Barcelona: Libraries for foreigners

Barcelona boasts a huge foreign population, who have come here from all corners of the world to settle in a city that is already fortunate enough to enjoy dual nationality and bilingualism. Its native English speaking population is now surpassed only by the French-and that’s without mentioning all the fluent English speakers from the northern European countries and other parts. Given such an extensive potential readership, it is surprising that Barcelona offers so few resources for the English reading populace.

Some options do exist: buying at the several bookshops around the city that sell English language reading material, or ordering through the Internet, which offers a limitless market from which to purchase all sorts of literature in English. But, these are expensive ways to get your hands on a pocket-sized form of entertainment that may be read only once and resigned to the shelf to gather dust. Moreover, for those who are accustomed to moving themselves and their belongings around, there is always the added disadvantage that boxes of books must be one of the most tiresome things to transport.

The obvious remedy would be to acquire reading material on a short-term basis, read it, enjoy it, give it back and swap it for the next literary experience. For this, of course, we have libraries, with precisely this service in mind; and which are fortunately considered a necessary and important part of culture by the Barcelona City Council. The capital offers a range of 27 libraries, well-dispersed throughout the city, and is looking forward to the opening of the 28th in the near future, as well as the services offered by each town around the province.

A library membership card is available to everybody, and requires nothing more than filling out a form, at the library or on the Web site, and a passport or national identification number. Once affiliated with the library network, members may use their card at all the public libraries in Barcelona, and there are various other advantages such as discounts in bookshops (including some which sell English-language literature), museums and galleries, music shops and even a restaurant. There are also discounts at the original version cinemas Verdi and the Filmoteca. Each library has a selection of English-language books, though most stretch over only two or three shelves. The choice is a combination of the typical English-novels-for-foreign-readers, classics and whodunnits, livened up with an interspersing of more recently published novels, travel writing and the odd biography or poetry edition peeping out from amongst its more light-hearted companions. It is possible to request an inter-library loan from any other library in Barcelona capital or province, at a cost of €1.20 per document.

However, each also has a growing selection of DVDs, most of which can be enjoyed in English, as well as computer terminals available to library users. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of videos and DVDs available in the library system grew by 90 percent and Internet use rose by some 36 percent, according to figures from the Consorci de Biblioteques de Barcelona.

Of the 28 libraries, a few offer daily British newspapers like The Guardian (at the Sant Pau-Santa Creu, Joan Miró, Les Corts Miquel Llongueras, and Torre Llobeta libraries), or the International Herald Tribune (at the Nou Barris library in the Carrer Albert Einstein). The library Francesca Bonnemaison, in Sant Pere Més Baix, offers the best selection. All have selections of music CDs for loan. There is also the occasional Speak-Up original version video to be found, for those who are capable of closing their eyes to the annotated English subtitles.

Among the DVDs are many older films, which, in video format, were always those that were most excruciatingly dubbed over, and those which are most difficult to find in normal video clubs. Usually, a few modern releases can be found too. The Xavier Benguerel library, located in Avinguda Bogatell, specialises in cinema, and has a large collection of films on video and DVD, including many original version videos.

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