Don’t Read your Book in Our Library

Libraries have always counted among my favorite places, but I got quite a shock when I visited a beautiful (functioning) colonial library in downtown Rio the other day, the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (below). Ficheiro:RealGabinetePortuguesLeitura1.jpg

I entered the library and looked for an electricity outlet to plug in my computer. Unsure of whether the outlets I found worked, I approached the attendant.

“We don’t have internet wireless,” she said in an unsteady English. I responded in Portuguese,

“That’s okay, I’m just wondering if you have a place to plug in my computer.”

“We only have one outlet, and it’s occupied,” she said, looking for a reaction. There was none.

“That’s okay, I’ll read a book I brought,” I replied. She looked at me disapprovingly.

“You can’t bring your own book here.”

I looked at her incredulous.

“This is a library, correct?” I asked.


“Well, you’re saying I can’t read a book in a library?”

“You can only read the books we have here, that’s the policy everywhere.”

“Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard of this type of policy. I’ve lived in several countries and never heard of such a thing…” I paused. “But it’s okay, I understand.” I said, and turned to leave.

“I understand.” I said, as I walked out the door.


  • That’s pretty standard practice in special collections world wide. You would have gotten tossed from the JCB as well, the BN in Mexico wouldn’t even let you in with anything like a book and would have recorded your computer serial number (or at least brand), etc., etc.

  • I did part of my dissertation research at the RGPL. The RGPL is considered a book depository and a research facility just like the Biblioteca Nacional. You can’t bring anything into the BN.

    The RGPL has an incredible collection of rare books and rely mostly on donations and memberships to keep the place going. There is a constant stream of tourists, also, (many who are Brazilian) who come in for a visit, as well as filmmakers and photographers. It really is a special place, just not one for doing work that doesn’t involve its collection.

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