Open Journal Systems
Abstract: In an era when the value of national libraries is coming into question (budgets, cultural value, etc.,) this article aims to show how some national libraries have struggled to survive; the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (FBN) or the Brazilian National Library is one such library. Having started with a noble history, the FBN had some truly prosaic moments. Currently, the library enjoys a period of respect within the national arena and has managed to maintain a decent, though not adequate budget, which permits it to carry out national initiatives such as the PROLER (a reading initiative) that no other entity in the country could have undertaken successfully.
The Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, hereinafter FBN (see http://www.bn.br/site/default.htm), has come a long way from its inception in the early 1800s, from serving the members of the court to serving the general public. All along it has struggled with the maintenance and expansion of its excellent collections, assisting patrons with not only academic research, but also creating meaningful programs for all users. The FBN through its Sistema Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas (National Public Library System) and the Programa Nacional de Incentivo à Leitura (National Reading Incentive Program) campaign, better known as PROLER, is proving that with instruction and dedication all people can cultivate an interest in reading for knowledge and empowerment.
PROLER has been successful in mobilizing thousands of public libraries nationwide. The endeavor to have Brazilians reading not only for enjoyment but educational purposes is proving fruitful after ten years. It has reduced the nations illiteracy level to 13.6%  and is teaching the importance of critical reading skills in the new millennium to both the instructors and students. This paper focuses on the salient history of the FBN and one of its latest efforts reading incentive programs such as PROLER, which was inaugurated in 1992.
Similar to many national libraries through Europe, the FBN began as a library with books brought from Portugal by the Royal family, selfexiled to Brazil days before the Napoleonic troops invaded Portugal in 1807 . In 1810, the Portuguese Royal Library was established with over 60,000 books, manuscripts, lithographs, cartographic materials, medals, and coins . To this splendid corpus, the largest library in South America at the time, the private holdings of important politicians, writers, and scientists were added after they bequeathed their collections to the royal entity. An example was the archives donated by the Marquis Santo Amaro and the Italian Pedro de Angelis . The quality of these collections varied; only those materials adding value to the national collection were incorporated. Other treasures were collected through auctions. To govern collection development, Portugals 1805 legal deposit law was decreed in Brazil in 1822 to create a legal depository system .
Between 1810 and 1813, the FBN collections were guarded and available only to scholars who were granted strict access to the materials. After the library was opened to the general public in 1814, only the educated elite utilized the FBNs resources for much of its first sixty years. During the mid1800s Brazil saw many wealthy merchants who possessed business acumen but minimal literacy. As such, they had little use for books, much less libraries , a situation that would continue until the 1920s. Brazil was still driven by an agromercantile economy with little need for a literate workforce .
The person in charge of the library was called the Prefect. When King Dom João VI returned to Portugal in 1822 and left the library behind, the Prefect became known as the National Librarian. The title changed again in 1889, the year marking the beginning of the first republic, to Director of the National Library . While the appellation changed, the duties were essentially the same to guard, organize, and preserve the collection, particularly against theft to which the library was vulnerable after opening to the general public. The first theft was registered in 1815, perpetrated by the English Minister in Rio de Janeiro, Sir Stangfor, who checked out two books and took them back to his home country . The egregious act irritated King Dom João VI. He spoke to his representative in England, but the books were never returned.
Many other thefts have occurred since then, not only by borrowers, but by those charged with protecting the FBNs treasures. Presidents, in particular, have donated rare items to other countries or created new museums with pieces from the FBN collections. In so doing, they claimed to have made a protected and safe place for Brazilian culture where the materials would not only be displayed, but preserved for future generations to enjoy. These very acts denied the FBN its full functions and some areas of the collection were depleted of materials .
The National Library has moved thrice in its history by national decree before settling in its present location, downtown Rio de Janeiro. The moves were prompted by lack of adequate space and furnishings . In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Directors of the National Library began to change their role in response to the many transformations taking place in the field of librarianship, often driven by innovations in the United States. These progressive Directors incorporated new technologies and methodologies into the FBN infrastructure. In 1886, the National Library began producing a bibliography, Boletim Bibliográfico da Biblioteca Nacional, which reported the latest library acquisitions. Despite many changes and formats, it is still in production. In 1983, it was renamed the Bibliografia Brasileira and since 1995 has only been available on CDROM . In 1902, the library acquired its first typewriter, changing the way cards were made, which were previously handwritten. The tidier cards made for easier retrieval from the catalogue. In that same year the Universal Decimal Classification system was adopted by the library . In 1911 the National Librarian, Manuel Cícero Peregrino da Silva, helped create a librarytraining program, the first in Brazil and in all of Latin America .
