National Library of Portugal – A guarded fortress of great treasures

Written by Library Planet editor Christian Lauersen, director of Libraries and Citizen Services in Roskilde Municipality, Denmark. For how to contribute to Library Planet look here:

You don’t automatically think ‘library’ when you walk the tree and flower surrounded path upto the massive building that houses the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, the National Library of Portugal. The Library, that is located in the city of Lisbon, gives me an image of a castle or a fortress, not a library. That images is empowered by the guards you meet at the entrance. I’m aware that many libraries holds great treasures that needs to be guarded but getting questioned by a uniformed guard while entering an institution we see as a cornerstone of democracy, inclusion and freedom of information and knowledge doesn’t rime with me.

39458378621_7781f90545_oBiblioteca Nacional de Portugal

The National Library of Portugal is established in 1796 and has been in the current building in the Campo Grande area of Lisbon since 1969. The library is the largest library in Portugal and collects, processes and preserves the nation’s bibliographic heritage and makes it available to the public and scientific community.

The National Library of Portugal has a wide variety of collections that encompass documentation from many eras, of various types and on many subjects. The general collection that covers Portuguese publications from the period of the 16th to the 21st centuries is the library’s largest collection with more than 3 million items. The Library has countless special collections and among those a wonderful collection of old Portuguese maps named The Cartograpy Collection showing how we looked at the world hundreds of years ago.

27680723659_1640e0bc98_oOne of the many stunning maps in the library’s map collection. This shows Scandinavia

Walking through the National Library is a somehow dark and unwelcoming experience. The architecture of the library is heavy and dark with big halls with rather bad lightning an little day light which underlines the closeness of a fortress and not the openness of a library. The signing at the library is catastrophic. While getting lost in a library can be a wonderful experience the bad signing gave me the impression of a library that didn’t wanted me to enter and explore and I often found myself in places where I was in doubt if I was allowed to be. A number of areas in the library had restricted access but it was hard to figure out if you whither you welcome or not. One of the great reading halls that actually has large windows was an awesome experience to enter but it was quickly destroyed by the guard who shussss’ed us and showed us the exit door.

25587848898_43d14e69c5_kBeautiful and lightful reading hall at The National Library. 

I was not able to meet a single person who worked at the library accept the guards. There was front desks around the different floors but no communication on when they were staffed.

The National Library of Portugal holds great treasures and the map collection was stunning. I would recommend a visit anytime when in Portugal and hopefully you, dear reader, have more success with unlocking the library than I had on this beautiful fall day in Lisbon.

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39458294921_f79740fee6_oOld school browsing through the treasures of Lisbon


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