CubaPLUS Magazine

José Martí National Library of Cuba, a temple of knowledge

By: Mercy Ramos, photos: BNCJM web
Oct 18, 2023
José Martí National Library of Cuba, a temple of knowledge

I dare to assure you there is not a Cuban who has not stepped on the José Martí National Library of Cuba (BNCJM), whose name honors whoever was and is the most important patriot and intellectual in the country.

Today the Library celebrates 122 years of being founded, during which it has contributed in one way or another to meet the needs of reading and study of hundreds of nationals and, why not, foreign generations. Crossing the threshold of that construction is like arriving at a temple of knowledge where the silence constitutes its main ally, since it reflects that everyone who is there, is engrossed in reading a book, magazine or brochure of great interest and usefulness to satisfy the needs of those who come to it.

History, nature, music, art in general, science and many more topics you can find there, whether they are digitized, but I can assure you of that –because during my time as a student I've visited the library thousands of times- it's hard not to find the book or document you need.

Suffice it to say that in the national library there are currently some 34 million documents in all types of media, including books, brochures, loose sheets, magazines, newspapers and others, which without a doubt can be said to be very difficult, not to mention impossible, that anyone looking for any information they need will not find it.

Despite Cuba being a small country of about 11 million inhabitants (according to figures from 2021) it has an extensive library system even in the most remote places. At this time, the National Public Library System is made up of 369 libraries, of which which 13 are provincial, 155 municipal and 201 branches distributed in both areas urban as well as rural. This shows the government's concern for education and culture of all citizens.

But let's return to our most important library. Founded in October 1901 by interest of a notable group of Cuban intellectuals, it was motivated by the love of cultured tradition of reading, care and preservation of the book, creation and operation of libraries.

It had as precedent the 17th century, when it was known there were collectors who created their own private libraries, as was the case of Nicolás Estévez Borges, priest of the Greater Parish of Havana, who in his will declared he owned a library of two thousand volumes. With the founding of the Royal and Pontifical University of San Gerónimo de la Habana (1728) the first university library emerged, although its teachings and books responded more to conventional studies than to those who were already beginning to create the foundations of the modernity.

Years later, in 1892, the Royal Patriotic Society of Havana emerged, later known as as the Royal Economic Society Friends of the Country, in whose headquarters was the first public library of the country. Other events followed that led to the creation of the National Library that was initially located in a small warehouse in the Castle of the Royal Force.

But it was not until February 21, 1958 that our beloved library passed into the majestic building that it occupies today, built especially for it, thanks to the financing of the sugar sector, for the taxes collected, according to the law enacted in 1941 with that purpose. Today and after more than a century of operation, the José Martí National Library continues and will continue to be a symbol of Cubanness, since it keeps the historical memory of the nation.

Please extend our greatest gratitude and congratulations to all your librarians for the work they have done for so many years.

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