Libraries and Librarianship in Italy || The Endowed Municipal Public Libraries

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  • The Endowed Municipal Public LibrariesAuthor(s): Ennio Sandal, Rino Pizzi and Prentiss MooreSource: Libraries & Culture, Vol. 25, No. 3, Libraries and Librarianship in Italy (Summer,1990), pp. 358-371Published by: University of Texas PressStable URL: .Accessed: 17/06/2014 22:54

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  • The Endowed Municipal Public Libraries

    Ennio Sandal

    There can be no doubt that to a foreign observer?an observer of dif

    ferent cultural background used to situations different from the Italian one

    ?the Italian library scene would appear extremely complex, and it would

    hardly be exaggerating to add that in certain ways such a scene would seem

    incomprehensible. Among the factors that might give rise to such impres sions and even certain judgments is the existence of a remarkable number

    of large libraries whose functions and structures are similar to those owned

    by the state, but with different ownership. The designation "public" car

    ried by many of these libraries adds even more to this confusion, when we

    consider that the term's meaning appears so distant from its English homo

    nym, which is specific to the Anglo-Saxon and northern European library experience.

    Italy finds itself, in fact, provided with numerous library institutions

    endowed with a considerable and rich bibliographic patrimony made up of

    manuscripts, old printed editions, and historical municipal archives pre

    viously owned by noble families: such library and documentary collections,

    enriched with more recent book acquisitions, represent a kind of compro

    mise between a conservation library and a more general library of historical

    origin. They are open to everybody and in most

    cases belong to local public

    administrations: from this comes their frequent designation as "civic,"

    "municipal," and "public," where such modifiers do not refer to the type

    of service and content of the collection so much as to the institution's public


    At the origin of this unique situation lies a historical coincidence. The

    period when the institution of libraries intended for public use was being

    pursued was also that of the political situation preceding the founding of

    the Italian state, with the proclamation of the Italian Kingdom in 1861.

    Translation by Rino Pizzi and Prentiss Moore.

    Libraries and Culture, Vol. 25, No. 3, Summer 1990 ?1990 by (he University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713

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  • 359

    Prior to this date the Italian national territory was fragmented into many

    regional states, and such a political reality?which arose from diverse histori

    cal events and administrative realities and itself created diverse circumstances

    ?had a decisive influence on the founding and formation of the libraries that arose within those circumstances, which in turn gave these libraries their

    unique qualities even

    though they were unified in many other ways.

    The history of the ancient Italian states before their unification is, as a

    matter of fact, the determining factor in the founding, development, and

    number of these nonstate libraries; they often represent the intention of

    those local administrations, which reflects their origin in the medieval city state. Confirming this point to

    a certain extent is their greater number in

    the northern and central regions of Italy, whereas they are scarce in the

    territories that were previously part of the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples. Around the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the urban realities of northern

    and central Italy were structured around the political phenomenon of the

    city communes, whose rise and development were favored by particular

    juridical circumstances; such regions constituted the Regnum Italiae whose crown belonged to the Holy Roman Emperor. The fact that the emperor

    usually resided beyond the Alps helped smooth the way for broader forms of autonomy in those cities, which had thrived thanks to commerce and

    financial and entrepreneurial activities. Through the centuries and the

    disintegration of the signories and principalities, several states of regional dimension established themselves in the Regnum Italiae, political entities

    that, however, lacked that strong centralization characterizing the modern

    state; they were, rather, federations centered on urban structures recog

    nizing the preeminence of a prince or of the capital city, but jealously defending their autonomy in the administrative functions of taxation and

    planning, though still acknowledging control from the central administra

    tion in matters of foreign policy. The meaning of this historical digression is crucial to understanding the

    facts discussed here, considering that such relative autonomy characterized

    the civic and administrative life of many northern and central Italian cities

    that were not capitals of the states they belonged to, an autonomy invariably

    persisting until the end of the ancient regime. Such autonomy constituted

    a favorable terrain for the birth and development of the library institutions considered here.

    Some Data

    So far I have advanced?although not in formal fashion?the question of the origin of these libraries; to arrive at a simple answer, however, will

    not be possible. Still, I can make three hypothetical statements concerning the founding of these libraries by referring to available data:

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  • 360 L&C/Endowed Municipal Public Libraries

    (a) The intention of a patron bibliophile to turn his private book collec

    tion into public domain is joined by the interest of the commune's public officials;

    (b) The municipal administration takes the initiative to found a civic

    library for public use or to acquire one already established;

    (c) The administrative authorities, through the reallotment of library funds previously earmarked for institutions either discontinued

    or with

    drawn from public administration, amalgamate these funds to found a

    library and guarantee its operation.

    It does not seem necessary to insist on establishing in all three cases in

    what ways the component of public administrators is a determining element

    in the founding, the institutional consolidation, the public aim, and the

    functioning of these large libraries that are the subject of this discussion.

    I have already described the complexity and lack of homogeneity in the

    Italian library scene; providing some significant data regarding these insti

    tutions is therefore relevant. The following analysis is based essentially on

    a quasi-official report, the third edition of the Annuario delle Biblioteche

    Italiane,l which, though needing a substantial periodic updating, can be

    considered reliable regarding these libraries. In five substantial volumes it

    provides data on the location and census, history, and situation of over

    4,500 library institutions of diverse size, ranging from small basic libraries

    to the national libraries, municipal, school, university, private, church,

    and so forth. In such a varied scene, not always easy to access for purposes

    of reference, the large public nonstate libraries constitute a small fraction

    numerically, since they barely exceed fifty. But isolating them from the

    other library institutions confirms that most lie in the northern and central

    regions of Italy?Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Friuli, Liguria, Emilia

    and Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, and northern Lazio.

