Skip to content
Jun 20 / Christine Illichmann

Student Colleen Cirocco Studies the Libraries of Italy

Blogpost and photos submitted by SLIS student Colleen Cirocco.

While the scent of the flowers that filled the air is fading from memory, and I can no longer hear lime green parakeets singing from the terrace, I will never forget the two weeks I spent in Italy. And while I ate gelato and gazed at fountains, I was also studying the Italian approach to library and information science.

Catholic University of America’s course, Visions of Italy, included myself and seven other students, including two WSU online students, and ran from May 27-June 10. We found ourselves behind the velvet ropes of almost a dozen cultural institutions and libraries, with knowledgeable and engaging private tour guides at every stop. The two-week course was absolutely packed with site visits as well as unstructured time to explore on our own. CUA’s Rome Center is a hybrid living/educational space where we stayed and ate family style Italian meals (think stuffed eggplant, white wine pasta with clams). It is an incredibly beautiful campus, enclosed like a gated fortress, atop a hill in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, perched above the noise and crowds of the city.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was learning, observing, absorbing Italian culture. Their advertisements, their shoes, their speech inflections, the heat in the middle of spring. Except for the time I spent sleeping (even then, Italian phrases and flickers of the previous day filtered into my dreams), every second of every day, I was learning what Italian culture was. I eventually saw how this translated into their approach to their information organizations.

From our leisurely three hour dinners, to the omnipresence of art and history, to stores closing during the mid-afternoon, to high schoolers having the opportunity to lead museum tours, it became clear that Italian culture values its art, and takes a rather relaxed approach to life.

While we saw many connections between these values and the management of their information organizations, I still believe that we only really scratched the surface of the topic. We came to the general conclusion that Rome’s cultural institutions, libraries, and archives—such as the Vatican Secret Archives, Rome’s National Library, and the Capitolini Museum—were far behind our standards of preservation and digitization. Their museums did not utilize technology or even consistent signage to enhance user experience, and we sensed a general “easy going” attitude towards security, evidenced by open windows and lack of crowd control. And most concerning to me, there was no sense of urgency regarding digitizing their collections.

Almost as an “Aha!” moment, on our three-day trip to Florence we were very impressed by the amount of work the Galileo Museum had put into digital archiving and enhancing their exhibits with interactive touchscreen modules. In a way, one museum put the two cities at opposite ends of a dichotomy: Florence being advanced, while Rome lags behind. However, such a reductive conclusion must overlook the complicated reasoning behind these disparities. It just cracked the door open to many questions about how Italy views their information organizations, and how various cities approach protecting their resources.

The course tapped into so many fascinating questions like these. It also lead me towards that golden moment of realization: there are other ways of doing things besides the way we do them. The moment this thought popped into my head I also wondered, “How are libraries organized in Germany?” and then, like a row of dominos falling, I saw the names of country after country flash before my eyes. I was confronted with immeasurable possibilities, with the sheer vastness of the world, and suddenly felt overwhelmed. Presently, this type of global consciousness is crucial, being essential for empathy and collaboration.

Overall, during my stay, I was most impressed with how art flows through every aspect of Italian culture. This struck me the most, as our relatively young nation doesn’t come close to having Italy’s history or cultural holdings. The inspiration I felt from the experience was dizzying. I hope, through my archival administration training, to be able to interact with art in the way that our tour guides did. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to offer my skills to one of their institutions. I did make sure to throw three coins in the Trevi fountain, which ensures my return to Rome, the eternal city.

To see more images from the trip, watch this video created by Colleen’s classmate, Katherine Currie.