Public Libraries in Rome

25 Jul

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a major, super duper, insatiable and incurable nerdy book worm.


Repeat after me:

Reading is Sexy Bumper Sticker. All cars should have one.

However I must say that so far, I haven’t explored what’s on offer in terms of the Rome public library system. Last weekend, facing another 14 hour day of three preschool-aged children clamoring for entertainment, I was desperately craving my good ol’fashioned United States public library system. Man, I might be biased, but I grew up on that system and I’ll be damned if it didn’t give my poor mom a break from me and my brother, plus, inspire me to fall passionately in love with books. We used to spend some time every Sunday at the library. I never got over how cool it was that I could have a real “card” for something as a kid, and pick ALL THESE BOOKS and check them out. I felt very important.

So, here I am, raising the kiddos in Rome, and it occurs to me that I’ve never even TRIED to explore the Rome public library system. I mean, I’m so completely jaded about my adopted city that I just figured that there wasn’t any system.

Of course I now realize that’s totally ignorant of me and I hope that you’ll accept my apologies. It’s just that, when it comes to public bureaucracy nonsense, Rome has few rivals.

There is, in fact, a system. And a little bit of online exploration reveals that, at least in theory, it seems to be rather evolved (considering the context). Low expectations generate my excitement. I mean, I didn’t even think public libraries existed here, so imagine my surprise at finding out that you can even get discounts throughout the city with your €5 library card. (I know, I’m totally hanging my head in shame at my ignorance. I asked you to forgive me already!)

In my defense, please do have a brief read though of a helpful excerpt from the system-wide explanatory page, which states:

In biblioteca chiunque può entrare liberamente per leggere e sfogliare i libri che vuole, oppure chiederli in prestito per leggerli a casa. Si possono scegliere i libri direttamente dagli scaffali, oppure cercare un soggetto o un argomento consultando i cataloghi per autore e per materia. Per ogni informazione o chiarimento ci si può rivolgere al bibliotecario, che aiuterà ad orientarsi nella biblioteca ed a trovare ciò di cui si ha bisogno.

It says: Anyone can enter freely into the library to read or flip through the books that they want, or to check out the books so they can read them at home. They can take the books directly off the shelves, or they can search a topic by consulting the library catalog by author or subject. The librarian is available for information and clarification, and can help you to orient yourself inside the library and help you find what you need.

When I read that, my heart hurt. To think that this isn’t all just taken for granted! You have to tell people they can freely enter and actually TAKE BOOKS OFF THE SHELVES! You see, typically academic libraries in Italy are very user UN-friendly. Not hands-on at all, and similar to experiences in the public offices. But the public system underwent modifications through a city-governed statute in 1996, which apparently brought it out of the proverbial dark ages.

So I’m already feeling more positive about the system itself for simply existing at all, in this “normal” fashion. And not only that, but there’s an entire network of libraries to serve the multi-ethnic population in the city, providing books in all of the following languages: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian, and Urdu. There’s also a program of Italian language instruction for foreigners, including videos, guided tours of Rome, and orientations about services available for immigrants. At the end of the course they even offer the University of Perugia’s standardized test of Italian competency (CELI).

Wow. This does my little social worker’s heart good.

I’m totally not crazy about the Biblioteche di Roma home page as it is institutional and therefore pretty tough to navigate. I should clarify. There’s also BiblioTu which appears to be the more user-friendly book catalog and general info. database. Instead of sending you on a wild goose chase, I’ll try to break out the important points for you here, culling from both sites. (Keep in mind that this service is obviously designed to serve an Italian-speaking public, although at the end of this list I’ve compiled the branches that claim to have books in English available. You’re welcome!)

