Playing cards, webs, maps, vinyl: the other collections of the National Library | Culture

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  Playing cards, webs, maps, vinyl: the other collections of the National Library

When you hear the word library, you automatically think of a bunch of books. And when you think about the National Library of Spain (BNE), the largest library appears in mind, in the largest pile of books, in everybody the books that are published. It is a correct image, but not a complete one: the BNE collects, in effect, the books. But not only. Between his collections There are orange labels, maps, drawings, sheet music, movie handbills, memes, video games, Christmas cards, playing cards and even one of the largest vinyl record collections in the country, with more than 300,000 copies. In these digital times they host a project that sounds crazy: save the internet.

“Here there are all kinds of documents and any subject that one might be interested in,” explains José Luis Bueren, technical director of the BNE, “everything that is considered Spanish cultural production, and we are not only referring to high culture, It fits in the National Library”. This entity is a curious place from the temporal point of view and one of the few institutions long-termists that exist: it operates in the present, it investigates the past, but it works for the future, when many objects that are now collected will take on a new meaning. It is impossible to know what will seem relevant to us decades from now.

In the image, the librarian Isabel Ortega in front of an archivist of large prints from the 18th century.In the image, the librarian Isabel Ortega in front of an archivist of large plates from the 18th century. MOEH ATITAR

Papers that were used and thrown away

“I am already bored from so many years explaining to people that there are other things in the National Library,” jokes Isabel Ortega García, head of the Drawings and Engravings service, “for example, all kinds of graphic material to spread culture and convey knowledge”. On the table of her apartment, full of cabinets and drawers that house countless wonders, she shows a hand program that was given in the projections of the film They have stolen a star (Javier Setó, 1963), starring the artist girl Estrellita and the actor Espartaco Santoni, whose poster illustrated the famous Janus.

Also Elgorriaga chocolate wrappers from the mid-20th century or Fontana Hermanos orange labels from the end of the 19th century, intended for export. All of them materials that were not designed to last and that are hard to imagine, a priori, that they have their place in an institution like the BNE. But it turns out they have their importance. This type of material is called ephemera”, explains Ortega, “although they were not designed for this, now they reflect the situation of the country in other times, the past culture”. Think about it when you once again hold in your hands a piece of gum wrapper, a poster of buy gold or the supermarket brochure.

The BNE, dependent on the Ministry of Culture and Sports, is not dedicated to bringing together each of these pieces individually, but rather acts as a metacollector: Acquire collections of interest from other collectors who are dedicated to tracking through markets, websites or fairs. There are those who collect out of personal obsession and there are those who collect precisely to sell their collections, as an investment. Not everything works: the institution is very selective in its acquisitions. As for the collection of drawings and illustrations, it is another story: they are artistic pieces that are acquired one by one. They are already big words, beyond popular culture; in its large collection, one of the most important in the country, there is work by Fortuny, Goya, Velázquez or Murillo. Around 200,000 drawings. Two million photos are also guarded.

Posters restored in the workshops of the National Library of Spain.Posters restored in the workshops of the National Library of Spain. National Library of Spain (BNE)

What is kept in the BNE and what is not? How do you decide? On the one hand, there is a legal deposit law that requires all cultural production generated in the country to be deposited in the institution. Everything published: albums, books, movies, etc. “This is what identifies the national libraries of different countries,” says Bueren. If the archive of all of them were added, it would be possible to gather, at least theoretically, all the cultural production of humanity. Then there are the other collections, the most curious, which have a more historical and random character. “That depends on the particular history of each library,” adds the director. For example, this institution was founded as the Royal Library by Felipe V and from that moment on it has been compiling the different documentary collections up to the present, according to the interests of the architects, of the times, or according to the opportunities that appear. Any cultural expression related to Spain is of interest. Since this year, video games are included in the legal deposit; Previously, the BNE had already called on citizens to complete the titles that were missing from its video game archive, especially from the 1980s. Muestras gratis esponja

