Libraries in the time of Covid: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Interview of Adelaida Caro Martin, Head of Rare Books at the National Library of Spain.

What is your name and title, where do you work, and what kind of patrons do you normally have?

My name is Adelaida Caro. I’m Head of Rare Books at the National Library of Spain, in Madrid. Although the BNE has many different kinds of patrons, the usual ones at the Sala Cervantes, the reading room where patrons have access to the collections preserved at the Department of Manuscripts, Incunabula and Rare Books, are specialized researchers.

Picture of the National Library of Spain made by the artist Fernando Vicente that was the library’s image during the shutdown

How has your institution been affected by COVID-19? 

The BNE had to be shut down from March 12th until June 8th  due to a decision made together by the Minstry of Health and the Ministry of Culture and Sport, that affected all libraries. Since the reopening, there have been some changes in the library’s routine: patrons come by appointment and with advance request of the documents, the seating capacity is limited to 50%, patrons have to wear face masks and reference libraries and manual files cannot be touched directly by the patrons, but requested to the librarians

What happened in your country during the Covid crisis and how did it affected your library/institution?

Spain has been one of the European countries most affected by the pandemics. On March 13th, after the infections started to increase dramatically, the Government ordained a general lockdown that lasted more than three months, stopped most of Spain’s activity and confined the citizens in their homes. During the general lockdown all employees of the National Library had to work from home. Since June 8th, face-to-face work has been combined with telework.

Two lonely librarians at the already empty Sala Cervantes on March 12th, immediately before the general lockdown

If you have been working from home, what kind of projects have you been working on? With what tools/organisation?  

We worked on many different projects. Some colleagues took part on the dissemination of our collections in social networks, blog, crowdsourcing projects… This work was enthusiastically received by our virtual patrons, who widely collaborated in the crowdsourcing projects displayed in ComunidadBNE. Our project on transcription of gothic poetic leaflets, for example, was completed within 24 hours. We also worked on long-term projects such as ancient possessors, historical bindings, etc. And we were able to ameliorate old records from our catalogue, mostly authority records. Luckily, we already had many tools for the remote work: online LIS, digital library, social networks.

Did your institution change its priorities/projects for the next few months/years?

Not substantially, although there is a focus on virtual services, digitization and all activities that allow the remote access of the library’s collections and services. Some of our main goals (face-to-face reference services, technical process of our collections, etc.) remain, but we are thinking more about the online services we can provide.

The new normal: patrons with face masks and closed reference libraries

Do you think the crisis will affect your way of working in the long term?

In some ways, yes. Some practices are changing and things that were unusual before, such as virtual meetings and telework, are more common now.


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