Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Books, books everywhere... but not libraries

A walk through Turin's downtown reveals a thriving book culture. There are many dozens of independent bookstores, of all stripes, from those specializing in elegant tomes of art and architecture to one that carries books on the theme of "taste": books on wine, chocolate, cheese. There are bookstores that are in elegant stores with gorgeous wood shelves, and there are bookstores that pile their books on tables in the wide walkways of the downtown.

A book on Turin bookstores lists 69 stores. It also lists 26 libraries, but they are barely recognizable as libraries in the American sense. To begin with, they have few users, and not much space for people. Next, entering them is intimidating. Not only do you have to have a library card to check out books, in some cases you have to show your card to enter the library. There are many that do not have open shelves, or as I found in the gorgeous "royal library" in the center of town, the books are locked behind glass. The catalog of that library is not only on cards, they are written by hand. Admittedly, this is a library of historical interest, an archive. It holds the famous self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, and two of the three solid wood desks at the library are taken up with giant computer screens where you can look at a digitized image of the page, enlarge it and even turn the image sideways. No, I don't know why you'd want to, but there it is.

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