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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 066-123-E
Division Number: IV
Professional Group: Bibliography
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 123
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Two national central libraries in Italy: bibliographic co-operation or competition?

Maria Patrizia Calabresi
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale - Rome
Rome, Italy


Six National Libraries and two National Central Libraries in Italy, one in Rome and one in Florence. Why?

This phenomena is due to historical reasons: ancient libraries, established in the capital cities of the pre-unification states and characterized by different traditions, were considered as depositories of intellectual and cultural production and recognized as national libraries.

In the second half of the 19th century after the Wars of Independence, Italy ceased to be only a "geographical expression" and in 1861 became a nation state. After political unification, a cultural unification and a national library representative of this union were strongly desired.

From 1861 to 1870, Rome was still part of the Papal States, and Florence the first capital of the unified Kingdom of Italy. Therefore, the first National Library in Italy was founded in Florence. In 1870 Piemontese and Italian troops occupied Rome and declared it the capital of the kingdom. The Italian government, deferring to the Florentines, created another national library in Rome in addition to the one already in Florence.

The National Library of Florence results from the merger of two important libraries: the Biblioteca Magliabechiana (Florentine Public Library) and the Biblioteca Palatina (the library of Palazzo Pitti). Antonio Magliabechi, 1633-1714, an important and passionate man of letters considered in his time a "living library", spent his whole life collecting and reading books. His only interests were culture and erudition, He remembered perfectly the contents of all his books, which comprised all literatures and languages known at his time, with special attention to Italian topics and interests. He bequeathed his precious collections of manuscripts and printed books to the Florentines -- particularly "to the poor men" in order "to promote studies, virtues and sciences and universal welfare of his dear native country".

After the death of Grand Duke Gian Gastone de' Medici and with him the end of the Medici dynasty, the library he had established within the Uffizi, was improved by the successor Grand Dukes of Lorraine; in 1747 this library was opened freely to the public, according to the original intention of Magliabechi. Grand Duke Francesco of Lorraine showed great interest in the Florentine libraries and added books brought from Luneville Castle to those left by the Palatine Elector (the last Medici heir) in Palazzo Pitti. The Palatine Library was open to the public in 1756.

During the 18th century and the first years of the 19th, many important acquisitions and donations of several private libraries were added to the original Medici and Lorraine family collections in the Palatine Library. At the same time the Magliabechiana was enriched with collections from suppressed religious institutes (in 1808) and from the merged Florentine academies.

The Palatine Library remained in the Pitti Palace until 1816 when it was moved to the building that housed the Public Library of Florence. However, it was kept separate from the Magliabechiana collection. The merger of the two libraries, inspired by Francesco De Sanctis in order to build a National Library, was decided upon in 1862. The combination of these two collections -- so different in their nature (the Palatine born as a dynastic library and the Magliabechiana as the private library of a man of letters) -- produced the most representative library of Italian cultural tradition up to that date. In addition, it resulted in the most important collection from the viewpoint of the outstanding quality of its holdings. These qualities have continued to the present and since 1869 the National Central Library in Florence has received a sample of any publication printed in Italy.

The National Library of Rome was founded in 1875 and inaugurated March 14, 1876 at the Collegio Romano, the former Jesuit convent and college. The initial collections came from the Jesuit "Bibliotheca Major" and the cloister libraries confiscated by the Italian government in 1873. The right of legal deposit was conferred in 1880.

In the following years, important collections came to the Roman library, such as the Miscellanea of Giacomo Dina, the Oriental collection of Carlo Valenziani, the collection of Giuseppe Ceccarelli ("Ceccarius", a library of publications concerning Rome), and the private library of Enrico Falqui. The manuscript collection includes ancient codices as well as documents of modern and contemporary authors (D'Annunzio, Morante, Onofri, Pasolini). Worthy of mention also is the Roman section, as well as other special collections (geographical, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Slavic).

In the 1940s, because of a major expansion in its collections and in the use of its readers, the Collegio Romano building proved inadequate to the increased demands. It was clear that a new building was absolutely necessary; resulting in the opening of a new site in the Castro Pretorio area in 1975. In 1989 a Center for the Study of Manuscripts was established by a ministerial decree, in order to collect microfilms of all manuscripts available in Italian libraries.

The development of the National Central Library of Rome collections through copyright deposit, gifts, and purchases made this library very important to scholars and researchers mainly in the Humanities. In addition, the National Central Library of Rome has played a notable role in providing public library services; it is used by a great number of students (due to the nearby location of the University). Scientific and promotional activity has been served by organizing bibliographic expositions and publishing catalogues which are available in Italian libraries. Special mention should be made of the "General Index of Incunabula" (I.G.I.). The establishment of a Bibliographic Information Center in 1931 has also made the Library an important reference point for national and foreign users. It has been given the task of editing the Italian translations for the "Index Translationum" published by UNESCO.

