Before 1909. Gaspare Ungarelli and the Archiginnasio evening opening
July 1st 1909. Albano Sorbelli and the opening of the People’s Municipal Library
The first twenty years of the People’s Municipal Library
The “Casa del Fascio” of Bologna and his Library
The crossed destinies of the “Casa del Fascio” Library and the People’s Municipal Library
The Central Library at Palazzo Montanari
The Children’s Library at Margherita Gardens
The Consorzio
Branch libraries (1)
Branch libraries (2)
The Sala Borsa Library Project
 
Mappe - La pubblica lettura in Provincia
Mappe - La pubblica lettura a Bologna
Statistiche - La Biblioteca popolare 1910-1928: le opere consultate
Statistiche - La Biblioteca popolare 1910-1928: i lettori
Cronologia
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Before 1909. Gaspare Ungarelli and the Archiginnasio evening opening

From December 12, 1903, the Archiginnasio Library increased its opening hours, including the evening from 8.00 to 11.00 p.m. With this decision, Gaspare Ungarelli, provisional director, tried to give the library a modern input; it had been created, in fact, in 1801, and until then reserved to scholars. New was the gaslight, new the acquisition of books and newspapers which could be of interest for a new public, of women, workers, shopassistants, clerks and students which were the first Italian literate generation. For the first time Town Hall gave the possibility to borrow books to less rich and less cultivated citizens, too.

July 1st 1909. Albano Sorbelli and the opening of the People’s Municipal Library

The People’s Municipal Library of Bologna, opened on July 1st 1909 in the 18th-century Santa Lucia hall at No. 40 via Castiglione, was planned as a branch of the Archiginnasio by its director Albano Sorbelli. He followed the “people’s library” pattern made popular in Italy, in the wake of national Unity, on the initiative of private citizens who, in a paternalistic and philanthropic spirit, aimed at providing working classes with access to the reading and borrowing of books. In this kind of libraries, established to be places and instruments for an ideal continuation of school education, the provision of books was selected in order to promote culture among the poorest classes.

The first twenty years of the People’s Municipal Library

The People’s Municipal Library of Bologna was a general library with an initial provision of about 5,000 volumes, besides newspapers and magazines. The services which were best appreciated by the public were the local reading of newspapers, the home loan and the broadness of opening times (ten hours per day, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.-10 p.m., in winter; seven hours, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m., in summer; three hours, 9 a.m.-12 a.m., on holidays). The subject catalogue too, printed and made available to members of the library at a special price, met with great success.

The “Casa del Fascio” of Bologna and his Library

The “Casa del Fascio” of Bologna, inaugurated on 28th of October 1923, was one of the first of its kind in Italy. It was the place assigned to the main political activities of the Fascist Party’s town and provincial section, but it was also conceived as a real regime’s propaganda machine, open to everybody, whether member of the Fascist National Party or not, until late at night. Located in the town centre, within the fifteenth-century Palazzo Fava, formerly Ghisilardi (now housing the Museo Medievale), the “Casa del Fascio” was financed through a subscription “imposed” to the owners of the major commercial and industrial firms of Bologna. Together with political and cultural activities, such as the courses in culture of politics of the fascist university, it hosted above all equipments and facilities for leisure and entertainment. There were a café with three billiard rooms, a restaurant, a daytime hotel equipped with all comforts, a public telephone, the telegraph and a library.

The crossed destinies of the “Casa del Fascio” Library and the People’s Municipal Library

The library of the “Casa del Fascio” of Bologna, inaugurated on 1st of March 1925, was a library of general information with a rich collection of books, newspapers and magazines. Open to the public also in the evening and on holidays, it was attended daily by approximately 300 readers. Conceived to promote the fascist ideology and organize consent through control over reading, it was associated with the People’s Municipal Library in 1929. War events and Fascism’s defeat determined the fate of both libraries. During the years of the world conflict, periods of total or partial closure occurred together with losses of volumes and, above all, the merging of the collection of the “Casa del Fascio” library into that of the People’s Municipal Library. This latter, in the immediate post-war period, regained the role of public reading service of the municipality of Bologna.

The Central Library at Palazzo Montanari

In 1967 the Biblioteca Popolare acquired a new and larger seat in Palazzo Montanari, at 8, via Galliera. It also changed name, becoming the Public Central Branch Library of Archiginnasio, and was given a clearer general information and contemporary character. The collection represented all subjects, with a special focus on local studies and both on Italian and foreign fiction. In a few uears, in the Seventies, the premises became once again inadequate, with too little room for readers, collection and service development. Until 1991 the library ran the Civic Libraries Direction, responsible for setting up new branch libraries, cataloguing their collection, preparing new acquisitions and periodicals bulletins. From July 1944 to the 14th of September 1949 the Biblioteca Popolare was hosted in Piazza Calderini, 2/2°. Those were difficult years: the library was often closed and loan service was provided only for a few hours per day: the city was facing hard times, due to post-war reconstruction problems. Things started getting better from September 1949, when the library was moved to via de’ Foscherari.

