I think your library is broken.

¡Hola todos!

In my haste to update you guys on my new living situation, I completely forget all about my library adventures on Saturday! This weekend I spent some time working on my thesis paper and figured I should go check out what the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) had to offer.

I must preface what I’m about to write with the following: I have never ever been irritated with a library as much as I was on Saturday. And I’m an avid bibliophile! Argghh!

Around 11 I entered the library, right? I wasn’t quite sure where anything was so I located the info desk and asked the man working there whether I needed a card to check out books and if so who I could talk to about that. He sent me to this small room in the corner of the building that had about twenty bookshelves filled with books. The lady behind the counter handed me a FAQ sheet about becoming a library member. I read through the requisites quickly and saw that for students the annual fee was about 3.000 CHP ($6) and required providing them (the library, presumably) a copy of the most recent utility bill with the residential address printed on it and a photocopy of the student ID card among other things (it’s a surprisingly comprehensive list). I’m currently subletting an apartment with utilities included (i.e., paid for by the owners) so this was going to be tricky. Since I was there anyway I asked the librarian what the process was to check out books–assuming I would be qualified to become a member–and she told me that I could only take the books that were in that room home with me; whatever was located outside of the room had to be read in the library.

This was the first thing that surprised me. I understand that rare books or those in fragile condition need to be kept safe, and a good way to do that is to prevent people from checking them out. But I highly doubted that the thousands of books outside this dinky room were all old and/or rare…

Seeing that I look confused, the lady explained that there were photocopy machines located in each reading room and that I could make copies of whatever material I need (for a fee of course). So, I let the non-checking out thing slide. I figured that since I have a tendency to rack up late fees this may be a good thing after all.

I took the stairs up to the second floor where I was told I could find the books I was looking for. As I passed by several reading rooms (filled with nothing but tables and the occasional photocopier) I realized that I hadn’t actually seen any books yet. I saw another librarian and stopped to ask her, somewhat sheepishly, where all the books were. She was really helpful and showed me how to use the online catalog to find out where in the library the books were located. Turns out the process to get your hands on a book–any book–was more complicated than I had expected. The librarian told me that for each book I wanted I had to fill out a request form. I would then have to take this form to the librarian inside the reading room that housed the collection the book was from. After giving the form to him/her I had to wait while they had somebody go get the book for me.

For those of you who are curious, here’s what the form looks like:

Aside from the author and book title, you also have to note which collection the book belongs to, where in that collection it’s located (i.e., its call number), your first and last name, your mailing address and email address, your ID number (i.e., your driver’s license number), your phone number, and the reason for requesting the book. What. Is. This. Madness.

This I was not at all prepared for. I seriously thought this whole escapade would be a lot like going to the library back home: search for the call number, go find the book, celebrate, repeat. So, armed with about 30 request forms, I entered the reading room (luckily for me all the books I needed belonged to the same coleción). As I approached the counter and handed the librarian the forms there was an awkward pause after which, looking at me like I was crazy, she said “You can only request two books at a time…”. “Oh,” I replied, “Um, then I’ll take these two.” Being thrown off my groove for the third time–why was I even surprised? I should have expected this–I handed her two forms from the top of the stack without bothering to see what they were. She gave me a laminated card with a number on it, took my ID card as collateral, and asked me to take a seat and wait. After about two minutes I heard a buzz and looked up to see the number on my card flashing in red lights above her desk.

Taking the books I walked to the photocopy machine at the other end of the room. While I was in line (there were 4 people ahead of me) I read the rules for photocopying library materials:

  • I could not make photocopies of more than 30 pages per book per day
  • I could not make photocopies of books published more than 50 years ago (i.e., before 1962)
  • All photocopies had to be made by a librarian

There were more regulations, but after the first three I stopped reading because it was so depressing. When my turn finally came to photocopy my stuff the librarian working the machine informed me that it was out of paper and he didn’t have access to any more. “But,” he added quickly, “there’s another machine downstairs. I can take you there if you like.” So we walked down to the first floor and I stood in line again and waited some more. Once I had my copies I went back upstairs to repeat the process all over again: I got two new books and walked back downstairs to get them photocopied. When I walked between the two rooms I had to be accompanied by a librarian at all times because you aren’t allowed to take books out of the reading room. The photocopier-librarian accompanied me on my trips and I learned that he had been working there for the past 32 years. Wow! He said he’s usually in charge of all the media (CDs, DVDs, etc) and inter-library loans. On my second foray downstairs there was quite a big line and since it was almost time for the library to close (at 2 pm…I know, so early…) I wasn’t able to get any more photocopying done.

This was by far the most insane and hectic library visit I’ve ever had. To be fair, my thesis adviser did warn me it would be this way, but I honestly thought she was exaggerating. So now there are tons of books that I still need to go see, not to mention articles (which are located in a completely different section of the library), which means I’ll need to be super patient and probably make quite a few trips. Despite all my exclamations and choice of adjectives this wasn’t a completely horrible experience. (In retrospect) it was actually kinda cool ’cause now I’m familiar with the “library system” in Chile. I will also never again take libraries in the States for granted ever ever ever again…

Keep checking back for more crazy library stories and other shenanigans about Santiago soon. Until then, ¡buenas noches!

P.S.: Two days ago daylight savings time began, so now Chile is 4 hours ahead of CA. When you guys “fall back”, we’ll be 5 hours ahead. Craycray!

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