“A library can be anywhere”
Interview with Javier Pérez-Iglesias and Amelia Valverde, citizen-commissioners from the Library of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Complutense University.
While the soul of libraries lies in the pages of their books, the heart of the Library of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Complutense University is embodied by its director Javier Pérez-Iglesias and its deputy director Amelia Valverde, citizen-commissioners of our Concomitancia in Madrid. In a process that has now lasted almost four years, Javier and Amelia, together with the mediator Julia Morandeira, have nurtured the dream of projecting the potential for connection and knowledge that is latent in this library environment at Complutense University. What has the journey been like so far, and what’s happening now? They tell us about it in this interview.
How do you see this library?
AMELIA VALVERDE: I see this it as an essential part of the faculty, where we learn, we’re open to everything, and we try to inspire everyone who walks in, even if they don’t always find what they were looking for.
JAVIER PÉREZ-IGLESIAS: I see this library as a place where all kinds of people converge and affect each other, whether they or not they’re part of the University community. It’s a place where people don’t just come to look for information, as you would expect in a library, but also to do things, to create, and especially to suggest services and experiences that we can put into practice here. The library is a crack in the surface of the institution.
How would you describe your work as librarians, within this idea of the library as a crack?
A: I think of it as a service within the university, a public service. I always support anything that is of interest for everyone who comes in here.
“We’re a place that lets the outside in, and also allows the faculty to travel to other places that are of interest to society and the community. I see the library’s role within the university as a resource centre and a place in which to ‘learn by doing’ in every sense”
How did you end up being citizen-commissioners?
J: We initially came into contact with Concomitentes through our relationship with the Carasso Foundation, which launched the process of bringing the Nouveaux Commaditaires project to Spain. Since then, both the Foundation and the Library thought we could do a project like this. The next step was to find and connect with our mediator, Julia Morandeira, and everything took off from there.
You’ve created a community around the Library you work with. How did you go about doing this?
J: Right from the start, we could clearly see that it would have to be a collaborative process: we need to listen and work with the community we serve. So we created a working group, the Ranganathan, which is named after the Indian librarian who devised the five laws of library science. The working group is made up of people from the university community—students, researchers, teachers, and representatives from the library committee—as well as people from outside of the university, who are part of the library world or the art world and interact with us.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the library, because it’s a way of expanding its scope, of opening up and collaborating with many people. We already do this, but this allows us to boost it further. In short, it’s another way of making the library more meaningful”
How would you weigh up the Ranganathan process, and what are the main conclusions and ideas that came out of this experience?
J: It opened up the opportunity to work collaboratively in the library, to make the “outside-inside” real, and to reach out to society and to our own people. Our work with the Ranganathan group confirmed that we’re capable of carrying out participatory processes, and we also had the invaluable, energetic help of Sagrado Nova, a services designer who accompanied the Ranganathan experience. He allowed us to go further, not just in terms of facilitating the meetings and work sessions, but also validating the power of co-creation with people who are not members of Ranganathan but are part of our community. This working together is something that will endure beyond Concomitentes.
Those meetings allowed you to draw conclusions that led to a commission that paves the way to the artistic production stage. How would you describe that commission?
J: We want to make it clear that a participatory, collaborative library based on doing can be anywhere, and it wants to be anywhere. The fundamental idea of this commission is that the library wants to break out of this “inside-outside” dynamic: it wants to be in other parts of the faculty, in other places in the university, and in other parts of Madrid itself. In other words, starting with what we initially thought the project would be—an intervention inside the library—we came to the conclusion that the selected artist’s intervention can take place anywhere. I think the core idea we will transmit to the artist is that whatever happens does not have to—and indeed will not—happen here. We’re a library that is opening up, a library of dispersion, in the positive sense of the word.