpose a cut of £6.5 million to the culture budget. Despite the hand wringing, these decisions simply reflect the political priorities of the moment. By contrast, other places seem to consider investment in the arts and heritage as a non-negotiable prerequisite of government. Places like Barcelona where culture really seems to count.

Stephen Burgen

Barcelona community resource named world’s best new public library.

A Barcelona library specialising in Latin American literature has been named the best new public library in the world by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions at its congress in Rotterdam.

The library, named after the Nobel-winning Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, opened last year in the working-class neighbourhood of Sant Martí de Provençals.

In awarding the prize, the jury praised both its architecture and its innovative approach to encouraging local people to use the resource, the interaction between staff and the local community, the flexibility of the spaces and services, the commitment to learning and the sustainability of the building.

“We’ve received the prize precisely because we opted for a model that makes the library an extension of the home, with armchairs and spaces that invite people to feel at home,” said Neus Castellano, the library’s director.

“This had led to small children and elderly people in particular spending hours in the library, and they don’t come just to take out books and they spend much longer here. The neighbourhood, which is densely populated and has a lot of students, really needed this library.”

“We never expected to win,” Castellano said. “No Spanish library has ever even been nominated. It’s recognition for all the work the city has put in. Libraries have also played a big role in Barcelona, they’ve always been important.”

Later this year the library will open a “room of the senses” designed for children with special needs and learning difficulties.

It has a capacity of 800 but some days has hosted as many as 1,300 people. As well as readers, Castellano described the phenomenon of “library tourism”, with people coming to the neighbourhood to take pictures of the airy timber-framed building.

Xavier Marcé, responsible for culture on the city council, said the award was a vindication of a policy the city embarked on 30 years ago to create a network of libraries, of which the Gabriel García Márquez was the latest.

García Márquez lived in Barcelona from 1967 to 1975, arriving shortly after the publication of his groundbreaking magical realism novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

He was one of several leading Latin American writers who have lived in the city, among them another Nobel laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. The library holds a collection of 40,000 documents relevant to Latin American literature.

It also runs a community radio station called Ràdio Maconda, in honour of the fictitious village of Macondo in García Márquez’s celebrated novel.