Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to get a library card in Madrid

If you're living in Madrid, whether you're studying abroad or working, I highly recommend getting a library card.

Benefits of a library card

The benefits are numerous:
  • Wide selection of books in Spanish = great Spanish language practice
  • Children's books in English = great for private English lessons
  • Movies or TV series in Spanish = great Spanish language practice
    • (I always recommend watching with Spanish subtitles if you need them -- not English!)
  • Movies in English = could be watched in an English class if you're a North American Language and Culture Assistant
    • (Like above, in this case make sure the teacher turns on English subtitles)
  • Audio CDs = listen to Spanish artists
  • Check out neighborhood happenings on the library bulletin board
The library in my 2011-12 neighborhood (Moratalaz) always had the neighborhood newspaper sitting on a table near the entrance, free to take.  There would also be flyers for neighborhood events and such.  Some weeks there would even be magazines and books (some in English, some in Spanish) that the library was getting rid of for free.  One week I took a few English magazines from the table and brought them to one of the schools I taught in.  Another week I grabbed a Spanish magazine for myself to read.

Library systems in Madrid

In Madrid, there are two different library systems: Bibliotecas Públicas de Madrid and Bibliotecas Municipales.  Each system has its own library card.  I believe the main difference between the two systems is simply who runs them (please comment if you know more!).

I lived near bibliotecas públicas both years that I lived in Spain, so that's the type of library card I got.  Here's a link to a search to find the closest library in the Comunidad de Madrid to where you live.  This network of libraries encompasses Biblioteca Regional, Bibliotecas Públicas, Bibliobuses and Bibliometro.

Getting a library card

A library card in Spain is called a carné de biblioteca, and it is free to obtain at both types of libraries.  You must bring your actual passport as means of identification, and be prepared to provide your complete Madrid address as well.  (When I was getting my first card in 2009, I didn't know my zip code.  Since I lived just a block away, they put in the library's zip code and I was good to go.  Next time, in 2011, I made sure I knew my zip!)  

So the "process" is really simple -- just go up to the counter and say you would like a library card (Buenos días.  Me gustaría un carné de biblioteca.)  Show them your passport.  They'll ask you for your address, and then they will give you your card on the spot.  (Don't forget to say gracias!)

Checking out/returning materials

Now that you have a card, you're ready to check out some books (or DVDs or CDs).  When you bring books to the counter to either check-out or return, you'll have to specify which action you're taking.  Say "para devolver" to return the books, and "para llevar" if you want to check the books out.

The biggest differences in check-out rules in comparison to Wisconsin is that you can't renew anything in Madrid, and you can only check out three books at a time (that last one took a while for me to get used to!)  Here are most of the rules:
  • You can have a maximum of 3 books checked out at once, and the check-out period is one month
  • You can check out up to 3 CDs/DVDs for a maximum of 7 days
  • You can check out up to 3 magazines at a time for a maximum of 7 days
  • Electronic book check-out period is one month
  • You cannot renew anything
  • You must return materials to the library from which you checked it out
Note: check-out lengths during the summer (June 15 - September 15) at the bibliotecas municipales are extended.

Do you have a library card in Spain?  How often do you check-out materials?  Please comment with any other tips/pointers you have!


  1. Super helpful! I'm an avid library user when I'm in the United States so I was happy to find when I wandered in to a library in Madrid that the options are just as varied. What I don't know is if you can request/hold items from other libraries in Madrid and have them sent to you at your closer local library--any thoughts?

    1. I'm not sure, though my guess would be no. I could be wrong, but looking at how my Madrid university's libraries worked, plus what I know about the Madrid libraries, I'd think not.

      Enjoy the bibliotecas!