Both libraries - the one in Florence and the other in Rome - are called National Central Libraries, in order to emphasize their significance as national cultural centers and as instruments of scientific research. Together with its sister the National Central Library of Florence, the National Central Library of Rome is designated as a copyright library and must provide a complete documentation of Italian culture as well as extensive coverage of foreign literature. The National Central Library of Rome is also in charge of supplying and coordinating the national bibliographic services.

Tasks and functions of the two National Central Libraries were defined by statutes issued in 1885 and confirmed in 1967. The Library of Florence was given the special function of conservation and cataloguing of all Italian publications, while the Library of Rome was entrusted, besides that, with the task of collecting evidence of the presence of Italian culture in foreign publications. Article 62 of the regulations for governmental libraries issued by a royal decree October 28, 1885, charged the National Central Library of Rome with responsibility for compiling the Bulletin of modern foreign publications acquired by the State libraries (B.O.M.S.) and the National Central Library of Florence with responsibility for editing the Bulletin of Italian publications received for printing rights.

Since 1886, the National Central Library of Rome has compiled and issued the B.O.M.S. current catalogue of foreign publications owned by 37 major Italian libraries. After producing some cumulative volumes and annual editions in print, a CD-ROM edition is now in progress of preparation.

On January 15, 1886, the first issue of the Bollettino delle pubblicazioni italiane ricevute per diritto di stampa dalla Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze appeared, inaugurating a bi-monthly publication pattern until 1900, after which it was published monthly. Annual cumulative volumes and ten supplements have been issued since 1958.

In January 1958, the Bollettino changed its name to Bibliografia Nazionale Italiana (Italian National Bibliography). The National Central Library of Florence continued its compilation, but publication of the information became the responsibility of the Central Institute for the Union Catalogue of Italian Libraries and Bibliographic Information (I. C. C. U.) which was founded in 1951 in order to coordinate the cataloguing activities of the Italian libraries.

A new programme, ANNAMARC, in cooperation with the Library of Congress, was introduced in 1975 to provide a MARC format adapted to Italian cataloguing practices. Since 1981 the Bibliografia Nazionale Italiana has been compiled according to the Regole italiane di catalogozione per autori (RICA) (the Italian cataloguing rules) with ISBD practices incorporated in 1984.

There is no real, valid tradition of cooperation among libraries in Italy, nor between libraries and universities. In spite of this, some attempts have been made to create joint catalogues of books or periodicals. In addition, after the foundation of I. C. C. U. some collaborative projects have been undertaken. One of these was the conversion to punch-cards, later transferred to tape, of the Bulletin of Italian publications from 1886 to 1957, edited by the National Central Library of Florence in 41 volumes. Other projects, such as a union catalogue of publications held by the State libraries, however, were not been completely successful.

Nevertheless, a union catalogue of periodicals was produced by the C.N.R.-I.R.S.D.S. (National Council of Research - Studies and Research Institute for Scientific Documentation) and printed in two volumes in 1990: it included 35,000 issues of periodicals held by 1,500 Italian libraries. Another important project, a joint catalogue of 16th books, supported by the I.C.C.U., is still in progress.

In Italy, projects to achieve library automation have been slow to materialize in comparison with other European countries and the United States, because of a cautious opposition to it. Moreover, it has proved difficult to implement a joint activity based on cooperation and standardized procedures as well as to get a coordinated system and uniform structure for a database, because several different automated systems (DOBIS-LIBIS, ISIS, TINLIB, SEBINA) are being used by Italian libraries.

The National Library Service (S.B.N.), initiated in 1980, became active under the coordination of the I.C.C.U. only in 1986: after a slow and difficult beginning, S. B. N. has now become a network linking over 1,000 Italian libraries (state, public and private libraries). Its primary aim is to offer national library services to the end-users and to bridge the gaps in Italian library organization through an online union catalogue built with the cooperation and the shared resources of all the libraries involved.

Participating libraries operate in decentralized systems, on single or multiple-library sites of 20 to 30 libraries; they are not directly linked with each other, but they are all connected in the National Index. All bibliographic descriptions, made according to ISBD rules, flow together in the National Index, which is continuously updated and is available to every library. Each member from its local site can create new bibliographic records for items not found in the National Index. Records range in extent from a minimum level of detail to a maximum level of thoroughness given for publications assigned to the Italian National Bibliography. Every bibliographic access point (author, title, collection, subject, classification) is controlled by authority files which can be used for cataloguing documents. I.C.C.U. acts as a technical authority and performs the function of coordination among the libraries.

