Monday, May 27, 2013

The Greatest Pleasure: Reading at the Biblioteca de São Paulo - São Paulo

Those who know me will know that I have complained bitterly about the quality of libraries here in São Paulo. I may be able to keep complaining about the city libraries--but today I went to the jewel in the crown of the state libraries.  The Biblioteca de São Paulo in the Zona Norte (north side of the city) is jaw-dropping.

I only knew that there was a dividing line between city and state libraries when I got to the reception desk. All visitors must have photo ID and they must also be photographed for security. When I showed the receptionist my city library card (which is essentially a yellow card with my name on it, handwritten), he wrinkled up his nose and said in a snooty manner..."this is a STATE library and you have to do a separate registration."  My my.

The Biblioteca de São Paulo is built on the site of the infamous Carandiru prison, which was demolished in 2002. Carandiru was South America's largest prison--at one point it housed 8,000 prisoners. In 1992, it was the site of a massacre of prisoners by the military police. There is a well-known and scary movie about the place. The site should be sad--perhaps filled by 111 massacred prisoners ghosts--but it is anything but. The Parque de Juventude (Youthfulness Park) takes the major portion of the new site, then there is the library, and in front of the library (and its skate-board infested central pavement) is a technical college for the arts. It is walkable from the metro.

The glass building of the Biblioteca is light and airy, open, yet not at all noisy. The bottom floor has the extensive and impressive children's section. Books are organized by age and have color-coded labels on their binders, and there are smaller "rooms" (open, and wheeled, as in above photo) with bean bags and enticing books laid out on the shelves. This photo is of an area for 7-12 year olds. All of the bookshelves are wheeled and mobile--and the books are mostly set facing the reader. You don't have to puzzle out by the binding whether or not you wish to read the book.

Another area is filled with comfy seating for storytelling, another with kid-sized tables and chairs with crayons sitting in a recycled softener bottle. Coloring pages and puzzles sit ready for little hands. And then there are computer stations set up by age group as well. No adults can take them over for homework--no, here the kids watch kid movies with headsets, play kid games, enjoy what they like. It was orderly, fairly empty and all new.

Hanging from the ceiling are super-sized paper airplanes. Upstairs is the small adult section and more huge banks of desks and computers. Groups of people were working on projects, watching movies on the computer screens, doing research. Outside there are two upper verandas with tables and lounge chairs--one side overlooking the set up for a free outdoor concert later that day. Downstairs is a small cafe with comfortable chairs and tables to take a break from your studies.

One of the most impressive, comfortable and bright libraries I have ever been in. And reachable by metro. I'll be back...


  1. Replies
    1. I have to admit that I was completely surprised and amazed!! The local library near me (city-run, not state-run) is a very poor shadow of this.