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The hidden treasures in Italian Libraries

The ceiling in the reading room of the Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome.
The ceiling in the reading room of the Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome. Photo by Susan Wright for The New York Times

David Laskin’s article in yesterday’s New York Times gave a delectable overview of some of Italy’s historical libraries as not only keepers of intellectual treasures but as physical spaces to carry out research. While web portals such as Europeana or Internet Culturale are bringing us closer to Europe’s rare books and primary resources, conducting archival research in renaissance libraries such as the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, the Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome, or the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana designed by Michelangelo in Florence will never be completely replicated online.

UC Berkeley may not have paintings by Titian or Veronese decorating its reading rooms, but it is home to one of the most significant Italian collections on the West Coast with medieval manuscripts, incunabula, and early modern works in The Bancroft Library, and an extraordinary collection of 19th and 20th century Italian books and journal runs in the Main Stacks. The Library collects in all divisions of Italian history and literature, from the medieval and renaissance periods to the present. For the 20th and 21st centuries, the collection tends to focus more heavily on new literature(s), literary and cultural theory, cinema, historiography, Italian colonial presence in Africa, national and regional identity politics, and comparative studies with other Romance traditions. The Art History/Classics Library in Doe, the Hargrove Music Library, and the Environmental Design Library are all places on campus where the Italian collection continues to thrive.

Biblioteca Marciana
Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. Photo by Claude Potts

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