The Angel of Our Great Bagni di Lucca Library

For me the greatest repository of learning, culture and everything that is of the highest value in our civilization is quite clearly contained in libraries. To think that the baths of Diocletian and Caracalla in ancient Rome were not just places one went to have a good scrub down and pick up interesting gossip but were also centres of learning, discussion and reading; to realise that such places as Aquae Sulis in England (today better known as Bath)

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and, indeed, all the other great centres of Rome: Ephesus, Alexandra Constantinople and Ephesus were places both of cleansing and culture is, indeed, awesome.

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The library of Ephesus still stands. At least its façade does but where are those priceless collections of scrolls that lived there? Have we lost for ever 90% of classical literature? We have to thank the early Muslim dynasties for having transcribed so much of that which might have been lost to us today. It is, indeed, ironic that fanatics professing the faith have recently torched some of the most precious ancient documents in the ancient desert University of Timbuctoo.

In Bagni di Lucca we have both: baths dating to early time and one of the finest and most individual libraries in Italy, indeed the world. In my ‘camera oscura’ interview with Doctor Angela Amadei, the chief librarian of Bagni di Lucca’s unique collection, as part of the on-going Bagni di Lucca festival I was able to find out many detail about the wonderful library heritage our comune.

There had, of course, been circulating libraries in Bagni di Lucca way back in the nineteenth century. Books were borrowed, begged or bestowed on the many forestieri (mainly English-speakers) which visited the baths for health reasons or just to escape the unbearable heat of summer Florence. In the Circolo dei Forestieri the library was housed on its upper floor. Meanwhile the palazzo degli inglesi, better known as the Anglican church, had not had a sermon preached in in since the thirties when, because of gathering war-clouds, most Brits escaped from a country they loved with all their heart. “Tea with Mussolini”, that evocative film by the great Zeffirelli, gives us something of the atmosphere at that time.

Abandoned, and to some extent vandalized, the church was eventually bought by the comune in 1976 but much work was required to restore it as a habitation fit for books (and librarians!). This restoration continues to this day and only recently the original altar of the church has been rehabilitated and re-installed as pride of place in this amazingly renaissance-shaped but gothic-detailed building.

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In 2005 our much-appreciated, highly industrious and ever-helpful librarian, Doctor Angela Amadei, arrived on the scene only to find a mammoth task awaiting her. The books she had to manage in a space which is becoming ever more constricted are large in number and contain some very valuable items. The library, indeed, can be divided into two sections: books one can borrow, just by filling in a form and agreeing to abide to the standard library regulations, and the reserve collection which may only be consulted on the spot but from which photocopies may be had. Further to this Angela, through the library network in Tuscany is able to procure books which even our library does not hold, and at very short notice. I have availed myself of this service and have been impressed!

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Ian Greenlees (about whom I have talked in a previous post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/r-i-p-ian/ ) left the majority of his collection of twenty thousand books to the library, dedicated to the great local violinist Adolfo Betti,  giving a great gift but also causing immense problems for librarians. Angela is the only full-time (close onto forty hour a week!) librarian and she has been lucky in obtaining financial assistance from the region in her superhuman task of cataloguing a collection which contain rare item such as first editions of Dickens and the Brownings since Greenlees was a great collector of rare books. Already, one tenth of the collection has been catalogued and, when finally completed, it should be a great day for our comune’s library.

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Of course, libraries today are not just about silently browsing through shelves and borrowing something from one’s favourite author. They are increasingly becoming places for related social activities. Angela pointed out that the library of Bagni di Lucca is a centre for major conferences organised with the help of Pisa university on a number of incredibly interesting topics, starting, back in 2008, with the Brownings, who spent their summers here, and acting in partnership with Marcello Cherubini’s “Michel de Montaigne” foundation.

The library is a place for both classical and jazz concerts and it hosts a great winter film season (with English subtitle for those whose Italian language skills are not too developed) since Bagni doesn’t have its own cinema. As far as books are concerned, the number of English book is immense and fascinating. You are bound to find a volume to entertain, educate or elucidate among those rich shelves.

The library’s future is being built upon further projects. Already the parents’ evening, where children are encouraged to read as part of a Europe-wide literacy project, has proved most successful. The “silver mouse” project has given undigitised older citizens the confidence to use the computer to communicate, not only to their long-lost relatives, but also to help them write their own stories. I remember holding such classes when I was an I. T. lecturer in the UK and it’s great to know such projects are now advancing in Italy and at Bagni di Lucca.

How are new books selected for the library? It’s largely a collaboration between what the public want and what the librarian feels are books which will hold considerable interest. Funds are limited but Angela has given a great emphasis to children’s literature, especially those below the age of six.

Many of the commune’s children, when seeing our beautiful library for the first time, think it looks just like the library in Harry Potter’ Hogwart’s academy for it high ceiling and gothicky detail does indeed evoke that sort of atmosphere. It also links up with the Potter books’ author in her devoted encouragement to make the ability to read book a natural right for all children. Perhaps she might consider our own Bagni di Lucca’s library in her thoughts on the subject.

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There is a little problem with the library in the fact that, as a converted Anglican place of worship it is one big space and has no truly defined separate sections like the newly moved library at Borgo a Mozzano, for example. I am sure that a solution will be found to this problem and that a dedicated space devoted just to children will be found.

In the meanwhile, the library has an area that is superbly suited for large events, like conferences. Two important one are due to occur after the summer mayhem. There will be a conference on feminist aspects in nineteenth century literature this autumn and also a major item on that formidable woman of power the countess Matilde di Canossa.

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You can find out all about these amazing events and also further details at the library’ site which is at

http://www.bibliotecabagnidilucca.it/

and also at Angela on her facebook page at

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009608323935&fref=ts

There is also an important fact to mention. The old use of the library as an anglican church has a direct link to the protestant cemetery of Bagni di Lucca about which I have already written several posts, including one at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/chrysanthemums-for-the-end-of-an-era/

and also at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/some-corner-of-a-foreign-field/

plus the amazing find at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/insect-man-re-discovered-in-bagni-di-lucca/

Angela described in considerable detail the miraculous recovery at the cemetery and the devoted task of restoring it (for which benefactors will be amply recognized by Prof. Marcello Cherubini, president of the Montaigne Foundation which has organized so many stimulating study events at Bagni di Lucca’s library and beyond).

We are so lucky to have such an interesting library and one run by such a pleasant and enthusiastic librarian like Angela, a true jewel in the crown of the local administration. As a member for close onto ten years I am so pleased to be one of the (free) subscribers. The library is truly a very important resource and a major reason for living in this part of the world!

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PS The Comune’s archive is held instead in the school opposite the library.

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4 thoughts on “The Angel of Our Great Bagni di Lucca Library

  1. Francis, You are as ever a beacon of humanist culture, deep historical knowledge,
    liberal intelligence and user-friendly geniality. Thank you.

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