Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this entry right now as my emotions might bias my assessment of the library (and because I’ve just left the scene of the crime, so-to-speak). Let me explain.
Libraries have been a HUGE part of my life ever since I can remember. A library, and all that it represents (learning, knowledge, history, opportunity, etc.), is an important cultural phenomenon. I remember getting my first library card and how grown-up it made me feel. I’ve taken my girls to the library since birth for story hour and we’ve participated in summer reading programs. I can’t say enough about the importance and impact libraries can have upon young lives. I’ve even made special efforts to visit libraries all over the world. And I practically lived in the manuscript department at both the Newberry in Chicago and the Huntington in San Marino while doing my Ph.D. research.
There’s just something magical that happens to me when I walk into a library; it’s the smell of the books and the centuries of ideas…all available and waiting for someone to enjoy!
However, I did not get that feeling in this little Italian library. It’s an odd and saddening feeling to see books in such disarray. To see some book shelves empty while other shelves displayed books thrown into a heap, this way and that. To see that one guy, who seemed to have little more than zero interest in his job, was the only worker there. He seemed to have that same sense of disenchantment or apathy that many people arrive at with regard to politics… that “what I do will never make any difference anyway” attitude. Maybe he was new? Maybe he was having an off day? Maybe he was ill-equipped? He had a hard time locating requested books, the computer wasn’t working, and when I asked about story hour for the kids, I was met with a shrug while being informed that they don’t do that here.
Is this how all the libraries are? How is this possible? Italians have such a rich bibliophilic history! I simply expected more.
Have I been particularly spoiled by my “American libraries?”
Now I realize I am in Italy, and English is a foreign language, but I was genuinely surprised to find only about six or seven children’s books in English and only about eight adult books in English… at least one of those eight was Jane Eyre. But that’s beside the point.
As I glanced around, I saw teens casually looking over school work at a few tables, many texting or talking on their cells. What I didn’t see what anybody else. No moms. No other adults. No kids. And no one in the stacks! Staffed with just this one guy, I understood that the task of organizing and creating a beautifully functional library to serve the community was not a priority. This was it. You simply had to make do with what was there. Take it or leave it… it didn’t seem to matter to anyone.
Goodbye Dewey Decimal. Goodbye story hour. Goodbye library as I have come to know you.
I can only hope for a better experience in the center of Florence. (However, my experiences tracking down a manuscript in Florence for my M.A. thesis, and trying to gain access to another book in a library that has been under construction for more than four years, now seem to be painfully honest precursors to what I just experienced at the local level.) Sigh.
*As a side note: my experience has inspired me to do something. I’ve offered to start a story hour but was told that I must first organize this with the head librarian, whom I’ve yet to meet. *