    Even though such libraries are not representative numerically, their

    importance is significant when considering more than the purely quantita

    tive peculiarities of their patrimonies, lying mostly in ancient sources of

    importance primary to the study of classical, medieval, and humanistic

    culture. Using relatively recent if partial data makes it possible to evaluate

    the accuracy of the previous statement in a

    particular case showing all the

    relevant factors; in Lombardy there are 1,223 municipal libraries, only 7 of which seem to show the characteristics we are investigating?Bergamo,

    Brescia and Lodi (Milan), the Biblioteca Trivulziana of Milan, and Man

    tua, Monza (Milan), and Pavia. The library patrimony of the municipal libraries in Lombardy, made up primarily of modern editions,


    around 9 million volumes; the seven general historical libraries contribute

    only 20 percent of that. But as soon as we move from that undifferentiated

    figure to more specific investigations,

    we see, for example, that the collec

    tion of ancient printed texts contained in those libraries makes up 53 percent

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  • 361

    of the entire regional patrimony, and that the manuscripts make up 65

    percent.2 This modest number of institutions plays a decisive role?through

    the uniqueness and importance of their collections?in the overall existence

    and fragmentary character of Italian libraries.


    For a fair number of the large municipal libraries?more than half?

    their origin is historically associated, from the moment of their founding, with the figure of a wealthy patron able to acquire a significant library col

    lection, whether for reasons of personal erudition or mere bibliophilic

    passion. It is not difficult to gather from the various examples mentioned

    so far the evidence that allows us to sketch in such a patron's character.

    Often enough the patron was a

    clergyman?in particular a prelate?al

    though cases exist of laymen, nobles, and intellectuals. The patrons were

    variously scholars able to amass a considerable quantity of books for study or interested collectors who accumulated rare and valuable ancient texts

    using the most divergent criteria?ranging from focus on the history of a

    particular place or

    discipline to purely antiquarian motives.

    Among the prelates who can be linked to the origins of several libraries,

    especially noteworthy are Cardinal Nicola Forteguerri (Pistoia, 1473), Cardinal Nicola Antonelli (Senigallia, 1767), Bishop Francesco Cini

    (Osimo, 1667), Monsignor Guarnacci (Volterra, 1786), Canon Giuseppe Bocchi (Treviso, 1769), Bishop Alessandro Sperelli (Gubbio, second half of the seventeenth century), Cardinal Decio Azzolini, Jr. (Fermo, 1688), Cardinal Angelo Maria Querini (Brescia, 1747), and Cardinal Giuseppe Furietti (Bergamo, 1760). But lay patrons also contributed decisively to the constitution of some libraries: Count Giovanni Maria Bertolo (Vicenza,

    1696), Francesco Maria II della Rovere (Urbania, 1607), Count Giovanni Antonio Ruggiero (Municipal Library of Turin, 1687), Guarnerio d'Ar te gna (San Daniele del Friuli, 1466), Girolamo Tartarotti (Rovereto, 1746), Jurisconsult Alessandro Gambalunga (Rimini, 1619), the nobleman

    Prospero Podiana (Perugia, 1582), and Luciano and Eleonora Benincasa

    (Ancona, 1669 and 1749). Hence, if there was the potential patron wanting to make a library col

    lection open to the public and of general value, it was equally necessary to

    have municipal authorities willing to accept the donation and guarantee its proper function. It is from the combination of these two indispensable

    preconditions that these libraries arose and developed. The patron there

    fore implicitly granted complete trust to the municipal administration and its ability to assume responsibility for the library's operation. Emphasizing these circumstances is not superfluous. It was precisely the awareness of

    public authorities' fastidiousness?at times due to several patrons' active

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  • 362 L&C/Endowed Municipal Public Libraries

    involvement?that provided an incentive to such gestures of magnanimity.

    Under Spanish rule, when the authority of Milan's Senate was reduced to

    formalities, Cardinal Federico Borromeo, lacking a suitable counterpart

    from the Madrid government, was nevertheless able to open to Milan's

    citizenry the Ambrosian Library, even though it remained technically under the archepiscopal curia's ownership.

    The juridical procedures for the transfer of the library collections from

    private ownership to public administration in the instances given here are

    of two fundamental types. There was the testamentary bequest, as in the

    cases of Guarnacci, Count Ottaviano Tartagna (Udine, 1856), Bocchi,

    Antonelli, Count Fabrizio Rilli Orsini (Poppi, 1825), the priest Marc'An

    tonio Maldotti (Guastalla, 1817), Furietti, and the Benincasas. Or the

    transfer occurred titulo et causa donationis inter vivos, as in the cases of Querini,

    Monsignor Andrea Zannoni (Faenza, 1804), Canon Giovanni Chelli

    (Grosseto, 1860), Sperelli, the priest Gaetano Zucchi (Monza, 1862), Cini,

    Marquis Luigi Malaspina di Sannazzaro (Municipal Library of Pavia,

    1833), Podiani, Forteguerri, and Gambarotta.

    According to circumstances, the bequest might also involve different

    terms. In most cases the patron simply transferred his library collection in

    its entirety without further condition to the municipality, leaving the matter

    of location and operation to the public administrators. In others, the donor

    committed himself to providing management and operating services be

    yond the initial bequest. The bishop of Gubbio, Alessandro Sperelli, added

    to the donation of his library collection real estate, whose rent was in part

    devoted to financing the library's daily operation. After Bishop Francesco

    Cini left his library to Osimo, the nobleman Ottaviano Guarnieri provided it with a custodian and an annu...


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