University of São Paulo: Dismantling of public libraries highlights cultural and educational disinvestment in Brazil

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Public policies to encourage libraries have been cut in Brazil. According to specialists in Librarianship and Education interviewed by Jornal da USP , these spaces promote the safe dissemination of information, culture, people’s educational background and the preservation of historical memory. Each type of library, including public, school and circulating, meets specific informational and cultural needs of society. And it is the librarian who must act in these places providing adequate guidance and mediation for people.

school libraries

Data from the National System of Public Libraries, the SNBP, suggest that Brazil lost almost 800 public libraries between 2015 and 2020. the ineffective control of state systems.

According to Cibele Araújo, professor of the Librarianship course at the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) at USP, the number of closed Brazilian public libraries reveals a disinvestment in culture and education: “Public libraries in many municipalities are a fundamental link of culture . These libraries can have cultural actions that are very important for the formation of the individual, for the development of their citizenship”. Some of the activities promoted are literary soirees, recitals, musicals and plays.


There is also a lack of public policies focused on the social, since a part of the vulnerable population cannot have easy access to bookstores, nor the income to buy books. Public libraries would support these people, such as those who live in municipalities with difficult access and mobility. The teacher also says that many students of the Librarianship course developed an interest in this area by having contact with the public libraries of their cities.

Public libraries are also important for Brazilian memory for storing literature and information and local history from physical books and internal projects to tell and recite stories.

For Cibele, it is necessary to guarantee investments and legislation in favor of keeping public libraries open, conserving their spaces of social union and the country’s culture:

“We have to have a defense agenda before mayors, governors, councilors and deputies. Investment in culture is not a cost, it is a pure benefit to have a more developed society.”

She completes by stating that it is a defense that needs to come from several instances, by Librarianship courses in universities, by professional councils and associations and federations. “An almost ant-like job of defending these institutions, looking at the library as an important institution of information and culture”, she says.

school libraries
According to the 2021 Brazilian Yearbook of Basic Education, a consultation tool on the education landscape in the country, essential infrastructures for learning, such as the library, are still not present in most Brazilian schools. School libraries differ from public libraries as they are equipment intrinsically linked to culture and the teaching-learning process through educational resources for study, meeting and leisure.

Despite the universalization of school libraries enacted in Law 12244/10, the delay in their implementation worries access to them: “In 2010, we have to propose a law to demand the existence of libraries in schools. This is already an alarming thing”, reflects Ivete Pieruccini, professor of the Librarianship course at ECA-USP. Twelve years later, the closing of these environments signals a lack of investment in the relationship between the Brazilian student and the library.

In addition to quantity, the configuration of spaces is also a subject of fear. The diluted perception of the library as an institution of organization, supply and distribution of information does not contemplate the complexity of the role played by them in educational contexts. According to Ivete, in the universe of the school community, libraries are responsible for the authors of society’s thought formation processes. “The responsibility of these institutions is not merely a technical responsibility. They have a social commitment. Libraries are instances of a political character”, he comments.

The interest of each population with the library also determines the approach to the structures and tools made available to the subjects who occupy these spaces. The teacher considers that the particularities of the feeling of belonging to the library and to reading should be questioned: “What is he going to do with that reading? Who will he talk to? Where will he develop ideas? Where will he expand the thought from that reading?”, she elaborates on the student who visits the environment.

Contrary to a reductionist perspective, the role of libraries in schools in communities with diverse interests and identities implies local repertoires passed on through generations through memory. “The less access to this memory that is in the knowledge accumulated by humanity, the less access [to school libraries] youth have, the more they become disconnected from the world they live in” says Valdir Heitor Barzotto, professor and deputy director of the Faculty of Education (FE) at USP. For him, by allowing access to knowledge that is distant in time and space, libraries encourage young people to build their own daily practice.

With the closing of the few libraries, the library as a space of public, free and free access is a principle to be defended, in Barzotto’s view. “There is no other space more free than the library. The library ensures that this knowledge is accessible to the public and that it does not become a commodity”, he reinforces. With the accumulated knowledge, the young person finds himself in reading and as an agent in the reinvention of his practice.

The disappearance of these educational spaces also has an impact on the financial situation, since, with the lack of access to the environment, the reader is encouraged to suspend or pay for the practice of cultural training activities. Regarding the presupposition of quality being proportional to price, the professor declares: “Increasingly there is this market investment in transforming knowledge into merchandise and it is important to close the library”.


Valdir Heitor Barzotto – Photo: Marcos Santos/USP Images
“This ‘commodification’ of knowledge, the transformation of knowledge into an object of consumption through payment, means that the reader, now transformed into a consumer, no longer feels challenged to understand the dimension of a unit that is in him, to commit to leave more advanced knowledge for generations to come, the production of new knowledge or a transformation of their own practice”, he concludes.

The circulating libraries

In addition to libraries installed in institutional buildings, there are circulating libraries, also known as traveling libraries. They stimulate the exchange of books in a more dynamic way and seek to reach, in particular, those who do not have easy access to information centers. Some are itinerant, traveling through itineraries through the city, and others, fixed, placed in points of great circulation of people.

“They are collections of libraries established and organized by an institution, an NGO, or even a community library”, defines Cibele Araújo, professor of the Librarianship course at ECA-USP. To be considered libraries as conceptual librarianship, circulating libraries need to preserve the fundamental functions of organization, management and mediation of information by regulated librarians.

An example of an itinerant program is the Bus-Library, now called Bus da Cultura, run by the City of São Paulo, created in 1935. The buses make twelve routes . With the pandemic, activities were suspended and have not yet resumed.

There are also fixed book exchange points in areas such as bus stops and shopping malls. An issue to pay attention to in these actions is the quality of the information that is circulating, if they do not rely on any type of mediation. “Libraries excel because they make a certain selection of material”, says Cibele. There should be no biases in this selection process, but defined criteria to filter the information. “Fake news could not, a document, an entire book that was built on this idea would not be admissible in a library.”

The role of a librarian, providing guidance and mediation, would enhance the contributions of these initiatives to the community. “With an extension work, so in addition to taking the book, we can take, for example, a staging of this book”, says Cibele. Storytelling is another extension possibility. “For all this, the professional librarian or even other professionals who work within this universe of the book can collaborate.”

The physical and digital librarian
Amid increasing digitization, librarians have adapted and taken on various roles in the digital world, just as they have in other professions. Being responsible for the organization of information, this professional works with all formats in which it is presented.

“The librarian’s profile has changed, because the librarian is prepared to work with information with all types of formats and media, including audiovisual, electronic and digital”, says Cibele Araújo, professor of the Librarianship course at ECA-USP. Each medium serves a specific audience, and the librarian can choose which one to focus on. “I usually say that a new format does not make the previous one unfeasible, we saw this happen with theater, cinema and books.”

The librarian also manages information centers and systems, such as libraries, and provides directions for people to find them. For Cibele, the position that the professional assumes determines the perception of his success: whether he works with the management of companies’ social media, for example, or with the conservation and restoration of bibliographic material. “It is almost an artistic option to work with this conservation, and, amazingly, this is on the rise, so to speak, because we have few people specialized in the preservation and conservation of bibliographic material.”

Combating misinformation is another area where the librarian can contribute, based on the development of a critical perception of information, the so-called informational competence. “We are advisors to check sources.”

On the other hand, the idea that opportunities for the librarian are diminishing responds to society’s view of culture. “I think we have much more of a reflection of how society is doing, how the political-economic perspective is in relation to culture itself”, says Cibele. “The librarian is also a professional who is working on culture.”

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