{ subscribe_url: '/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/law.php' }

From the Serial Set: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and Libraries

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Digital Resources Division would like to highlight some of the documented accomplishments of Latin America in our collections.

The Serial Set contains bulletins from the Pan American Conferences. Initially known as the International Union of American Republics, the Pan American Union became the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1948. The organization operates as a political cooperative body, establishing international treaties to promote democracy, human rights, security, and development.

The document I came across was particularly interesting, as it was part of a House document that contained the Pan American Union’s report on public libraries in Latin America. The authors of this document highlighted specific libraries, along with their common interests and developments.

Photo of title page of Public Libraries in Latin American Countries bulletin. 

Title page of Public Libraries in Latin American Countries bulletin. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 51 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) Photo of the document by Bailey DeSimone.

This bulletin, written by Augusto Eyquem, a member of the American Library Association and the National Library of Chile, describes the connection between universities and libraries. According to Eyquem, in 1538, the Universidad Imperial y Pontificia de Santo Domingo, the oldest university on the American continents, was founded by Spanish colonists. While “the first Spanish-American library is difficult to determine,” the library of the National University of Córdoba is assumed to be the oldest. These libraries were open to “a comparatively small elite” – access was restricted to monks and university communities, the clergy, and the “well-to-do.” (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 652 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

After 1580, published books were allowed in regions colonized by Spain, so long as they were not declared heretical by the church. Fictional literature was prohibited, following a decree issued in 1531. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 652 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

Photo of page containing photo of the interior of the National Library of Peru, surrounded by text detailing the development of Argentine libraries.

Photo of the National Library of Peru, in Lima. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 655 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) Photo of the document by Bailey DeSimone.

In 1810, following the liberation of the former Spanish-American colonies Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, libraries were re-created. In the new capital cities, national libraries were established. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 653 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

The National Public Library of Buenos Aires (now known as the Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno) first collection was established in 1796 as a gift of the bishop of Buenos Aires, Reverend Don Manuel Azanor y Ramirez. Together with part of the Colegio de San Carlos collection, the first collection of this library was created.

Photo of page depicting a photo of the exterior of the National Library of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. Text surrounds the photo.

Photo of the National Public Library, Buenos Aires, in Argentina.  (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 653 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) Photo of the document by Bailey DeSimone.

How did these national libraries operate? As the bulletin reports, many “were started with a staff of not more than five or ten persons, and these had not the least training in things pertaining to library economy. They were picked from among members of prominent families who had graduated from the university and who had influence in the Government.” By the “middle of the nineteenth century,” classification of library materials had graduated from memorized systems to print catalogue books. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 654 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

Photo of page, depicting photo of the exterior of the National Library of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by text.

Photo of the National Library of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 658 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) Photo of the document by Bailey DeSimone.

The National Library of Chile in Santiago (Biblioteca Nacional de Chile), founded in 1813, formed around the “old collection of the Jesuits, consisting of 5,000 volumes.” (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 654 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

Eyquem described the unique hiring process for the National Library of Chile:

“Any person who has his A. B. (Bachiller en Humanidades) from the University of Chile, and who can speak two foreign languages, is entitled to take part in this competition. The competition consists of a series of examinations bearing on librarianship, literature, bibliography, geography, history, two foreign languages (English, French, and German preferred), Spanish composition and typewriting. The candidate who attains the highest grade in this series of examinations is given the position.” (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 656 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

Photo of page, depicting exterior image of the National Library of Chile in Santiago, surrounded by text.

Photo of the National Library of Chile, in Santiago.  (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 657 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) Photo of the document by Bailey DeSimone.

Juana Manrique de Lara of the Secretary of Public Education’s Library Department (Departamento de Bibliotecas de la Secretaria de Education Publica) adds to the bulletin the history of the first and only public library of Mexico, the foundation of which inspired the development of a Library Bureau within the office of the Secretary of Public Education. Esperanza Velásquez Bringas served as the first department head. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 659 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) The Library Bureau reopened a school for aspiring librarians in 1925, after sending students to the United States to study library science and return with new ideas. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 660-661 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

Photo of the National Library of Mexico, in Mexico City. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 660 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.) Photo of the document by Bailey DeSimone.

As of the report’s publication, 90 students were registered in a “course of library science by correspondence,” through which students could apply for technical library services information. (H. Doc. 97, pt. 9, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., at 662 (1926) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 8671.)

The development of different library systems throughout the Americas, and their impact on one another, is one of the many international insights contained in the Serial Set. We look forward to learning more about international cooperation through reports like these.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.