Monday, May 15, 2017

Argentina's page turner: How a Canadian author became the leader of a library revolution

Libraries | Alberto Manguel | Culture

The National Library of Argentina sits at the epicentre of the country's cultural life. So when government officials appointed Alberto Manguel – native son and longtime Canadian anthologist – to radically rethink the institution, pushback from the intellectual elite was all but certain. Stephanie Nolen reports on an irascible scribe's rocky tenure

A few years after Jorge Luis Borges, left, ended his tenure as head of Argentina’s National Library, he began a friendship with Alberto Manguel, right, then a teenager in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s greatest writer was, by that time, blind, and invited the young Mr. Manguel to come home and read aloud to him, which Mr. Manguel went on to do many times over the next few years. Now, Mr. Manguel has taken Mr. Borges’s former role at the library.

Alberto Manguel is harried. A stream of wealthy Argentines, all stiletto heels and elegant umbrellas, is leaving his office in the National Library; he hopes to cultivate them as donors, and ushers them to the door with awkward pleasantries. A line of employees with requests waits in the hall, hoping to catch him. An assistant brandishes a clipboard thick with demands: There is a committee, but there is also a meeting, he is expected imminently at a luncheon, and there's this journalist, and – "I've abandoned my previous persona: I detested nothing more than lunches and cocktails and meetings and groups of more than three people," Mr. Manguel says with a sigh and a valiant attempt at a smile, when he has retreated back behind the office door. "And I'm spending my life doing this."

Back in December of 2015, Mr. Manguel was living in New York and teaching at Columbia and Princeton; he opened his e-mail one day to find a startling request from a stranger. The newly appointed Minister of Culture for Argentina was wondering if Mr. Manguel would consider returning to the country where he was born – and which he left 50 years ago – to serve as director of the storied National Library. Mr. Manguel says he assumed at first it was a joke – "What next, being Pope?"Read more...

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