- De la biblioteca particular a la biblioteca pública: libros, lectores y pensamiento bibliotecario en los orígenes de la biblioteca pública de Buenos Aires, 1779–1812
Alejandro Parada has distinguished himself in recent years for his studies of the early history of libraries and the activity of reading in Argentina. The work under review deals with early library development in Buenos Aires during the final years of the Spanish Empire and the early years of independent Argentina. The author has chosen three documents to demonstrate how libraries and reading were perceived then and how we today can understand the development of the notion of a public library as it occurred in Buenos Aires.
The first document analyzed must be one of the rarest manuscripts examined to understand how a Latin American colonial library was used: Facundo de Prieto y Pulido's "Cuaderno de los libros que me han llevado prestados" (1779–83). During his adult life attorney don Facundo amassed the third largest private library in Buenos Aires. It contained 336 titles in more than 1,000 volumes; by comparison, the largest porteño library then contained slightly more than 1,000 titles. Parada meticulously analyzes the register of 122 titles (194 volumes) loaned to at least 43 individuals within don Facundo's social circle, which was high indeed. Among the borrowers was the viceroy himself, although there was also a handful of commoners. The lone female was don Facundo's daughter. Among Parada's findings, not surprisingly, is that the majority of works borrowed (56 percent) related to law. The historically rich "Cuaderno" has been milked for all its worth, and Parada's analysis is recommended to students who have had access only to those inventories of books that have survived in Latin American convent and notarial archives. The "Cuaderno" gives us ready information on what was being read and discussed by book owners and users. One cannot fathom don Facundo loaning his books without also discussing them with his acquaintances.
Don Facundo and his wife donated their library to the Convento de la Merced in 1794, four years before his death, with the intention that the library would be available for public consultation. More costly books and those still suited to the couple's reading habits remained with them until their deaths. The convent kept the library open for about five hours per day. Restrictions imposed on the users of the "public library" read, however, like those of a modern-day research library: the reader could bring in only his own paper; pen and ink would be supplied; there could be no marking of the books in any way; dog-earing was not allowed; and books could not be removed from the building for any reason.
Parada then turns his attention to the provisional rules for the Biblioteca Pública de la Capital de la Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata (1812). While there were forerunners to public libraries in Argentina, it was not until "home rule" that a [End Page 403] public library could be widely supported. The ruling junta, influenced by ideas of liberty and democracy, saw education and a public library as positive social ends. Parada argues persuasively that Bernardino Rivadavia edited and added legal provisions to the library's draft rules, authored by canon and bibliophile Luis José Chorroarín. For several years there were lengthy discussions in the local newspapers about the hours that the "public library" was to maintain. Morning hours were hardly convenient to those who worked during the day. Indeed, the library's hours were not "liberalized" until well into the nineteenth century. By then the Biblioteca Pública had been transformed into the Biblioteca Nacional.
The third document in this book is Juan Luis de Aguirre y Tejada's "Idea liberal económica sobre el fomento de la biblioteca de ésta capital," which was serialized in...