Love your Library visits Valencia

Books and reading, Spain

Walking down a busy main street in Valencia a few years ago, my eye was caught by a welcoming shady square. Through the palm trees I could glimpse a few columns – maybe Roman remains? and a steady stream of people drifting in and out of a handsome building.

Curious, I investigated. It was a library. The Central Public Library of Valencia. I went in.

How spacious, airy, beautiful and welcoming it was! Later, I discovered that this building had once been the first psychiatric hospital in Europe, founded in 1409 as the initiative of one Friar Juan Gilabert Jofre, to care for the mentally ill. It was called Hospital de Folls de Santa María dels Pobres Innocents – the Hospital of the Poor Innocents. This actual building was begun in 1493, and was and is in the form of a Greek cross, which housed the different wings of the hospital. It added general hospital facilities in the 16th century and also suffered a destructive fire.

During the 1960s, hospital facilities were moved elsewhere in the city, and the authorities began the site’s demolition: the church, the pharmacy and old medical school are gone. There was an immense public outcry. What was left was saved, and the building retained and developed as a library and archive service. Those columns I saw outside are not Roman, but surplus to requirements when the building was redeveloped.

It’s a fabulous place. Not only is it a welcoming, light-filled and serene space, it’s a busy one. It’s right by two of the city’s universities, so study areas are busy with students as well as the general public. The collections seem vast: the English section, for both adults and children was well-stocked, At one point I sat down in the section devoted to newspapers and periodicals and browsed through recent copies of the Times and Sunday Times and some more academic publications in English. Of course other European nations were represented too. There were book groups advertised, including a monthly one for children in English (obviously aimed at Spanish children, rather than any resident English ones); an ‘introduction to philosophy’ group for children; reading groups for dissidents; for theatre-goers; for students of Valencia’s social history, as well as the usual more general ones; photography and cookery workshops; lectures (‘Football now and as it used to be’). I was beyond impressed. Here’s a gallery of this library community at work on one ordinary weekday afternoon – before the pandemic – I don’t know how it will have changed.

Meanwhile, what have I been reading this last month? Reviews for most of them will appear over the next few Six Degrees of Separation posts.

Fiction:

Gabriel Chevallier: Fear.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Delphine de Vigan: Based on a True Story.⭐⭐⭐

Donna Leon: Beastly Things.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Patricia Lockwood: No One is Talking About This.⭐⭐(abandoned)

Sakaya Murata: Convenience Store Woman.⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jane Smiley: The Strays of Paris.⭐⭐ (skim-read)

Sarah Winman: Still Life.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Non Fiction

Allan Ahlberg: The Bucket⭐⭐⭐

Charlie Gilmour: Featherhood.⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ann Patty: Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin.⭐⭐⭐

For Bookish Beck’s Love your Library.

70 thoughts on “Love your Library visits Valencia

  1. What a fantastic place! Both in terms of the original building and the expansive library now occupying those walls…Sadly, I am unlikely to see it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a fantastic place, and in an interesting part of town, once you leave the main road. Yes, I see places every day among my blogging friends that I am unlikely ever to see now. But of course, I think I understand what you’re feeling.

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  2. Now that is what I call a ‘brilliant’ repurposing. Thank goodness the demolition(ers) were stopped. I think Valencia should be held up as example to some of our mean little cities and towns here. I feel so often we either do fixed in aspic or total destruction. One exception is Alfred Waterhouse’s 1906 UCH hospital building, the Cruciform. It now houses the medical school, a library and various scientific institutes.

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    1. But they did get started on destruction before the outcry. All the same three cheers for Valencia for another triumph: they forced the city fathers to re-purpose a dried out river bed into an urban park instead of a motorway: https://margaret21.com/2017/11/21/a-river-transformed-the-curious-story-of-the-turia/. People power seems to work better in Spain. Three cheers for the Waterhouse development though, which I don’t know. Yet.

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  3. Fantastic! And a big thank you for your contribution. I read a bit in Still Life last year but had to return it because it was requested after me. Looks like I’d better get it back out sometime. Glad to see you enjoyed Featherhood. One of my favourite reads from last year.

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  4. Dear Margaret
    What a great library with an interesting history.
    From the books you read recently we only read Delphine de Vigan’s book as well. We were quite impressed by her novel.
    Keep healthy and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I enjoyed the de Vigan too (In a reading-it-through-eyes-squeezed-shut kind of way), but I reduced its rating to three when I realised the book hadn’t stayed with me in any meaningful way. Happy February!

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  5. Just the sort of library I used to advocate for when I was a consultant – bright, welcoming, and with lots going on! And I was interested to see you mention the Allan Ahlberg autobiography which had passed me by. I met him a couple of times, a lovely man 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He sounds it. I chose the book for my husband, who’s his contemporary and with a similar childhood, but I found it just a little disappointing: he’s more at home writing for children, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve downloaded it to my Kindle to try on my upcoming flight 🙂 I chaired a conference for children’s librarians from all over the UK in 2001 and he was the after dinner speaker for the formal conference dinner. A few days before the conference the World Trade Towers were attacked and he completely rewrote his speech to talk about the dangers of hatred and division in the world and how we respond when faced with them. Combined with the fact that he’d not long since lost his wife Janet, which he also touched on, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place!

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  6. Wow My….. this one is a true stunner! I would, just alone on the sight of this building AND its contents, move to Spain in a heartbeat. That IS amazing and wonderful.
    Thanks for sharing. I hope that I’ll be back to view more of your posts Margaret. I have been awol for a long time as other things in my life were paramount. But I wanted to tell you that I loved the Donna Leon book. In fact, I’d read every single one of her writings and I must have read quite a great number of them. Sadly I can’t keep the titles apart so, if I haven’t noted the titles and what I thought about them, I am in danger of re-reading ‘oldies’ and might miss on newer ones… (worse things happen all the time!). Love from Switzie 😉

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  7. What a fabulous space, Margaret. Heaven in a library! Digressing a little, can I ask if you reviewed Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’ at some point? Not sure if it was one of your recommends but I finished it last week and really enjoyed it.

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  8. What a wonderful library! Good thing they didn’t manage to tear it down. I wonder if Convenience Store Woman will appear in your Six Degrees chain in Feb? Coincidently, I will include it in mine. I am glad to see Still Life getting five stars. It’s on my wish list.

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  9. WOW!!!! Libraries are always wonderful, but this is truly extraordinary. I appreciated the back story on this building, especially the introduction to Friar Juan Gilbert Jofre. What a remarkable man. Thank goodness that the public outcry prevented the full destruction of the building.

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      1. It is a mystery to me, too, Margaret! City planners have a huge responsibility to preserve history while creating space for an increasing population. Thankfully,there is now more efforts to seek public opinion. It is heartening to see that people are very interested in how their communities evolve. People saved this precious building in Valencia!!

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  10. If it is so beautiful and light filled as a library, it must have been a very enlightened (sorry about that pun) hospital for the mentally ill. Unusual structure in many ways, then.

    Interesting to see two stars for the Patricia Lockwood after you abandoned the book.

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  11. Beautiful library. Coincidentally, I caught up on this post while reading an essay in Umberto Eco’s On Literature about Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel. And lo! Here’s the Valencia public library looking all Borgesian with its infinite delights.

    I’m pleased to see 4 stars for Convenience Store Woman. I’ll also look forward to reading further thoughts on other titles in your upcoming Six Degrees chains, Margaret.

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