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History of the MNA library

A bibliographic collection built up over the 140 years of the museum's existence

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In the Anthropological Museum run by Dr Velasco, there was no library as such (with a dedicated space). The bibliographic collections were housed in the cabinets of the room dedicated to comparative anatomy. There was also the library of the Spanish Anthropological Society, founded in 1865; it closed in 1883 after Dr Velasco’s death.

The State acquired the building and its collections in 1888, including the library. By a Royal Order in 1895, the Museum of Natural Sciences, which was part of the Faculty of Sciences, transferred part of its collections to the Marqués de Cubas building, converting it into the Anthropology, Ethnography and Prehistory Department.

The acquired bibliographic collections did not, however, become part of this institution’s library. Rather, they were sent to the library of the Museum of Natural Sciences. There, laboratory lecturers and department heads could consult the acquired material (upon submission of a request by the department head), borrowing the books and using them for their laboratory reference libraries during the academic year, after which they were returned to the Central Library (with the permission of the director of the Museum of Sciences).

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In 1910, the Anthropology Department of the Museum of Natural Sciences became the Museum of Anthropology, which also led to the division of the bibliographic collections: the books corresponding to the Anthropology section were finally sent to the Atocha building.

In 1921, the Sociedad Española de Antropología, Etnografía y Prehistoria (Spanish Society of Anthropology, Ethnography and Prehistory) was created, with its headquarters in the Museum of Anthropology. From that date onwards, the Society began issuing its Proceedings and Memoirs bulletin. During the 1920s and 1930s, this publication set the tone for anthropological research in Spain. Its objectives were to promote studies in physical anthropology, prehistory and archaeology through working meetings and publications, and to carry out official geographical and archaeological explorations and research in Morocco and Spain's colonies in Africa. Its library is today a fundamental part of the historical holdings of the Museum's library.

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The Museum of Anthropology was renamed the National Ethnological Museum in 1940 and became a dependency of Spain's CSIC (Council for Advanced Scientific Study). A year later, the Bernardino de Sahagún Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology was created in the same building, and was provided with a library. The bibliographic holdings of the two bodies were separate, although they formed a single library. However, although there is no documentation to confirm this, we believe that when the institute disappeared decades later, they were integrated into a single collection.

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After the museum’s name changed in 1993, it became the National Museum of Anthropology. Its library entered a period of very good health: it was always staffed and provided its service on a regular schedule, and its budget for acquisitions and subscriptions was gradually increased, allowing us to strengthen our periodicals collection and add numerous monographs from across the world.

This process culminated in 2009 with the integration of the MNA's library into BIMUS, the Network of State Museum Libraries created within the framework of the Ministry of Culture’s Plan for State Museums (2004-2008). Its objectives included improving the management and social usefulness of the libraries of the seventeen state museums, facilitating easier access to their collections.

In fact, the main objective of BIMUS was to create a collective online catalogue that would allow bibliographic and documentary resources to be shared, offering bibliographic information to researchers and university students of anthropology without the need to travel to the centre. Today, this catalogue has become a reality.