FBN has survived military coups, dictatorships, and extreme budget cuts. The 1964 military dictatorship allocated a very modest budget to the FBN, resulting in virtually no acquisitions budget or preservation efforts. During the military regime (19641985) FBN was divested of most of its resources and important functions: implementing library science courses, stimulating the publication of cultural works, and preserving a valuable collection. Two years after democracy was reinstated by referendum in 1985, FBNs administrative, technical and financial functions were not restored. In fact, they were further demoted. In 1987 the FBN was placed by law (Lei n° 7.624) under the direction of the newly created PróLeitura (ProReading) National Foundation that was on the same level as the Ministry of Culture .
The Ministry of Culture had always been the sector of the national government in which the FBN played an integral part. To understand how degrading this move was it must be understood that the Library, which used to implement reading initiatives on its own, was now itself a support office to the governments latest reading initiative project. Until then the National Library was under the Ministry of Culture and could make its own decisions. Under this new hierarchy the Library Director needed to get permission for every action pertaining to directing, supervising, coordinating and orienting the institutional bylaws of the national library, internal and external, according to O Regimento Interno da Biblioteca, approved on 22 June 1989, Chapter III, Article 8 . In practice, to carry out basic functions the Library Director first needed approval from the reading initiative project. For the PróLeitura National Foundations Reading Initiative the National Library would be its major aide to reducing illiteracy in the country. Until the creation of PróLeitura, the FBN was largely a library for scholarly research although it did try with its limited budget to begin social programs nationwide.
In 1990, Presidentelect Fernando Collor de Mello (who happened to be the first democratically elected president in over 25 years) perpetrated the last major crisis for the FBN at the same time he restored its decisionmaking power. Collor de Mello returned to the Library all of its old functions and dissolved the PróLeitura National Foundation. The return to the status quo came at a price a thirty percent personnel reduction and crippling budget cuts . In 1991 Collor de Mello was impeached and forced to resign the presidency. Vicepresident Itamar Franco was now the new president and restored some of the Librarys budget. By stabilizing the Librarys poor budget it was manageable for the Library to remain open without any personnel cuts. Unfortunately for the Library, much more could not be done since Collor de Mello had embezzled public funds .
In 1994, President Itamar Franco, through a reform first decreed in 1990 by Collor de Mello, allowed the FBN to become a foundation (semiautonomous state agency) while remaining a part of the Ministry of Culture . Foundation status gave the Library the freedom to seek outside funds and relieve itself of complete dependency on the states budget. As the newly named Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (FBN), it finally found some of its old glory, seeking private monies to begin restoration and preservation of the precious resources deteriorating under poor conditions, including the library building itself. Thanks to the support of the Banco Real in conjunction with the Fundação Roberto Marinho, the restoration and modernization of the FBN was made possible .
With its functions fully reinstated in 1990, the Biblioteca Nacional began planning many national projects: from preservation of materials (e.g., photos, rare books) to reading initiatives. In 1992, public libraries began to register with the FBN and created the Sistema Nacional de Biblioteca Públicas (National Public Library System), hereinafter SNBP, to solidify their position in society and maintain a record of the countrys public libraries. These registered libraries were to be part of the national effort to improve the sociocultural conditions of the countrys citizens. With these efforts the Library was not only trying to reinvent itself but to follow its mission as the National Library. By National Library it is meant that the Library performs some, if not all, of the following functions:
- to serve the nation by maintaining a comprehensive collection of the published and unpublished literary output of the nation as a whole, including publications of the government itself;
- responsible for compiling a national bibliography; and,
- serve as the legal depository for works protected by copyright in their country .
Brazils FBN goes beyond the traditional definition of National Library by being the national leader for reading initiatives, which in many other countries falls under the jurisdiction of the National Education Department, if these exist. The national librarys mission is to:
A Biblioteca Nacional guarda a mais rica coleão bibliografica da America Latina. Essa coleção estimada em mais de oito milhões e meio de peças, mostra que a Biblioteca realiza, com exito, a sua missão de captar e preserver o acervo da memoria nacional. A evolução tecnologica e as modernas concepções de direito de acesso e de ciudadania permitem que a Biblioteca Nacional consiga colocar a disposição dos usuarios um numero cada vez maior de obras, assumindo, assim, relevante papel na vida cultural do pais. 
keep the richest bibliographic collection of Latin America. The collections size, estimated at eight and half million items, shows that the Library successfully fulfills its mission of documenting and preserving the collective national memory. Technological developments and the modern concepts of direct access to the citizenry allow the National Library to have at users disposal an increasingly large number of books thus assuming the relevant role in the cultural life of the country. 
