Sunday, October 23, 2011

The National Library / Fernando Dámaso

The National Library / Fernando Dámaso
Fernando Dámaso, Translator: Unstated

On October 18th the Jose Marti National Library of Cuba celebrated its
110th year, and for some months has been undergoing a complete
remodeling of both the building and its organization. This is good news
as its state of disrepair was obvious to everyone, after many years of
neglect, but at a determined moment it became a kind of purgatory, where
important intellectuals ousted during the so-called Gray Decade purged
their sins. The fault of the Empire? Of the Blockade? If we are honest,
we must recognize it was our authorities.

As the news here, even good news, is never complete, I call your
attention to some statements by government officials. Speaking of
digitalization, something missing in our Archives, Civil Registers,
Libraries, etc — an effort pending at the national level — the deputy
director explained that one of the hardest and most important tasks
accomplished in recent times is the digitalization of the Historic
Memory, mainly from the Cuban press from the years 1962 to 1970. Is the
Historic Memory of the Cuban nation subsumed in these years? Are they
the most important? What happens to the prior years from the 16th, 17th,
18th, 19th and first half of the 20th centuries? Are they not the most
important part of the Historic Memory? I do not want to think that the
official cited considers that the history of Cuba began on January 1, 1959.

The deputy finance director notes that the patrimonial endowments on
floors 2 through 6, where documents from the 16th through 20th century
are stored, are not air-conditioned, because to do so would require a
very expensive system. I don't deny it, but I think if a small
percentage of what has been spent on political propaganda within and
outside of Cuba were spent on this, the 16 floors of the library could
be air-conditioned. It's nothing more than a problem of priorities.

The same official advises that they are thinking of reviving the patio
and its lush area, to serve at certain times as a public area. When the
facility opened in 1958 this was the case, until someone decided to
entirely fence it in, an epidemic that spread to other building in the
Plaza and the city. To revive this patio is good, as would be
eliminating the fences, anachronisms in a center dedicated to culture,
but the principal activities of the Library should be realized within
its building, for which it was conceived. Good service to its users in
comfortable conditions, without the denial of access to important
documents, including the archives, and eliminating the absurd
authorization cards required from workplaces and schools, would be an
effective step in the Library's meeting one of its most important functions.

We hope that its re-opening and, although its endowment will continue to
deteriorate (no solution is contemplated), we dream that at some point
in this century, before they disappear completely, the majority of its
documents will be digitized, for the benefit of citizens and the
salvation of Historic Memory.

October 22 2011

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