The Arús Public Library was created in 1895 as a gift to the people of Barcelona, and it initially held over 24.000 volumes which encompassed the whole of human knowledge. This initial fund included many disciplines like philosophy, religion, social sciences, law, languages, biology, medicine, art, music, literature, geography and history, as well as general encyclopaedia and press.
Due to the fact that the Library was forced to shut down in 1939 and could not reopen until 1967, the original fund was never censured or decimated in any way and it is still available in the same shape and form it was originally.
Nowadays, the Arús Public Library is a reserch center specialized in Freemasonry and the labour movement (including anarchism, comunism and cooperativism). The bibliographic fund has recieved many donations from institutions and private citizens. In 2011, the Library also recieved the Joan Proubasta Sherlock Holmes Collection.
The fund keeps on growing thanks to many donations, which are accepted so long are connected to the Library’s specialized themes.
The Arús Library hosts a noteworthy selection of works concerning Freemasonry, some from its founder’s own private library (as Rossend Arús was a prominent member of the Catalan Freemasonry) and some from later donations. The freemason fund was thankfully preserved in its entirety due to the Library’s shutdown during Franco’s regime, and perhaps thanks to government members pourpusfully looking the other way in a time when Freemasonry was forbidden and severely punished.
The Arús Library Freemasonry fund consists of Spanish, Portugese and Latin American works, which underline the excellent connection the Catalan Freemasonry had with many countries across the sea, particularly Cuba. Some works are: Calendario masónico de la isla de Cuba, La Habana, 1879-1881; Boletín oficial de la Gran Logia Simbólica Catalana, Barcelona, 1886-1887, 1904-1907, 1909 and 1914; Boletim official do Grande Oriente Lusitano Unido, Lisbon, 1880-1885; Reglament de Familia Confederada, Barcelona, 1879; Apuntes históricos de la Orden de Caballeros Francmasones de la Lengua o Nación Española, Barcelona, 1882; Ritual del grado de compañero, by J.M. Ragon, Barcelona, 1871; El consultor del masón, d’A. Almeida, Madrid, 1883-1884). There are many magazines as well, such as La revista masónica del Perú, Lima, 1890-1891; El mallete: órgano de la masonería barcelonesa, Barcelona, 1881-1883; and La concordia, Barcelona, 1888-1890.
The most peculiar aspect of this fund is the fact that many of its works are documents detailing the inner works of the Lodges. In particular, the documents concerning the Avant Lodge, founded by Arús himself, are very revealing: inner notes and circulars (1882-1887), a symbolic painting by a mysterious “D’Artagnan” named Avant and dedicated to Arús, and his own diary detailing what he calls his “freemason memoires”.
One of the most outstanding works in this fund is the Diccionario enciclopédico de la masonería (La Habana, 1891 or 1892), written by Llorenç Frau and Lluís ricard Fors, among others, and directed by Arús himself. The freethinking and spiritist press is also interesting, with publishings like La Luz (1885-1887) which Arús directed; El librepensador (Gràcia, 1869) and La humanidad (Barcelona, 1870-1872), which is considered by prominent historian Pere Sánchez as a vital document to understand Catalan social history during the Democratic Sexennial.
Another point of interest in this collection is the small but curious antimasonry works, which mainly outline the catholic campaign against Freemasonry, aprticularly in the late 1800’s. Some works are: Los misterios de la francmasonería (1887), and El Vaticano y los masones (1887), both by Léo Taxil; and Què és la maçoneria?, a 1932 edition of the book by bishop Josep Torras i Bages, who believed Freemasonry to be an “enemy to the motherland” and partial to free love.
The Arús Library was created as a popular library. Its goal was to grant access to knowledge to all people, whichever their background, social class, age or gender, and thusly honor its founder’s famous epithet: “The greater the enlightenment of a nation, the further it is from absolutism”.
Initially, the opening hours were decided bearing the working class in mind; it closed well into the night and was open on Sundays and Bank hollidays, so that the workers had a chance to attend outside their shifts. The exact shcedule varied along the years to better fit the needs of the users.
The bibliographic fund was extremely varied for this very reason; in order to appeal to the widest audience possible, and also to offer the lower classes works and disciplines outside those which were deemed “appropiated” for them by the elites. Indeed, the Library was resolved to offer any genre of book possbile so that everyone could find something they would be interested in.
However, the fact that the Library was mainly aimed at the working classes, in a time which the social movements were undergoing a massive uprising in Barcelona, meant that it atracted many works, magazines and pamphlets in the political and social spectrum. Thanks to that, the Arús Library is nowadays one of the most outstanding research facilities in labour movement and anarchism history in Europe, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, along with the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.
The bibliographic fund contains works such as: Manifiesto del partido comunista, by K. Marx i F. Engels (1886), La revolution sociale, ou, La dictature militaire by M. Bakunin (1871), Idea general de la revolución en el s. XIX by Proudhon, Viatge a Icaria, by E. Cabet (1848), Trenta mesos de col·lectivisme a Catalunya by Pérez Baró (1970), El moviment cooperatiu a Catalunya by J. Ventosa i A. Pérez Baró (1961) and many other works concerning comunism, socialism, cooperativism, anarcocolectivism and catalanism.
The founding charter of the Arús Library states that “it shall always be free, and no kind of book will be systematically banned, not for social, political or religious reasons, and only such books that are truly criminal or pornographic will be left out”. This open mentality granted an impressive variety in the fund’s themes, but also openly welcomed all kinds of documents connected to the social movements of that time. In particular the first librarian eudald Canivell had close ties to the anarcosyndicalist printers and thus the anarchist works found their way into the Arús Library from the very first day.