By being able to perform at the national level, the FBN goes beyond the set library functions, also known as fundamental functions, for a national library that although is serving as a leader and manager for the reading initiatives, it is not marketing itself as the nations public library. The National Library in Brazil is for those individuals who have attained the essential higher education first to be cognizant of the materials available to them and second to be able to efficiently utilize these in their research. The National Library, however, does run some specialized smaller libraries and programs that reach out to the constituencys needs such as the case for childrens and youngadults materials. The Euclides da Cunha Library was created as a public library within the National Library infrastructure though located in a different building to prevent the mixing of the two very different sets of library users who agreeably have a very different set of needs. This library is located within the Ministry of Culture building a few blocks away from the National Library building.
The set functions for national libraries traditionally have been compiling a national bibliography, maintaining a legal depository along with other collectionrelated duties such as assigning International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) and tending to the needs of the blind and other visually impaired peoples . The National Library has gone beyond the set definitions of what a national library is by expanding its role in national literacy initiatives and very closely approximating Hans Panofskys suggestion that it should ... be possible to have one effective multipurpose library in each country. This one library could be labeled National Library at one entrance, Public Library at another, University Library at the third, and perhaps Government Archives on a fourth side, and has already taken caution to prevent Carlos Victor Pennas suggestion that there is a risk in such cases that one function may be performed to the detriment of the other, and this must be guarded against .
Brazils National Library is one of the worlds fully functioning national libraries since it is also a research/academic, public, and archives institution if Panofskys suggestion is to be taken seriously. To date the National Librarys other programs such as the SNBP have done very well and is ever expanding to make all the public libraries in Brazil a part of it.
In 1992, the FBN and the Ministry of Culture established the SNBP, the most important aspect of its creation was to improve the public libraries in the country. The only way to make the system possible in a country as large as Brazil was to have all the libraries participate in a centralized national process. In order to consolidate all the information and create an effective registration system the SNBP became involved with the work already performed by the States System of Public Libraries and work with States and municipal public libraries . The records database grew rapidly; in 1996 there were 2,889 libraries registered . Today there are an estimated 4,000 public libraries registered with SNBP .
The FBN made it easy for all libraries to join the SNBP: To become a member the libraries must fill out a registration form online or in paper format. The objectives of the plan (translated from the SNBP site) are:
- Encourage the implementation of library services in all of the national territory
- Promote an improvement in the actual functions of the national network of libraries
- Provide training and human resources qualifications for libraries to function adequately
- Maintain an uptodate registry of all Brazilian libraries
- Foster the creation of libraries in municipalities without public libraries
- Provide, follow current legislation, for the creation and updating of collections through the review of State and municipalities financial resources
- Favor the actions of coordinators so that State and municipalities can act as cultural agents
- Technically advice the libraries and coordinating centers through informational materials
- Sign agreements with cultural entities, leading to the promotion of books and libraries
This system was deemed necessary before 1992, ever since Mário Andrade said in 1939 that:
A criação de bibliotecas populares me parece uma das atividades mais necessarias para o desenvolvimento da cultura brasileira. Não que esssas bibliotecas venham resolver qualquer dos dolorosos problemas de nossa cultura [...] mas a disseminação, no povo, do hábito de ler, se bem orientada, criará fatalmente uma população urbana mais esclarecida, mais capaz de vontade própia, menos indiferente à vida nacional. 
The creation of popular libraries seems to me one of the most necessary activities for the development of Brazilian culture. Not that those libraries will solve any of the painful problems of our culture [...] but the dissemination (promotion), to the people, the habit of reading, if well oriented, will undoubtedly create an urban population clearer, more capable of self determination, less indifferent to national life. .
In order to identify where there was a greater need in the country where literacy work was needed the FBN strived for the SNBP to be the national standard in organizing and in literacy planning of events and workshops. It is one of the objectives in the National Decree n° 520 that created the SNBP to unite the effort to make cultural products produced in the country available to the citizenry . Ever since the SNBP was established efforts have begun to diminish the illiteracy rate, which was around 15% in Brazil in 2002 . Annually more than 100,000 books are distributed by the SNBP nationwide. The materials modestly cover the needs of the 4,000 plus libraries now part of the national system .
New reading programs have sprung all over the countrys public libraries. The PROLER (National Reading Incentive Program) initiative is one of the most important projects that the FBN has launched since 1992. It was easy to target libraries nationwide, especially in areas that were marginalized because of geographical distance, thanks to the SNBP.
