Bordered by Croatia to the south and Slovenia to the east, Trieste, Italy clings to the lower reaches of a karst plateau. Flanking a cobbled walk and reached by either steep streets or staircases Biblioteca Comunale Quarantotti Gambini’s (BCQG) locale is typical of this tranquil metropolis on the Adriatic where the maze of narrow, crooked byways in the città vecchia (old town) lead down to attractive pedestrian areas and vast piazzas.
I passed through here 37 years ago and was so taken with its peaceful and statuesque demeanor I had to return.
Director Carmela Apuzza graciously gave me a tour, despite my knowing no Italian (and I apologize in advance for any mistakes I’ve made due to my translations or misunderstandings). We chatted a bit with Fama at the front desk who had a great grasp of English, and helped Carmela and I communicate.
The library is on one level, but conveniently, the space for adults is across the road, so noise is not an issue for older patrons.
Heading into an area for the tiny tots I was charmed by the glowing blond wood and sturdy furniture, especially the choo-choo train full of board books wending its way about the room. Primary hues cover crates and hassocks and accent bins and shelves raised from the floor for easy cleaning. A wall full of cross stitch panels crafted by youngsters catches my eye as does the nautical motif in the storytime nook (after all this is a large port).
Antonella Farina beams as she proudly shows me around her lair, but I made her sit for a snap of her desk loaded with toys and stuffed animals guaranteed to intrigue bimbos (I was delighted when my Italian sister in-law informed me years ago that this word means babies).
Nati per Leggere (Born to Read) is the slogan for the big push for early literacy and BCQG hosts many fun activities surrounding this issue, often incorporating music or games.
As evinced by the cloakroom, everything in this section is sized for toddlers so displays and picture books are within easy reach, even for the not quite ambulatory.
Just outside is an enormous patio where staff often hold affairs. Enjoy expansive views of the red roofs and surrounding ranges as you stroll among trees, shrubs and oversize planters.
Nearby, older youths have a large assortment of colorful titles to choose from and four internet stations (some filtered) plus two computers for schoolwork, listening to music or watching videos. Kids have book clubs, outings at nearby seaside resorts, concerts, Easter egg hunts, programs like Magic Snack and Confetti in a Jar, lectures on the environment and the importance of vegetables 😉 and cultural seminars like Shoah Holocaust Remembrance Day.
A video on the busy Facebook page shows everyone joyfully celebrating Carnevale at Plaza Unita. Elaborate costumes, the pastel swirl of ethnic dancers’ skirts and general revelry accompany the library’s literary themed float decorated in Sendak characters and gigantic tomes. Regional announcements and lots of photos pepper the site. Mother’s Day in a park pictures rapt children on a blanket listening, shots portray quiet moments of parents engaging offspring. After a party and delicious desserts, volunteers and employees smile over a big success, then cheerfully dance around with brooms cleaning up. At a vaccination clinic BCQG cleverly brought books to distract kids from a fear of inoculations and there’s a movie of a rep from the Romanian community (recent donors of native language items) speaking about their way of life.
Helping under 19’s enjoy reading is a high priority and the biblioteca involves the whole city – professors, teachers and schools, professionals, parents and caretakers – in the materials selection process through a series of meetings on quality reading and format free literacy. Attendees can discuss and share their favorites.
Lending collections go to schools and community centers, class visits are frequent (students even blog about the experience) and teachers have double borrowing privileges. Also, Trieste partners with 362 Italian cities in a countrywide project Centro per il Libro e la Lettura connecting state and local institutions, associations, bookstores, and other invested parties in the effort to provide access to reading via usual channels as well as at festivals and events and during Maggio Dei Libri (May Book Month).
At another branch, teens and young adults attend lessons on comics, graphic arts, design, and fashion, and there are interactive digital logic labs and author talks. All age happenings present the traditions and customs of various groups and the series A World of Stories has representatives of all the populated continents with sessions on New Zealand, Europe, Hebraic culture, Cuba, etc.
The library has bilingual titles and storytimes and Italian-Slovenian and Italian-English functions. Books come in English, Russian, Portuguese, French and Spanish. They have some adult Arabic volumes and a number of children’s Arabic books. And many classics come in Italian and the original tongue.
Italy has taken more than its fair share of refugees, and BCQG welcomes them with free Italian courses for foreigners. On May 25th they have a graduation party outside.
