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Freemasonry, anarchism, and Sherlock Holmes books fill Biblioteca Pública Arús' shelves

Visitors at first public library opened in Barcelona greeted by Statue of Liberty's replica

Interior of the Biblioteca Pública Arús
Interior of the Biblioteca Pública Arús / Gerard Escaich Folch
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

April 24, 2023 09:30 AM

April 24, 2023 07:51 PM

It is quite easy to pass by Biblioteca Pública Arús public library without realizing it as you walk down Passeig de Sant Joan boulevard in Barcelona. But, if you happen to be paying attention to the façades of the buildings on the street, you will notice a colorful stained glass lantern with the words: 'Biblioteca Pública Arús.'

Located at Passeig de Sant Joan boulevard 26, in one of the trendiest areas of the Catalan capital and the library is considered one of the first of its kind in Catalonia.

"The library's will was to have a public library open to everyone back in 1895 when there were no public libraries in Barcelona, only one in Vilanova i la Geltrú [south of Barcelona] and the ones in universities and churches," Josep Brunet, a member of the library's patronage, said to Catalan News.

A colorful stained glass lantern with the words: 'Biblioteca Pública Arús'
A colorful stained glass lantern with the words: 'Biblioteca Pública Arús' / Gerard Escaich Folch

Rossend Arús founded the library to teach workers how to read and write as, at the time, they did not commonly know how to. The library even has a music room, where music was played and sung while others were reading in neighboring rooms.

After crossing the colorful lantern, a door opens to a large white marble staircase crowned with a very special statue, a replica of New York and Paris' Statute of Liberty.

"Rossend Arús was not only the library founder but also a writer, journalist, poet, and playwright. But also a very passionate person in favor of a federal republic; for him, the US was the biggest federal republic at the time," Brunet said.

"And as the US had a Statue of Liberty, so just before founding the library, Arús ordered to build one more similar to the one in Paris than the one in the US," he added.

Biblioteca Pública Arús' replica of the Statue of Liberty
Biblioteca Pública Arús' replica of the Statue of Liberty / Gerard Escaich Folch

Just behind the 3-meter tall statue, a large room full of books is divided into two symmetrical areas, to the right and to the left of the visitor.

Entering the room feels more like traveling to an old US or UK library, it even has its own small balcony with more bookshelves that you can access by a hidden door behind another bookshelf.


While the first room has no tables to check books, the second room, with several mosaics with figures such as composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, painter Diego Velázquez, and writer Miguel de Cervantes, features many tables and chairs for people to study.

But one of the other peculiarities of Arús public library is the many masonry and anarchism books available to check.

"Rossend Arús was part of the first masonry group in Catalonia and founded the first Catalan Grand Lodge of Regional Symbolism. Since its foundation, the library has received masonry and anarchism books, as the first librarian was an anarchist and a freemason," Josep Brunet told this media outlet.

The library has 82,000 volumes, but it spent years closed because of the Francoist regime in Spain. It closed in 1939 "to protect what it had inside," Brunet said, as "there was a seizure order to get the books from the library and take them to Salamanca or even burn them outside, meaning that the library would have disappeared."

Almost three decades after, the library reopened in 1967, but with some complications.

Book shelves in the Biblioteca Pública Arús
Book shelves in the Biblioteca Pública Arús / Gerard Escaich Folch

The site held "complicated material for the time," as Brunet said, and if "someone came to the library, they had to register, risking the possibility of getting a book considered wrong for the time and being stopped on their way out [by someone] wondering what they did in the library."

"Not a lot of people came," he added.

Sherlock Holmes collection

Freemasonry, anarchism, and a Statue of Liberty replica are some of the most noticeable elements in Arús public library, but this site also hides a Sherlock Holmes collection with up to 15,000 items open to the public.

Joan Proubasta donated the collection after a global event held in Barcelona in 2010 in honor of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character. At the time, members of the Holmes fandom dressed up as characters from the novels, such as the detective himself or even his archenemy, Professor James Moriarty.

After the event, Probausta was "fascinated with the library" and handed over his collection.

Part of the Sherlock Holmes collection at the Biblioteca Pública Arús
Part of the Sherlock Holmes collection at the Biblioteca Pública Arús / Gerard Escaich Folch

The library has "not only books but films, movies, clothes, even dolls, and card games. Whatever you can imagine, it is here," Brunet said, talking about the collection safeguarded on the third floor of this over 125-year-old library telling the adventures of the famous inhabitant of 221b Baker Street.

The library is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 am to 3 pm and Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Meanwhile, the Sherlock Holmes collection can only be visited with a tour.