In the image, old wedding menus compiled by BNE.In the image, old wedding menus compiled by BNE.MOEH ATITAR

the guardians of the internet

But save internet? How is the internet saved? “The generation of daily information is brutal, so we have to make a varied and relevant selection of websites from different points of view”, explains José Carlos Cerdán, head of the Online Publications Deposit Management service. Since 2009, the BNE has collected web pages and all kinds of documents published on the internet that will never be printed on paper. “Saving the Internet as documentary heritage has an undeniable cultural, social and scientific value and interest,” says Cerdán. “Contemporary societies are difficult to understand without the websites they generate.” But it is an overwhelming task, not only because of the quantity, but also because of the constant bubbling of websites that appear and disappear: everything is ephemeral on the Internet. Many disappeared websites (such as Wikispaces) can only be consulted in this library. The result in the Archive of the Spanish Web.

In a room with high ceilings, somewhere in that inextricable labyrinth that is the BNE (at least for the occasional visitor), several librarians surf and preserve the internet and Cerdán shows some of the websites that they guard with zeal. They have different ways of saving: massive collections, in which all the pages of the .es domain are collected (about 70 terabytes per year), or thematic collection, more selective, made by hand, or, better said, at the stroke of click. For example, everything related to the social outbreak of 15-M, the end of ETA, the proclamation of Felipe VI or, of course, the pandemic. Collections of feminism, video games, gastronomy or LGTBI issues. “Here we must leave out the ideological positions of each one: it is simply a matter of covering the subject,” says Cerdán. It is possible, for example, to see what this same online newspaper looked like on different days in its history, compare the different layouts and browse its sections as if it were today. As the change of the internet is very gradual, the vision of prehistoric websites (that is, from 15 years ago) reveals a more austere and pixelated world. The Web Archive already occupies more than a petabyte of memory (one billion megabytes).

Digitize the collections

“The National Library has an enormous volume of collections, we estimate that we have 35 million documents of all kinds,” explains José Luis Bueren in his spacious office, decorated with beautiful plants (“they are not my merit, but the people who take care of them ”, warns). Along the way, by the way, we have passed in front of another curious collection that does not strictly belong to the funds, but that hangs in the corridors: the collection of portraits of the winners of the Cervantes Prize, each one made by an artist of their choice. of the portrayed Gerardo Diego for Pelayo Ortega. Jorge Luis Borges for DisBerlin. Paco Threshold by José Díaz.

The writer Eduardo Mendoza at the entrance of his portrait in the BNE, as the Cervantes Prize, in the presence of the portraitist Leticia Feduchi.The writer Eduardo Mendoza at the entrance of his portrait in the BNE, as the Cervantes Prize, in the presence of the portraitist Leticia Feduchi.

In order to deal with the enormous volume of information from the BNE, the fundamental thing is to have it well described and catalogued, that is, to know what you have and where you have it. The institution has storage space with the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions at its own headquarters, but also at its delegation in Alcalá de Henares, a building made up of six towers with enormous warehouses in which what we could call library robots operate. . And the construction of new physical storage spaces is planned. That’s not counting the numerous computer servers, because the BNE, like everything else, migrates to the cloud, although the cloud is not a digital entelechy, but rather a very solid thing made of cables, lights and small silicon artifacts.

“Now we are making a great massive digitization effort, resumed thanks to European funds, which allows not only the dissemination of the material through the internet, but also the conservation itself,” says Bueren. These are the objectives of the institution: preserve and disseminate. Dissemination through the internet greatly increases use, from the order of one hundred thousand loans in the room to 10 million accesses online. The fact that something is digitized also helps its preservation, because it wears out less physically with consultations. Of course, with all this process, on the other hand inevitable, something of the romantic aura of the National Library is lost: many curious people and researchers no longer have to undertake that pilgrimage to Madrid to visit the old neoclassical building on Paseo de Recoletos.

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Playing cards, webs, maps, vinyl: the other collections of the National Library | Culture

When you hear the word library, you automatically think of a bunch of books. And when you think about the National Library of Spain (BNE), the largest library




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Playing cards, webs, maps, vinyl: the other collections of the National Library | Culture


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