As we headed over to the other part of the library, Carmela points out the three flags for Trieste, Italy and the European Union by the entrance. Italy celebrates its EU partnerships, and I’d already spotted an EU map with money, flags and points of interest for all the participating countries.
It seems that public libraries have always been important (and political and nationalistic) here. Beginning in 1861 Slovenes promoted nationalism with “citalnice” (reading cabinets) run by volunteers. They later established libraries that closed during WWI but when they tried to reopen the Fascists objected. There were violent clashes and in 1927 a decree closed all Slovenian institutions in Italy. Only a fraction of their heritage was saved.
Meanwhile, the Minerva Society opened Via degli Artisti, (the Society for People’s Reading) in 1869. In 1910, after 41 years it ceded its charge to the public foundation, Popular Municipal Library of Trieste, which, under various names, had had a reading room since 1901. Though briefly closed during World War 1 and again in 1918 while governance was in flux between Austria and Italy, it reopened in 1921. Six additional sites debuted in 1924 as public literacy skyrocketed. Politics reared its ugly head in 1926 when some bibliotecas were closed due to the belief that they weren’t spreading a strong Italian national feeling among the populace. But in the fifties the newly formed National Reading Service revived many of the libraries closed due to fascism and opened new locales all over – one in a school had 15,000 volumes and there was even one at the jail. Closures and new locations followed, but in 1998, BCQG arrived then moved to this location in 2008. Whew, quite a turbulent and tenacious history!
This biblioteca was named in honor of Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini, an Italian novelist,
journalist and poet who was the director of Biblioteca Civica “Attilio Hortis” (the most important library in Trieste) during World War II (1943-46) and the recipient of the Bagutta Prize (and a handsome man as can be seen, despite the glare from my awful photo).
This side has the same Italian flair – soft lighting, neon walls, bright red carts and those funky orange, black and yellow chairs. But here brushed chrome pamphlet racks and stacks complement the gleaming gray floors.
Carmela introduced me to Bratislav whose excellent English helped me discover more about BCQG and about information science education in Italy. Carmela has a degree in literature then took classes specifically for libraries. Each year she takes continuing education courses to update her skills. Typical for libraries worldwide, there are never enough funds to buy as much as desired, but each year she gets a budget from the city which she spends on recommendations and giving the public the materials and services they want and need.
BCQG has 28,000 items, organized by Dewey Decimal Classification all in the online catalog and in the national one. Services are free to EU members and anyone can use things while in the library. They have a meeting room for 30 people, reference help, ILL, large type and audiobooks (some specifically for the visually challenged are labeled in Braille). Reserves are placed by phone or email and a diplomatic archive and two smaller locations are in the vicinity.
Once a small publisher, Carmela kindly gave me BCQG’s treasury of local kid’s stories and the hardcover Raccontami Chi Ero, an assortment of myths and legends told by artists from all over the globe (Colombia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Greece, Angola, Kurdistan, Burkina Faso, the Albania Rom…).
There’s air conditioning and as long as no one is waiting you can use one of four internet stations for up to four hours per day (one hour at a time), though most customers hook up to the free wifi on their own devices.
Provided in conjunction with the Stelio Crise State Library, the MediaLibraryOnLine allows users to borrow e-books, stream video or download language and e-learning courses, audiobooks, music and video games. Searchable databases, historic documents and online encyclopedias have over 1,700 newspapers and magazines, mainly in Italian. Besides Facebook, BCQG has an RSS feed and Twitter and YouTube accounts.
According to the copyright law Italy follows, the latest DVD cannot be borrowed
until 18 months after the first edition is issued, but there are many appealing recent acquisitions, you just have to be a little patient 😉
Offerings for adults include musical cabarets and book talks – one on Elements of Vedic Cosmology comes complete with a pianist, flautist and a scarf swathed dancer demonstrating the sacred dance of Isis. Exhibitions showcase female writers and films featuring actresses, or highlight a special day like Nowruz (New Year) …”to all our friends from Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan…”
The 21st of March is dedicated to so many things – elimination of racial discrimination, forestry, poetry, Down syndrome… – that they couldn’t choose, so created a case that honors all of these!
Residents of this corner of Italy are lucky indeed to have such a marvelous team working for them!