Area for Books, Institut Català de les Empreses Culturals (Catalan Institute for Cultural Companies, ICEC)
Ministry of Culture, Government of Catalonia
Readers' advisory is sufficiently important that it merits specific university-level training aimed at all parties involved in the activity. The aim of this text is to describe the origins and development of the Postgraduate Degree in Recommended Reading organised by the Universitat de Barcelona's Faculty of Library and Information Science and the Catalan Ministry of Culture, and included in the Ministry's latest plan to promote reading, the 2020 Reading Plan (2017).
At a time like this, when technology and speed dominate our lives, our ideas and, all too often, our will, encouraging critical thinking is more crucial than ever. One of the characteristics of a free society is our critical capacity, and reading is an essential part of achieving this goal. Therefore, encouraging people to read more works that promote reflection and critical thinking in one way or another should be a goal of any advanced society.
The classics are especially important, because their cultural content helps people understand themselves, talks to them and encourages them to reflect on the world around them. Reading the classics is like listening to voices that speak on our behalf, from a place of wisdom, and open up paths towards knowledge. We can read these texts time and again, because every reading teaches us something new. They are timeless, because they have impacted many generations of readers and because they are read with the same interest and enthusiasm as when they were first written. In his famous essay of 1981, Perché leggere i classici(Why Read the Classics?), Italo Calvino conveys the importance of these works when he says, "The classics are books that exercise a particular influence, both when they imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable, and when they hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual's or the collective unconscious".1
2 Promotion of reading in Catalonia: the background
In the last 10 years, the Ministry of Culture has launched three reading promotion plans.
The first of these, the 2008–2011 Reading Plan, which was launched under the slogan "Llegir ens fa més lliures" ('Reading makes us freer'), included a line of action that focused on training activities to provide teachers and others involved in children's education with the training tools required to promote reading.
Two activities were launched as part of this line of action: firstly, a programme for teachers that included a 30-hour course and a 15-hour workshop on techniques for reading aloud, organised by the Ministry of Education; and secondly, a postgraduate programme called Cultural Mediation for the Promotion of Reading, organised by the Ministry of Culture and designed by the Universitat de Barcelona's Institute for Lifelong Learning with the Catalan Council for Children's and Young People's Literature and the Bromera Foundation for the Promotion of Reading. This marked the first time that Catalonia had addressed the promotion of reading as a university-level subject. The 150-hour programme, which was offered in a blended-learning format, was aimed at graduates of philology, education, and library and information science, primary and secondary school teachers, and librarians. Sadly, it lasted for just two editions.
One of the goals of the second reading promotion plan, the 2012–2016 National Reading Plan, titled "Impuls de la lectura: 100 % lectors" ('Fostering reading: making people 100% readers') , was to recognise and reward reading mediators. The plan acknowledged the importance of the booksellers, librarians, teachers and other teaching professionals targeted by the initiative, and their key role as mediators, and highlighted the importance of implementing measures to provide them with tools to carry out their work. However, none of the actions aimed at achieving this objective contemplated university-level training for the abovementioned groups.
The third and latest reading promotion plan, the 2020 Reading Plan, which was published in 2017 and is still very much in force, aims to boost reading as the principal means of access to knowledge and promote Catalonia's bookshops and libraries as cultural centres and advisors of books and reading. Section 20 addresses actions to support bookshops and readers' advisories. This line of action includes the Postgraduate Degree in Recommended Reading, and the next section outlines the process by which this programme was conceived and developed.
In recent years, the Ministry of Culture has developed other initiatives to offer training in recommended reading, though not at university level. Examples include those promoted by the Library Service, such as the 10×10 Meetings, which sought to establish direct communication between publishers and library professionals; recommended reading courses in the field of the humanities and science; and, together with the Institute of Catalan Letters, e-learning courses on recommended reading.
3 The Postgraduate Degree in Recommended Reading: an idea is born
The idea of creating a postgraduate degree to focus on the subject of recommended reading first emerged after a talk given by the lecturer Margarida Casacuberta from the Universitat de Girona at a gathering about society and libraries, "El primer glop de cervesa" ('The first sip of beer'). This series of monthly meetings, which ran from 2013 to 2016and which was organised by Fidel Bellmunt, Ferran Burguillos, Maite Comalat and Eulàlia Espinàs, sought to resume deliberations within the library sector and environment that had been instigated by the organisers some time earlier at the Board Meeting of the Catalan Association of Librarians and Information Professionals.
The talk took place one evening in February 2016 at MoMa bar, under the title "Separar el gra de la palla: la col·lecció de la biblioteca" ('Separating the wheat from the chaff: library collections'). Reflecting on the criteria to apply when selecting works for the general public and on the role of reading advisors, the speaker Casacuberta proposed that small city libraries performed a key role in this respect and that they had to offer a reading advisory and employ people who could provide reading guidance. She also argued that to explain literature, such advisors needed to have read, and obviously not just literature, which meant that our sector was faced by an important question: If we agreed that this was a requirement of librarians, who should be responsible for ensuring that librarians read? Who should provide them with the tools to do this?
Her reflections led me to realise the importance of this question, since the library and information science degree I had completed a few years earlier had not included any specific training in literature or recommended reading. Moreover, the philology degree that I had studied some years before that also lacked any focus on advising the general public about books, although it had included literature subjects.
