National Library José Martí of Cuba
By Alejandro Rodríguez Ruiz
A whole universe of creation and knowledge of the human being is treasured in the José Martí National Library of Cuba (BNCJM), a prestigious institution of the country's culture, a must for those who wish to know the various aspects of Cuban society.
Located in the vicinity of the emblematic Plaza de la Revolución, the entity preserves the island's documentary, bibliographic, artistic and sound heritage, as well as the most representative of universal culture. Declared a National Monument of the Republic of Cuba for its significant values, the BNCJM is also the rector of the National System of Cuban Public Libraries, which has more than 400 centers throughout the country.
The history of the century-old institution dates back to October 18, 1901, when it was founded under the direction of the prominent intellectual Domingo Figarola Caneda, who began his work with the donation of his private bibliographic collection. His example was followed by relevant personalities of the time, who defended the need for a Cuban state after the colonial period to have a library and a national archive.
The antecedents of these efforts include the establishment of the first university library with the founding in 1728 of the Royal and Pontifical University of San Gerónimo de la Habana, and of the first public library with the constitution in 1792 of the Royal Patriotic Society of Havana, later called the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country.
The first headquarters of the National Library was a small warehouse in the Castillo de la Fuerza, without adequate conditions for the institution's work, as did other dependencies to which its funds were transferred in later years. Fundamental in achieving a dignified space for the institution were the efforts of the Association of Friends of the National Library, created at the initiative of Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring (1889-1964), Historian of Havana.
The first stone was laid on January 28, 1952, the anniversary of the birth of the apostle of Cuban independence, José Martí, whose name the Library would bear in its new building, officially inaugurated on February 21, 1958, one of the most notable buildings of his time in the country.
After the revolutionary triumph in 1959, the entity undertook a stage of restructuring and improving its equipment and rooms, as well as expanding its services, for example the creation of the Youth Library and the Adult Circulating Library at its headquarters.