Archiving an infinity of information

New law will allow National Library to start storing copies of online content

A cardboard music disc displayed as part of the National Library's 300th anniversary celebrations.
A cardboard music disc displayed as part of the National Library's 300th anniversary celebrations.SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ (EL PAÍS)

Spain's National Library (BNE) is getting ready for an impossible challenge: to carry on storing all the world's knowledge now digital tools have made that world infinite.

The BNE's new director, Ana Santos Aramburo, on Wednesday announced the drafting of a royal decree that will enable an institution that has been collecting copies of all publications printed in Spain since 1712 to continue doing the same with online-generated content. "In the digital realm it is impossible to deposit a copy of everything," Santos admitted. "But several collections will be made each year to provide a fixed picture of the main body of work."

This project, which is being developed in partnership with regional governments, is similar to other initiatives underway at national libraries in other countries. It is new territory for them all, and will constitute one of the main topics of debate at the next international library forum.

Santos, who has a degree in geography and history from Zaragoza University, as well as one in library studies, worked at the BNE as director of cultural content under Milagros del Corral, and replaces Gloria Pérez-Salmerón in the post. Pérez-Salmerón had been appointed by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and was widely expected to be replaced by the Popular Party after it won the November 2011 elections. In the end, the conservative government decided to keep her in her post for one more year, coinciding with the BNE's 300th anniversary celebrations. Santos' appointment was announced in mid-February.

All three women who have lately headed the BNE are specialists in the field, breaking with an earlier tradition of appointing writers and intellectuals to a position that requires specific knowledge, as well as a high profile.

The new chief praised the role of her two predecessors in helping open up this venerable, if once hermetic, institution to the wider public through outreach work and numerous exhibitions.

Besides the decree relating to digital content, Santos said a new BNE law is also being drafted that will place the library at the same level as the Prado or Reina Sofía museums in terms of self-management.

As for the main problem facing this and other public cultural institutions these days - a lack of funding - Santos talked about fundraising initiatives on both small and large scales, including micro-sponsorships to finance specific projects. In this sense, a change to the BNE's legal status would make fundraising easier. "The library would have greater capacity to raise its own resources," she said. "At the present time, culture is what's saving us."

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