  • How to get a library card (Bibliocard): Go in person to any of the branches, fill out the form with your Italian address and show a valid photo ID. A Bibliopass is free and entitles you to check out books, consult documents, as well as attend courses and seminars. The Bibliocard currently costs €5 annually, and allows you interlibrary loan privileges, access to remote online services such as library catalogs,Wifi and desktop Internet usage in the library, as well as discounts throughout the city for cultural events.
  • In-library cultural events and workshops planned for this summer: At this link you’ll find a list of all kinds of initiatives that the individual branches are holding, including events for parents together with their children.
  • Storytime events for the under-6 crowd: Nati per Leggere is a nationwide program that encourages children to discover the joy of reading through interactive storytimes. The online program in the local branches, however, is nearly impossible to locate. For me it actually IS impossible and after a long fruitless search chain, I can only offer you this list of the email addresses of each branch coordinator to email I suppose for a list of their activities.
  • Sign up for the Public Libraries of Rome NewsletterBiblioinforma” – You have NO idea how hard it was for me to find this link. Hello, can we get an online content marketing manager onboard please? (Their poor Twitter account currently only has 189 followers. I don’t know whether to blame this on their inept or non-existent social network marketing abilities, or the sad state of interest in reading that pervades this city).
  • Online e-Book lending. This seems cool; they have over 800 titles available for 14-day access through the Adobe Digital Editions eBook reader software, and 1,200 others available through “streaming” with an internet connection.
  • Books in English. Through the RomaMultiEtnica program, the following libraries are listed as having books available in English language (neighborhoods in parenthesis): Biblioteca Europea di Roma (Salario), via Savoia 15; Enzo Tortora (Testaccio), via Nicola Zabaglia 27/b; Flaminia (Flaminio), via Cesare Fracassini 9; Franco Basaglia (Primavalle), via Federico Borromeo 67; Guglielmo Marconi (Marconi), via Gerolamo Cardano 135; Penazzato (Collatino/Prenestino) via Dino Penazzato 112; Rispoli (Centro Storico), piazza Grazioli 4; Teatro Biblioteca Quarticciolo (Municipio VII), via Castellaneta, 10; Villa Leopardi (Municipio Roma II – Trieste), via Makallé, enter through the park.

So folks, there you have it. My treatise on the Roman Public Library System. Tonight I am going to explore the only library in my borough (municipio) which is at Ostiense and is the Bibliocaffè Letterario. How excited am I that “my” library is the cool, funky one with jazz music and a flash intro on the website, the library that got put inside a multifunctional space with an art gallery and coffee bar? Um, very. This is very fortuitous indeed. Hello people, why didn’t anyone alert me to this sooner? (Possibly because less than 200 people are aware of them.)

Happy reading, folks! I’ll be feeling cool flashing my library card around soon.


9 Responses to “Public Libraries in Rome”

  1. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Bibliocaffè Letterario is awesome- but be warned that it has a very small collection. I used to study there, but I can’t remember a kid’s section. They do have a huge selection of DVDs relative to books! It’s a great vibe, and there is usually an art show, movie or poetry reading happening the cafe part of the setup.

  2. Nora July 25, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    You are envious of our main library in Amsterdam and how much I brag about it and its marvellous section dedicated to children. Confess 😉
    It is amazing how starting with low – very low – expectations immediately raise one’s level of excitement!
    I am happy you explored the subject and I hope you and the kids can enjoy some literary abandon in Rome!

  3. Gil July 25, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Glad to see that libraries are alive and healthy in Rome. Libraries are getting shortchanged where I live due to budget constraints. They have cut back on help and hours open along with new acquisitions!

  4. Brittany July 26, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Please read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon NOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!! The books are amazing, wonderful, AND LIFE CHANGING! I am reading the series for like, the 6th time now, and they are collectively like 10,000 pages.

  5. Matthew Davidson July 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Thanks for this excellent post! I had honestly never even considered the possibility of a functioning public library system here, but I’m definitely going to check it out now.

  6. codecables July 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    For English books there is also the very nice library at the St Susanna parish that also organizes quarterly used book sales; the volunteers there are just great and the book selection is pretty good.

  7. boocatbutterbee November 7, 2013 at 2:55 am #

    Is there a library system in Florence?

  8. Gil November 7, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    Yes, there is a library in Florence! I’m sure that there are even more than one!!!!!!!!!

  9. boocatbutterbee November 7, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    Thank you! I will Google it. (I don’t read Italian yet, so I have to use the translator)

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