PROLER was created by National Decree number 519 in 1992. The bylaws (diretrizes) of the program are meaningful, though few, these are:
- To promote interest in reading habit nationwide
- To structure a network of reading programs
- To create conditions for easy access to books and other reading materials .
The PROLER reading motivation program is governed by the above bylaws (diretrizes). To ensure the bylaws are followed these are overseen by a set of objectives (vertentes) and actions (ações) . Bylaw number three in particular: to create conditions for easy access to books is especially aided by the Lei do Livro (Book Law) of 2003 . This law has made it possible to support reading initiatives by making the cost of books more affordable to libraries and the general public along with having a broader nationwide distribution, specifically in the poorer remote areas which are the most difficult to deliver materials. This law stimulates and stipulates all the possible ways to have access to books, be these at a library or bookstore.
PROLER is different, because it not only encourages people to learn how to read but also foments a reading habit, and furthermore, reading for knowledge. There are workshops nationwide geared at teachers to improve their teaching methods and have them learn new methodologies for teaching literacy. To accomplish this there are campaigns geared to promote reading as a part and way of life. A national contest is held every year where the best four proposed literacy projects are awarded small libraries (book collections) to enrich their programs. The amounts of books are not as large as FBN would like them to be, but efforts are underway to diversify fundraising .
PROLER is headquartered at the Casa da Leitura (Reading House) in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It is composed of three centers, the Reading Practices Center, the Center for the Development of Readers, and the Reference and Documentation Center, created to promote the program and have equivalent centers nationwide. Casa da Leitura also has reading rooms and a childrens library. Children and young adults are the focus of a special PROLER campaign to build their reading habit in order to provide them with more educational opportunities, which will greatly affect the quality of their future lives. There are grants given by the government to different regional centers in the country to help them retain newly built reading habits and encourage all people to read .
PROLER desires to create a reading policy in the country as well as make a country of critical readers. The FBN recognizes that that part of the effort has just begun. One of the greater challenges for PROLER has been to deal with the fact that a culture of reading has never existed in the poorer classes. PROLER is expected to change this, since it is well recognized that a country that reads is a country going forward. The successes of PROLER thus far owe a great deal to public libraries. These libraries are a big part in this effort as it is essentially through these smaller points of access that the literacy effort begins.
Public libraries have always been a part of Brazil, but there have never been enough and there was never before a unified national effort to have these all registered and working toward a more literate society. These efforts come with government grants and special programs to make reading more accessible and attractive to the citizenry.
PROLERs exact numbers of instructors and readers taught cannot be known until an evaluation of the program has been done. In 2002 the efforts to bring PROLER to life celebrated ten years as it all began with the creation of the SNBP in 1992; the FBN will soon conduct a review of the program and identify improvements as well as updates to maintain the forward direction of this thus far successful program.
A great effort is indisputably under way, but much remains to be done. The ultimate goal of building a national reading policy is well on its way to success if efforts like PROLER illustrated here are maintained and expanded to make sure all sectors of society are incorporated. Brazils diversity and rich culture makes it especially interesting from a researchers point of view to see if the special needs of the poorer classes are met. The ramifications of little social inclusion, the inequity of the reading material distribution, and the poor public educational system can be reduced with wellfunded and designed nationwide library programs. The FBN tries to make up with PROLER the deficient public education the poorer classes receive.
Ever since the FBN was restored to its full duties it has taken charge of the SNBP and has been able to successfully single out and assist special populations with literacy needs. Some of the countrys initiatives that are serving to help spread literacy are:
Projeto Leia Brasil (Read Brazil Project) with the sponsorship of Petrobras (Brazilian Petroleum) runs bookmobiles and has even converted train wagons into traveling libraries. An important aspect of this program is that in its original contract with the Ministry of Culture to which the FBN is a major part, it was stated that all of the bookmobile and wagon libraries employees will be trained in literacy issues and learn its importance. The program aims to educate teachers with workshops, presentations, and seminars about making reading not only a tool but to have it be an integral part of their lives as well. Bibliographies are created and storytelling is actively taught to not only show how to do it but to reinforce how varied their duties are to accomplish their literacy teaching skills.
Apoio ao Desenvolvimento de Ações Culturais em Bibliotecas Públicas (Support of the Development of Cultural Activities in Public Libraries) is an FBN program that allocates its resources to promoting cultural activities and events in all of Brazils public libraries, such as having authors do book presentations and poetry readings at public libraries.
Programa de Formação Continuada Leitura e Cidadania (Reading and Citizenship Continuing Education Program) a collaborative program between the FBN and the UFF (Universidade Federal Fluminense). It is a distance education program with online support to the teachers of basic literacy skills reading and writing. This program emphasizes that both reading and writing skills are the basic needs to exercise citizenship in Brazilian society. Without reading and writing skills people are only halfcitizens, because all of their civil, political, and social rights cannot be assured. This program hopes to help basic literacy instructors to know the responsibility they have to create active readers .