In my experience, the Librarians' Group, one of the most important on Catalonia's cultural activism scene, is aware of the key role it plays as a transmitter of knowledge; in general, its members participate in continuing education activities that help them become equipped to improve their work. However, following on from the first postgraduate programme launched as part of the 2008–2011 Reading Plan, we decided it would be worthwhile organising another university-level degree programme.
For several years now the Area for Books of the Catalan Institute for Cultural Companies Area for Books, which is part of the Government of Catalonia's Ministry of Culture, has helped to develop the Universitat de Barcelona-specific Postgraduate Degree in Bookselling, together with the Booksellers' Guild of Catalonia and the Faculty of Library and Information Science. This degree is designed for booksellers and those who wish to work in the world of bookselling, and seeks to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to get jobs in all types of bookstore businesses. This collaboration led us to consider organizing a postgraduate programme in recommended reading aimed at librarians, booksellers, teachers and other reading mediators, with a view to providing them with the knowledge and tools required to advise and guide readers in need of such assistance.
The next step was to secure the approval of those in charge at the Ministry of Culture. The first person I needed to convince was my manager, Joaquim Bejarano, director of the Area for Books, who shares my enthusiasm for spotting opportunities to implement new ideas in the midst of the constant, albeit necessary, bureaucracy of managing subsidies and other tasks. We were immediately enthusiastic about the idea and got down to the business of planning the actions required to organise the course.
My connection with the Faculty of Library and Information Science, in addition to the fact that many reading advisors are librarians, led us to speak to Mónica Baró, who was Vice-Dean of the Faculty at the time, and Teresa Mañà, a member of the Faculty's teaching staff. And there, in one of the Faculty's corridors, we began reflecting on the possibility of jointly organizing a recommended reading degree. Once we had agreed that the proposal was feasible, we had to involve those responsible for reading at the Ministry of Culture: Laura Borràs, director of the Institute of Catalan Letters, and Carme Fenoll, head of the Catalan Library System (Generalitat de Catalunya). It all turned out to be straightforward, since they immediately expressed their enthusiasm and agreed to participate in the project.
Thus, we began preparing for the postgraduate programme: the Faculty designed the course in record time (the Faculty representatives who formed part of the organizing committee were teaching staff members Lluís Agustí, Mónica Baró and Teresa Mañà). The project was refined during subsequent meetings, and once the Faculty had presented it, Laura Borràs took over; she revised the document, suggested modifications and began to seek funding. By the end of the year we were ready to publicise the postgraduate programme, which was due to start in February 2017 and is now about to enter its third edition.
In my view, the project's implementation proved to be a success for which everyone deserved to be congratulated, from the Faculty team who worked so hard, and with very little time, to design the course, find the teaching team and obtain the approval of the Universitat de Barcelona, to the members of the Ministry of Culture who participated in the project and secured funding. This success is further illustrated by the fact that the journey from idea to start-up lasted scarcely a year—a real feat when one considers that government bureaucracy generally hinders such procedures.
Personally, I was delighted to take part in this project, because I was able to apply my personal interest in recommended reading, my training (which combined the theoretical aspects of literature with the practical aspects of library science) and, finally, my professional experience at the Ministry of Culture's Area for Books.
Bellmunt, Fidel; Burguillos, Ferran; Comalat, Maite; Espinàs, Eulàlia. El primer glop de cervesa: tertúlies sobre societat i biblioteques [blog]. 2013-2016. <https://elprimerglopdecervesa.org/>. [Consulted: 16/03/2019].
Calvino, Italo (2016). Per què llegir els clàssics. Barcelona: Edicions 62, p. 9.
Casacuberta, Margarida. "Separar el gra de la palla: la col·lecció de la biblioteca". El primer glop de cervesa [blog]. 9 February 2016. <https://elprimerglopdecervesa.org/2016/03/04/cronica-14-col%C2%B7leccio-casacuberta/>. [Consulted: 02/02/2019].
Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Cultura (2007). Llegir ens fa lliures: Pla de foment de la lectura 2008–2011. [Barcelona]: Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament de Cultura.
Generalitat de Catalunya (2009). Pla de foment de la lectura 2008–2011. Nous programes en làmbit educatiu i infantil i programes en funcionament [online]. [Barcelona]: Generalitat de Catalunya. <https://govern.cat/govern/docs/2010/11/02/11/40/5b0ef33b-5ee9-4065-a344-b37f4531581d.pdf>. [Consulted: 24/01/2019]
Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Cultura (2011). Pla nacional de lectura (2012–2016). Impuls de la lectura: 100% lectors [online]. [Barcelona]: Departament de Cultura. <https://govern.cat/govern/docs/2011/12/19/15/09/ec0c9353-ae4a-49a3-81ab-c68af8792fc9.pdf >. [Consulted: 24/01/2019]
Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Cultura (2017). Pla de lectura 2020 [online]. [Barcelona]: Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament de Cultura. 2 v. [vol. 1. Pla de lectura 2020; vol. 2. Per què llegir]. <http://cultura.gencat.cat/ca/departament/plans-i-programes/ambit-sectorial/pla-de-lectura-2020/>. [Consulted: 16/03/2019].
1 Trans. Martin McLaughlin (London: Jonathan Cape, 1999)