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Digital Libraries in Spain
New opportunities, new challenges

The digital library landscape in Spain varies widely, reports librarian Pau Bañó Magraner. In recent years, he observed an opening of libraries to the platforms already used by the customers – leading to  new opportunities but also challenges for librarians.

By Pau Bañó Magraner

Spain is a country of many contrasts: between north and south, between the interior and the coast, and between the cities and the countryside. Within Spain’s decentralised federal-like system of government, each regional government administers its own library system, so that digital services are different according to the priorities of each region. Those working in the area of reading, books, and libraries have understood the importance of digital services for many years, but the projects to make this a reality have taken longer to materialise. 

eBiblio, useful but uneven

Until now, eBiblio has been the main tool for disseminating digital materials. This is a platform that originated within central government, but whose content each region is responsible for. There are therefore great differences between the availability of books and electronic magazines, depending on where you live. For example, some regions do not have online movie loans, whereas others do, and others broadcast movies and documentaries using such as Netflix or HBO. For some regions like mine, the confinement measures introduced as a result of COVID-19 have led the government to use this platform more and they have considerably increased the materials on offer. 

[O]ne of the main potential benefits of the digital age is to create community.


‘You ask, libraries respond’

One of the first services offered was the ‘You ask, libraries respond’ reference service, which is currently still in operation and in which some sixty libraries participate, mostly those in provincial capitals. In general, libraries no longer reach many citizens, and this service has gone largely unnoticed and unused by the majority of library users. 

Towards the digital community

From my point of view, one of the main potential benefits of the digital age is to create community. Libraries have always promoted face-to-face communities through readings, storytelling, book clubs, book presentations, and conferences. For some years now, institutions have tried to create digital spaces for people to interact through reading. This has often been done using the institutions’ own platforms, whose cumbersome interfaces have resulted in low engagement. Now the trend is different, and library communities are trying to be more open and friendly, taking advantage of the platforms and social networks that citizens already have. While this gives librarians more opportunities, it also requires them to know each social network well, to know each target audience, and to be able to create content that is adapted to each platform.

COVID-19 as an ally for inclusion

Libraries have always tried to be inclusive spaces and institutions where all citizens have the right to read and to access information, regardless of their language, age, physical condition, or place of residence. Now, digital services allow us to interact with the youngest, function in a multilingual way, interact with people with disabilities and bring libraries closer to towns and villages to stop the depopulation of rural areas, a problem in many regions of Spain. While there is still a long way to go in this area, it has become clear to Spanish librarians that we must continue to deepen the digital channels that the COVID-19 crisis has forced us to adopt, not only to be prepared for future pandemics, but also to reach as many people in society as possible who have previously been cut off from libraries.