April 4, 2016
Mass layoffs at Argentina’s National Library lead to “tears and cries of outrage”
by Julia Fleischaker
As part of their national cost-cutting measures, the government of Argentina has laid off 240 employees from the national library, the Biblioteca Nacional, a move that has drawn sharp criticism from free speech advocates. According to Alison Flood at The Guardian, the layoffs affect a huge percentage of the library’s employees, and may impact the institution’s ability to operate effectively. Flood reports:
The job cuts amount to around a quarter of the library’s staff, according to the Buenos Aires Herald. The cuts were blamed by ministry of culture on the “disproportionate growth” in the number of employees at the library under its last director Horacio González, said La Nacion. According to a statement, in 2005 there were 306 workers at the library, compared to 1,048 now.
But María Pia López, ex-director of the Museum of Books and Language at the National Library, said the increase in staff related to the expansion in the library’s operations, including the creation of a digital library and a book museum. “The lay-offs affect the operations and in some cases, make them impossible,” she said.
López said that on Monday, police surrounded the library to prevent protests by laid-off workers. The library’s acting director Elsa Barber has been denounced by her colleagues, said López, and Alberto Manguel, the internationally renowned writer who is due to take up a position as director of the library in July, “is remaining silent about these sombre events”.
Jorge Luis Borges once led the Biblioteca Nacional, and Samantha Schnee, chair of English PEN’s writers in translation committee, referred to him in a statement calling for the cuts to be reconsidered. Schnee told the Guardian:
“Argentina’s most renowned man of letters, Jorge Luis Borges, once said, ‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library’. In a more mundane sense, libraries are the repositories of humankind’s knowledge. Therefore it is both alarming and disturbing that many of the custodians of this knowledge at Argentina’s National Library in Buenos Aires have been summarily dismissed,” she said. “The Argentine authorities should reconsider their decision.”
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.