One of the most valuable items in the Arús Library is the handwritten circulars and notes of the I Consejo Federal de la Región Española de la Asociación Internacional de Trabajadores. Dating back to the 1870, it is a unique record of the inner workings of the labour movement and Spanish anarchism.
Some of the most noteworthy works of the anarchism fund are: El catolicismo y la cuestión social, by C. Gomis (1886); La conquista del pan, by P. Kropotkin (1973); Qüestions socials, by J. Llunas (1891); and La anarquía y la Iglesia, by A. Lorenzo (1903). The press is also very prominent in the fund, with working class magazines and newspapers like El productor, La tramontana, La federación igualadina, La anarquía, La federación or Acracia, some of which can only be found in the Arús Library.
It is not known who donated the notes and circulars of the I Consejo Federal de la Región Española de la Asociación Internacional de Trabajadores, although some have suggested it might have been Canivell himself. Other important patrons and donors are Antoni Montaner, Hermós Plaja (donation of 3.000 volumes), Diego Abad de Santillán (4.000 volumes), Albert Pérez Baró, Ildefonso González, Felipe Alaiz and el de Marià Casasús.
All in all, it is considered a very important and in some aspects unique bibliographic fund on the First International and Spanish anarchism, which any social studies researcher worth his salt ought to visit.
The Arús Library still holds the original fund, as it was when it opened its doors in 1895. The fund consisted of 4.000 works from Arús’s personal library, and 20.000 works bought by Valentí Almirall and Eudald Canivell during the four years it took them to build and organize the library. the themes are widely varied and its purpose was to educate, inform and entertain the people of Barcelona.
Many of the disciplines of the fund have long since become obsolete, but it still has a great appeal to certain areas of reserch. Other than the usual themes and authors found in contemporary public libraries, some of the books found in the Arús Library historic fund are quite revealing of the mindset of that institution and its people.
If we were to compare the Arús fund with those of other public libraries created between 1918 and 1920, we can se that a quarter of a century later those libraries were not yet including themes that Arús had long since accepted: eastern religion and philosophy, religious discrepancies, revolutionary works, books aimed specifically at children, off the beaten track languages such as Esperanto, gynecology, sexuality… And not only were the themes themselves unusual, but also the formats: the Arús Library had maps, graphic works and musical scores freely accesible to anyone who wanted to check them, which was very unusual at the time. The Library’s fund was supposed to stay ahead of the times in order to keep being relevant and useful to the public.
Aside the accesible works for the public, the Arús Library also gathered a small but very impressive collection of incunabula, early documents from the 15th century, which were supposed to remain in the exhibition room as a small History of Print Museum. Even though Almirall fell short of acquiring a true Guttenberg, the most praiseworthy works of this particular part of the fund are: Codicis Iustiniani, Maguncia, 1475; Homeri poetarum supremi Ilias, Venetia, 1497; Opera by Boeci (idem, 1492); Menghi Fauentini viri clarissimi in Pauli Veneti Logica[m] commentum (Idem, 1480); Quadragesimale doctoris illuminati by Francisci de Mayronis (Idem, 1491); and Cyrurgia by Guiu de Chaulhac (Idem, 1499).
The adquisition of these books, along with other works in foreign languages, earned the Library some criticism as they were percieved as a fancy by the librarians, and not something the general public could benefit from. Nevertheless, the Library’s books were overwhelmingly written in Spanish (over 60%) and there were even some books in Catalan (5%), debunking that elitis notion. furthermore, most of the foreign books were bought simply because they were the most advanced works in many disciplines, and hadn’t been published in Spanish yet, with some even being banned in this country, which left no alternative other than buying them in English, Franch, Italian or German.
The most recent theme in which the Arús Library has specialized is perhaps the most unique: it involves one of the most well-known detectives in literary history: Sherlock Holmes. In 2011, local businessman and avid collector Joan Proubasta (Barcelona, 1944) donated his entire colection to the Library, a massive array of books, objects and items all connected to Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.
The whole collection clocks in at 12.000 items, making it the biggest Sherlock Holmes collection in Spain and even ranking in the top ten worldwide. It mainly features Doyle’s novels and stories, which can be found in 42 different languages including Esperanto and Braile. there are around 6.000 books by Doyle himself, as well as other prominent authors on the noir genre, spin-offs, parodies, homages and even non-fiction books on themes that go hand in hand with the genre, such as criminology and spiritism.
Some of the jewels of the crown are:
Other than books, the collection also features an impressive film section, with BlueRay, DVD, VHS and Betamax of the many movies, series and other adaptations in film format; more thant 2.000 comics, most of them japanese manga; posters, newspapers and board games concerning Holmes; objects that have come to be associated with the detective, such as deerstalker coats, violines and smoking pipes; medals and coins, puppets, icons, figurines, two caganers, keychains, neckties, slippers and many other mershandising collectibles; autographs by actors who have famously been Holmes, such as Jeremy Brett and Michael Caine; and a wildly vast array of other items that are somehow connected to Sherlock Holmes.
The Joan Proubasta Sherlock Holmes Collection is kept in a special area, only accesible through guided tours in which the whole of the collection is explained in detail. Nevertheless, the Library organizes two exhibitions every year in order to display certain items and bring the Sherlock Holmes collection closer to the public.