The above mentioned projects are examples of the new and growing activities headed by the FBN to create a country of excellent readers. The FBN knows that if it wishes to remain a constant cultural entity it needs to show how important its projects are for all of the nations citizens, from reading initiatives to preservation issues. It must not be forgotten that the FBN is the largest library in the country with one of the most valuable collections in the nation. It has truly come a long way in making itself visible and useful to the nation. At times the nations government did not care for its maintenance and at others it had been solely an elite place. Today it is truly a national library for it serves all of the countrys citizens.
The FBN is a national library, because it not only follows the traditional national library model, but takes it beyond by being the nations reading initiative coordinator. Serving this managing function makes the FBN the center for all of the countrys public libraries, thus making it a public library too without losing any of its prestige as one of the top eight national libraries in the world . The illiteracy rate continues to decline, the move to become a library to all has been thriving and has truly made the library a far more hospitable place of learning. The FBN has come a long way from its royal beginnings to becoming an institution that serves all of the Brazils citizens.
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2. Paulo Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional: a história de uma coleção, Second edition. (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Salamandra, 1996), p. 5.
4. Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional, p. 15.
6. Rubens Borba de Morães, Livros e bibliotecas no Brasil colonial (Rio de Janeiro: LTC, 1979), p. 89.
7. Sonia de Conti Gomes, Bibliotecas e sociedade na Primera República (São Paulo: Livraria Pionera Editora, 1983), p. 21.
8. Gilberto Vilar de Carvalho, Biografia da Biblioteca Nacional, 18071990 (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Irradiação Cultural, 1994), pp. 183189.
9. Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional, p. 19.
10. Ibid. pp. 1920.
12. Eliane Perez (Librarian at the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional), email interview with author, 30 April 2003.
13. Carvalho, Biografia da Biblioteca Nacional, p. 86.
14. Laurence Hallewell, National Library of Brazil In: International Dictionary of Library Histories, ed. David H. Stam (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001), p. 489.
15. Carvalho, Biografia da Biblioteca Nacional, pp. 134135; Ministério da Cultura: órgãos e entidades extintas, at http://www.minc.gov.br/merco_WEB/leis/ex-orgao.htm, accessed 16 January 2006.
16. Carvalho, Biografia da Biblioteca Nacional, pp. 134135.
17. Ibid., pp. 134; 138.
18. Gomes, Bibliotecas e sociedade, p. 33.
19. Hallewell, National Library of Brazil, p. 489; Carvalho, Biografia da Biblioteca Nacional, p. 142.
20. Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional, p. 2.
23. Abdulaziz Mohammed AlNahari, The Role of National Libraries in Developing Countries with special reference to Saudi Arabia (New York: Mansell, 1984), p. 21.
24. Ibid., on pp. 2425 Hans Panofsky is quoted from Swindleys Cataloging in Publications: An International Survey (Paris: UNESCO, 1975), p. 73; on p. 25 Carlos Victor Penna is quoted from Humphreys National library functions in UNESCO Bulletin for Libraries volume 20 (July/August 1966), p. 158.
26. Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional, p. 259.
27. Eliane Perez, email interview, 30 April 2003.
30. Programa das Naçóes Unidas para o Desenvolvimento (PNUD), O Brasil no RDH 2002. Relatorio de Desenvolvimento Humano, 24 July 2002, at http://www.undp.org.br/HDR/HDR2002/O%20Brasil%20no%20RDH%202002.pdf, accessed 17 January 2006.
31. Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional, p. 259.
34. Lei N° 10.753, de 30 de outubro de 2003 (Brazil).
35. Herkenhoff, Bibliotecanacional, p. 259.
36. Fohla Proler. (January/February 2002), pp. 67. Newsletter published by Corbã in Rio de Janeiro.
37. For more information on these and other projects visit the Fundação Biblioteca Nacional at http://www.bn.br and the Ministry of Culture at http://www.cultura.gov.br/ where you can read about other projects such as Fome de Livro (Hunger of Books) a program that establishes public libraries in Brazilian municipalities that do not have them, hence enabling the population to access information and knowledge.
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Alma C. Ortega is Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego in San Diego, California since 2003. She works at Copley Library where she performs reference services (including virtual reference), collection development, and teaches information literacy. She received two masters degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, in Library and Information Science and another in Latin American Studies.
© 2006 Alma C. Ortega