In the beginning, the electronic system was used only for cataloguing current material and not for retrospective retrieval. Later, however, the Italian National Bibliography post-1958 and the Bulletin of modern foreign publications acquired by the State libraries from 1958 to 1980, as well as other catalogues and musical sources, have been entered into National Index databases for bibliographic reference in cataloguing and locating documents.

"Bibman" and "Manus" are two projects concerning the cataloguing of manuscripts that were undertaken to create a bibliographic database. "Edit 16" is the union catalogue of 16th century editions printed in Italy or printed abroad in the Italian language.

Currently, National Library Service can provide or support:

  • information on the S.B.N. network, its nodes and its libraries;
  • information on Italian libraries (addresses, opening hours, services);
  • searches in the union catalogue for the location of books and other documents;
  • searches in the catalogues of some Italian libraries and museums;
  • searches for Italian 16th century editions (authors, printers, printers devices);
  • interlibrary loan and reproduction services.

At this time, S. B. N. provides access to four million bibliographic records for books, periodicals, music and other ancient and modern documents in nine million locations. It is supported by the cooperation of more than 1,000 Italian libraries. It functions all day and typically logs over 100,000 searches per day.

A new service, the Portale delle biblioteche ("Gateway to Italian libraries") planned by the I. C. C. U. and supplied by the National Library Service, with Italian and English interfaces ,enables connectivity with a number of databases for search, retrieval, production of results, down-loading of documents and information, and loan requests.

Thanks to automation and to the efforts of the National Library Service, a project for the improvement of the Bibliografia Nazionale Italiana was undertaken in 1992. The European Community sponsored a study on the reorganization of the national bibliographic services by the consulting firm "Studio Staff". This study pointed out two major problems of the organization and compilation of the B.N.I.: (1) publishers' neglect of their obligation to make deposits to the National Library, and (2) the long delay (more than two years) between the printing of a book and the appearance of the bibliographic information for it in the "Bibliografia Nazionale Italiana, making the bibliographic data practically useless. Moreover, other libraries could not benefit from the service, and financial problems arose from the very high production costs. Therefore, a new and better way of producing the B. N. I. would be necessary.

This concept envisioned an active cooperation among publishers, book-sellers, and libraries to bring libraries in touch with the other fields of the book trades and to offer an improved bibliographic product produced on a regular frequency at an affordable cost. The aims of the project called "Edificare" to pursue these goals were to introduce:

  • a new model for acquiring books, based on a direct connection with publishers and the voluntary deposit of publications;
  • new procedures for the treatment of documents;
  • active cooperation between the two National Central Libraries of Florence and Rome;
  • new methods for the compilation and delivery of bibliographic data;
  • new structure and graphic form of the publication in different kinds of media (printed volume, magnetic tape, floppy disk, CD-ROM.

The new Italian National Bibliography was issued in 1994 (with number 0 in October 1993). It is published in five series: monographs; serials; doctoral dissertations; children's books ; and, music. The production and the distribution of the publication, previously the responsibility of the National Central Library of Florence (which continues to be in charge of cataloguing and controlling the bibliographic data), is now performed by the Editrice Bibliografica, a private publishing company.

Project "Edificare" has been the first experience of active cooperation between the two Italian National Central Libraries, and the results have been quite interesting and satisfying. This first step in cooperation gives hope of more and better fruit to follow.

The National Central Library of Florence has been the lead library in automation, because of its primary function as a bibliographic center and editor of the Italian National Bibliography, but, now that the S.B.N. has become a reality, the cooperation of, and coordination with, every library is absolutely necessary as is quality control of bibliographic data in the new shared cataloguing environment.

The birth and development of S.B.N. has encouraged an active alliance between the two national central libraries (and among many other Italian libraries). Automation has caused a new kind of cooperative work and has improved interlibrary coordination and standardization of procedures. Automation also provides more rapid and precise means of access to library holdings and collections and to the exchange of electronic data, creating one global, virtual library within Italy.

Competition is not a good means to get results; cooperation is the only possible mature and useful means in the modern information society to supply users with a valid instrument for collecting information and documents. While respecting the autonomy and different cultural traditions of Italian libraries, the main objective of the S.B.N. is the promotion of a national union catalogue. The organization of an efficient national bibliographic service requires a cooperative attitude and good will from everybody as well as participation and coordination.

The Italian library system therefore needs the cooperation of everybody in order to implement S.B.N., to achieve a quality service, and to integrate with other European countries.


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