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De Biblioteca Erudita a Biblioteca Popular? As práticas de Leitura Pública na Biblioteca Pública Municipal do Porto (1833‑1926)

Universidade Católica Portuguesa
Publication Date
  • Bc. Information In Society.
  • Dc. Public Libraries.
  • Education
  • Law
  • Political Science


Reading practices in Porto became public with the decree dated July 9 by order of Pedro IV establishing the creation of the Public Library Municipal do Porto (BPMP). The ideals of the French Revolution appealed strongly to the values of education and instruction. The monarch understood well the new liberal spirit, and the need to invest in intellectual development through the promotion of education and literacy, which would have libraries as its main partners. The 1844 decree turned primary teaching mandatory and the popular classes came to have access to education, which provided them access to libraries and books, no longer a monopoly of the ruling classes. Until then, the city of Porto only had libraries connected to religious institutions, which were expropriated. Their libraries were later incorporated as public property. There were also some private reading cabinets with restricted access, according to their subscription system. The working classes had to wait until 1884 to see the emergence of "Night Reading" service in the BPMP. The Public Libraries Act was published by a monarchic Government in 1870. Then comes the first Portuguese legislation, consistent with the need to extend reading habits and, therefore, the diffusion of knowledge, to the working classes. In fact, 47 years after the foundation of the Municipal Public Library of Porto, it was believed that there was a place for the promotion of reading beyond a scholar readership and beyond the walls of the once ecclesiastic building of St. Lazaro. Furthermore, books should no longer be under the purview of a private institution, and should move to the public sphere, while trying to embody the Liberal ideals, thus antagonizing the Old Regime practice. This practice collapsed in most European nations, to try to assist politically, with or without glory, the consolidation of the romantic utopia which would frame almost all of the 19th century in Portugal and which would extend until the first two decades of the 20th.

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