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Alberto Manguel to lead National Library

Renowned writer Alberto Manguel will be heading up the National Library.
Renowned writer Alberto Manguel will be heading up the National Library.
Renowned writer Alberto Manguel will be heading up the National Library.

Respected author known for his essays has been translated into 30 languages

Argentine writer and intellectual Alberto Manguel, who enjoys a distinguished and prolific career in the field of the arts and culture, was yesterday appointed new director of the National Library (BN) by National Culture Minister Pablo Avelluto. Among other culture-related posts, Manguel has collaborated with the world’s leading universities and cultural institutions.

“I feel deeply honoured (by this appointment,” Manguel was quoted as saying. “The list of previous (BN) directors is intimidating and challenging,” said Manguel, who will be returning to Argentina from New York to take up his post starting in July next year.

Manguel, a writer and editor with the most important publishing houses in Spanish, English, French, German and Italian, and a university lecturer in literature and philisophy, will replace the outgoing Horacio González. Manguel’s mission at the helm of the BN will be “to head a new management characterized by inclusion, innovation and implementation of a federal approach,” the Culture Ministry said in a communiqué.

Avelluto underlined that, “Manguel is one of the Argentine intellectuals with a great reputation abroad, and also one of the world’s personalities with a profound knowledge about libraries’ management,” adding that, “in addition, he has two virtues seldom found in the same person: he is an excellent writer and, at the same time, an expert culture manager in the field of libraries.”

Avelluto also recalled that, “Manguel left Argentina in the 1970s and we consider that Argentina has not yet acknowledged its debt and the recognition he deserves, and this appointment is the best opportunity to do so.”

The new BN head will be at the service of readers and users, encouraging the use of the library as a source of knowledge for the future generations, promoting the conservation of the heritage and expanding the processes of the digital storage of all the material, Culture Ministry sources said. In turn, the mission of the new directors of the BN — the most emblematic and important institution of its kind in Argentina — will be to expand the reach of its cultural action, taking books as the physical support not only of ideas but also of the ample variety of cultural expressions through which the community gives testimony of its experience and power of imagination.

Another aim will be to implement federal approaches through support to the network of regional libraries and devicing joint programmes with national and provincial ministries. Also, Manguel’s appointment by the Culture Ministry seeks to reposition the BN’s strategical role in the international context, thus trying to foster exchange and articulation with other institutions from Latin America and the rest of the world.

The new BN management will also take up where the previous authorities left off as regards the projects to study and promote the different popular culture expressions and languages and literatures of indigenous peoples.

A man about the world and a seasoned traveller because he was born into a family of diplomats in 1948, Manguel was raised in Israel, holds Israeli citizenship, writes in English and has been living for years in New York. Previously, he took up residence in Mondion, a tiny, very tiny, two-block hamlet in France, where he held his famous library containing 30,000 volumes.

Manguel visited BA in 2012 to give a lecture at the International Book Fair, and in 2006 he was one of the writers from the world over to be summoned to Strasbourg to “imagine the ideal library.” His most important essays, translated to more than thirty languages, are Una historia de la lectura, La biblioteca de noche, Diario de lecturas and Curiosidad: una historia natural.

Among other distinctions, Manguel received honorary doctorates from the universities of York and Ottawa, Canada; Liege, Belgium; and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He was also a recipient of the Garzanti Cavour prize, Italy; the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, Spain; the Roger Caillois prize, France; and the Medici Essay Prize, France. He was awarded the Merit Medal from the BA City Government, and the commander of France's Order of Arts and Letters. Manguel is a member of the Argentine Literature Academy, the Guggenheim Foundation in the US, and the Royal Society of Literature in the UK.

Manguel is also reputed for his relation with the renowned writer Jorge Luis Borges. “I was 16 years old when I met Borges. I was a student at the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires in the afternoons, and in the mornings I would work at the Pigmalión bookstore on Av. Corrientes, which no longer exists. That’s where Borges used to buy books. One day he asked me if I could read to him at his home, and I agreed. I was one of his many readers for more than two years,” Manguel said in an interview two years ago. “I would start reading, he would stop me and analyze the piece: he disassembled it like a watchmaker, he did it to see how (the text) functioned, it was something wonderful. I remember his intelligence and humour. Witnessing that experience was an extraordinary lesson in culture for my whole life,” Manguel said.

— Herald staff with Télam

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