Cuban National Library celebrates 105 anniversary
On October 18, 1901, in the midst of the United States occupation of Cuba, the islands nationality was being discussed and reconfirmed. An intense campaign by a few patriots had forced the administrating government to give in to some concessions and, accordingly, in a small room of the Castillo de la Fuerza, bear of books and shelves, the Cuban National Library was born.
A Military Order would later name Domingo Figarola Caneda as the director of a space that for some was not a library but rather a "poor warehouse for books." There were no policies or regulations governing the library, but the 1,800.50 gold pesos salary for the director certainly stood out.
Poor security conditions and the tropical climate serious damaged the old collection, leading to renewed demands for an adequate building to house the library. To meet these demands, a tax on sugar was passed and the current building that houses the library was finally inaugurated on June 12, 1957.
The inexistence of a national publisher and a high level of illiteracy, limited public access to the library, full of empty shelves. Before the 1959 triumph of the Revolution there were days when barely a half-dozen people passed through its doors.
One Historic January Changed Everything
"We're not going to tell the people to believe, but rather, to read!" With these words, Fidel Castro summed up the cultural changes that were sweeping the nation. The National Library, no longer a center for the elite, was greatly affected by these changes and the book revolution was born, promoting knowledge and the joy of reading across all levels of society.
Dr. Maria Teresa Freire de Andrade, who since the 1940s had been pushing for library reform in Cuba, together with Maruja Iglesias, led the profound changes happening in the National Library and it became an institution of the people.
Today the library boasts close to 24,000 members, more than a quarter million volumes, and receives an average of 450 users a day and more than 1,000 on Saturdays.
In the humid tropical climate of the Caribbean, the collection demands a high degree of care. Current director, Eliades Acosta Matos, notes that the increasing deterioration of part of the collection has been stopped and that future investments are being pursued to preserve some of the librarys older books.
Today, the valuable cultural heritage of the National Library can be fully appreciated by the public with displays of books dating from the 16th century. Among the library's jewels are two pages from the Catholico, printed in 1460 in the legendary Gutenberg workshop, and several editions from the 18th century.