The press and social media are increasingly echoing the wonder of a library located in a working-class neighborhood that has just been awarded the title of the best new library in the world. Professionals in the field highlight the architectural beauty of the building, but they say that the best part is the large influx of people of all ages and backgrounds to the library, now named the “García Márquez” library. Only those who cultivate excellence in their communication bring visibility to, instead of concealing, the social creation that initiated this library and has brought it to where it stands today.

In 1978, amidst a working-class neighborhood in Barcelona where shantytowns still stood, Ramón Flecha brought along elements that would mark the beginning of an extraordinary revolution. With a vast and diverse wealth of readings, he promoted a neighborhood dream that included the library. First, he founded the adult education center La Verneda, a beacon of learning and transformation that would later be recognized by Harvard, Cambridge, and other international bodies as the best in the world.

The center was founded on two fundamental pillars: the international scientific community and educational contributions predating the Franco regime. This combination reflected an openness to global knowledge and a reclamation of the Athenian cultural tradition and the Free Institution of Education. Despite initial doubts about the success of such an organization in a neighborhood with evident challenges, Flecha not only believed in people’s potential but also understood the importance of a dialogic and collective approach.

The seed of change was sown with the creation of the first dialogic literary gathering (DLG) at the La Verneda-Sant Martí adult education school during the 1979/1980 academic year. Today, there are more than 15,000 DLGs spread across the world, inspiring individuals like Saramago or Galeano. Despite initial expectations, a small group of participants immersed themselves in García Lorca’s “Romancero gitano” and, as time went on, they explored works by authors such as Kafka, Sappho and Cortázar. These gatherings not only opened the doors to great literary works but also demonstrated that being in the lowest economic and academic levels was not a hindrance to enjoying universal literature.

The impact wasn’t confined to the walls of the cultural center. DLG participants also gathered in cafés, enthusiastically sharing the literary gems they had discovered. This dialogic space expanded beyond the center, transforming not only individuals but also their communities. And soon, efforts began to establish a library in the neighborhood. In response to the administration’s proposals to create a school library in the center, they replied that they wanted a public library so that all citizens could read even classic books like those by Sappho, James Joyce or Virginia Woolf.

The initial disbelief that books like these could be read in that neighborhood disappeared as soon as the library began to operate. For many years, the level of participation and readings undertaken has amazed and excited. When it outgrew its space, the same community of readers advocated for a new building for the library, pinpointing the location and the design that they wanted, in line with the social and cultural beauty of their reading habit and human values. The current library is the result of that entire community, of that entire populace, and this reality cannot be made invisible, no matter how much it is attempted.

Por Mar Joanpere

Profesora de sociología en la Universitat Rovira i Virgili