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Panama’s National Library Celebrates Its 65Year

by Sandra Snyder

Biblioteca Nacional is more than a library. It is a depository for works of local and international authors, provides a forum for presentations of new literary works and cultural events, is the issuer of ISBN and this years celebrates 65 years serving the Panama public.

Biblioteca Nacional Ernesto J. Castillero R. was created by Decree 238 of January 1942 and first opened its doors to the public July 11, 1942. It is the largest of the 55 public libraries in the system and is located in the heart of Panama next to Parque Omar where it was established in January of 1961 after many years in a building contiguous to the Presidency of the Republic. The first Director of the Library was Prof. Ernesto de J. Castillero, for whom the library was later named.

I first had an opportunity to visit this four-story facility to attend the presentation of a new book. After that I found many opportunities to make use of this wonderful library including everything from more new book presentations, to the awards ceremony honoring the winners of the Pen Women’s writing contest and most recently for the presentation of my own new edition of, Living in Panama. On my visit to investigate the library for this report, I took time to apply for and receive my own library card.

The library is divided into four salas holding works of Panamanians, Foreigners, Reference Materials, Audiovisual and a temperature-controlled environment for documents requiring special care. Users of this area are required to use gloves and masks when handling documents. The library houses over 26,000 works by Panamanians, as well as, 50,000 international works and 4,996 Reference books. The various collections include books in English and Spanish and some French dictionaries. The library archives 1500 copies of the Star Herald newspaper from its inception in 1847 and will soon add copies of this newly relaunched English language paper. Additionally, the Library archives copies of all periodicals, both local and foreign for your reference.

The on line catalogue is easy to use and can be accessed through the web site or in the library. Personnel in the library will orient users to the public catalogue.

The library is also the legal depository for all books, which have been registered locally with an ISBN (International System for Numbering Books). This same system is utilized worldwide and if you are an author, you can apply for an ISBN for your completed works in the special office provided for this purpose. There is a small fee for this service ($20.00 including bar code) and the library asks that you deposit two copies of your work with the system.

Generally books and CDs in the system can be checked out for one week. Reference materials can only be used in the Library.

Obtaining a library card is easy. Present your cedula or carnet at the information desk on the first floor. If you do not have a digital cedula, you will also need to provide a photo 1.25” by 1.25”. Fees for the card are: .50 cents for Primary/Secondary students, $1.00 for University Students, and $2.00 for the general public. Late books will be fined .10 cents per day.

Find out more about Biblioteca Nacional (in English and Spanish) on line at

© Sandra T. Snyder
Relocation Specialist and Author of Living in Panama.

August 2007
First printed in Barajeque Times and Panama Eagle


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