The Children’s Library at Margherita Gardens

The Bologna Library of Children opened on June 16, 1954 in a Art Nouveau pavillion at the Margherita Gardens. The collection was then of only 2.000 books, which became 3.300 the following year. Many books had been offered by the Bologna Club of Soroptimist International. In 1956 the library became independent from the Popolare, with rules and statute of its own. With a Recreation Center on its side, it became very popular and was attended by children and young people of all ages. The Library was “temporarily” closed in 1977 and was re-opened, thanks to regional and county funds, in the majestic Villa Mazzacurati. It was the first automated library in Bologna. In 2000 it was fully reorganized and enlarged as part of the new Sala Borsa Library in a more accessible position.

The Consorzio

The Consorzio provinciale per il servizio della pubblica lettura e del prestito librario (a consortium to organize lending services) was founded on December 28, 1958. The Provincia (county) approved a Statute immediately subscribed by 50 of 60 county municipalities. Roughly 50 books arrived monthly at 62 lending points in town halls, schools or social centres: they could be chosen on the print catalogue distributed also in different venues. But the real purpose of the Consorzio was to open public libraries, and it was achieved from 1968 on, when the Provincia invested 615 million lire (a value of € 4.690.677,18 in 2008) to create them on municipal grounds or buildings, also funding them with half the costs for personnel ad other running expenses. Open shelves with state-of-art collection, large opening hours, design fittings and lighting, a flexible layout to use areas differently on different hours, meet-the-author, panels on topical questions, discussion reports were part of the success story of the libraries, absolutely new for the Italian public. Central services were increased for collection management, cataloguing, bibliographic information, events and communication, continuing professional education.
The Consorzio ceased on December 31, 1986. Libraries were devolved to municipalities; the Provincia was given coordination responsibilities by the Region. From 2002 all public libraries in the county share the same opac and library management system with Bologna and University libraries, already integrated.

Branch libraries (1)

The branch public library system has been developed in Bologna from 1960. On May 15, the first Branch library was opened at the «citizens’ house» in San Donato. In the following twenty years their number rapidly increased: in 1978, when the last one started service in Corticella, 16 branch libraries had been opened in the 18 Bologna districts. They offered collections between 2.500 and 3.000 books on open access and were under a Direction at the Central Public Library at Palazzo Montanari. Librarians at branch libraries were known as «cultural assistants», assigned to foster activities with neighbour associations and schools. After 1974, most libraries were opened as part of Civic Centres, multipurpose buildings hosting most of administrative, social, recreational district activities.

Branch libraries (2)

Library systems were the model set by the Library Act approved by the Region Emilia Romagna in 1983. But while most town and counties in the region set up local systems to integrate collection and service development, during the Nineties Bologna District Councils obtained full control of their branch libraries, a decision which slowed down the automation process undertaken by central libraries. But finally branch libraries, too, entered the National Library Service, the automated system to catalogue and manage documents and services: computers, opacs and Internet helped to create a net and share resources. Thus the Istituzione Biblioteche, a libraries self-governing authority, could be approved by the Town Council in 2009.

The Sala Borsa Library Project

In 1990 the Town Council launched a project called Piazza Maggiore Urban Park, which included renovation of various squares and buildings in central Bologna. The former Sala Borsa (Corn Exchange) was one of them, designed as a covered “piazza” (square) and seat for cultural institutions. Guidelines to renew the Central Library and move it to Sala Borsa were outlined by three important intellectuals: they suggested the creation of a “city of knowledge”, a large media library, with room for leisure, a “caffé all’italiana” moulded on Venice Caffè Florian, and a videogames museum. As archeological excavations had been carried out under the central hall, crystal floor “windows” were designed for showing them. In 1995 the realization of Sala Borsa Library became a mainstay in “Bologna 2000”, a major European project for cultural cities to celebrate the new millenium. The working plan and project management were set, the mission stated: Sala Borsa would be a contemporary library, fully accessible and tuned in to users of any age, study level, cultural background; collections should be readily updated; a special focus was put on multimedia communication and new technology.
The Sala Borsa Library opened to the public on December 12, 2001. Every day more than 4,000 visitors cross its doors.