Bologna the wise – putting my librarian hat on.

After a hard, but very interesting day, I let my dress standards drop as I relax on top of Torre Prendiparte. Enrica keeps hers.

Bologna is not one of the cities in Italy tourists usually go and see.  It is not part of the ‘Rome-Florence-Venice’ route that is standard for visitors.  But if people have a chance it is worth a visit. It is a vibrant city, with plenty of medieival and reneissance buildings.  It it always been seem as one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, but also its most left leaning, mostly having had Communist – Party of the Left administrations after the war.  Most Australians may be unaware of connections to Bologna with their food. Spaghetti Bolognaise is the most obvious, although this dish is not named like this here ( you’d have to ask for a Ragù) also tortellini, and mortadella comes from this city. That is why in Italy Bologna is sometimes labelled ‘Bologna la grassa’ Bologna the fat, because of its abundant food and gastronomic traditions.

But Bologna is also known as ‘Bologna la dotta’ that is Bologna the wise.  That is because it is an university town, having what is reputadly the oldest university in the western world starting in 1088.

Last year, Enrica, a librarian from Bologna University came to Melbourne University to work for a while as part of her professional development.  Obvioulsly I started to ask about Italian academic libraries. As an Italian born librarian I was really interested in the subject, and I told her that if my trip in Italy eventuated, I’d love to visit the University of Bologna libraries.  I also mentioned in passing that if she wanted to talk to her colleagues about any aspects of what we were doing at Melbourne University I’d be happy to do so, even if it would not be an ‘official’ mission from The University of Melbourne.

Initially I thought this would involve a chat with librarians in a meeting room. But it evolved in a talk in a classroom with an email going around all librarians at the University inviting them to hear me.  They were interested in the area of Information Literacy ( the ability to seach, evaluate and use information) I must admit that this was somewhat daunting. My Italian is quite fluent, but I’ve never used it to explain library issues, as of course, my work is done in English.

Because it was my partner’s birthday we decided to lash out and stay somewhere ‘special’. Carolina, the Italian travel agent in Melbourne, suggested we could stay in one of the medieval towers in the centre of the city.  Torre Prendiparte.  Bologna had lots of towers as every noble family built one, trying to outdo each other in height (which reminded me of Dubai, which had the tallest building in the world, but some other country already planning a taller one). As medieaval families do, they would feud with each other and catapult missiles of various types at each other’s towers. Some of these remains, and in the early 70’s the father of the current owner bought the tower, which was in an abandoned state and started renovating it.  This was then taken up by his son who now runs it a a unique B&B.  As the tower is 61m tall, fortunately the living quarters are on the bottom three floors.  But Matteo, the owner, took us up to the top, with steep wooden stairs to give us a breathtaking view of the city.

The tower was also fascinating as one of the floors was a prison in the 1700’s. Bologna was part of the Papal State, so basically its ruler was the Pope.  You can see paintings made by the prisoners as they were held in the cell.  They would scrape the bricks from the floor, create brick dust, mix it with urine and create a makeshift paint which proved to be surprisingly durable.

I left my partner in her tower, like a princess, when at 9 am I was picked up by Enrica. We travelled to the University ( and throughout the day to go from library to library) with the most common way of transport in Bologna, a bicycle. Most of the bicycles are old and battered because new ones would attract thieves so it’s not worth travelling with new, or expensive ones.  Even if the bicycle was a bit small for me, the trips were very brief and I loved travelling amongst Bologna’s traffic like a true local. And as someone who does commute by bicycle to the Library every day in Melbourne, I liked the idea of doing it here.

The day was intense but really informative. Probably is not the place of this blog to give the ins and outs of library policies etc. (this will be in a report I will do at work). Sufficient to say that while I was interested in the differences, I was more struck by the similarities, such as dealing with subscriptions price hikes, the fact that even some advanced students do not have the skills to seach effectively, and the difficulties of getting academics interested in Information Literacy.

During my talk (which went very well, I got good feedback from people who attended – thank you PowerPoint) it was interesting to hear chuckles of recognition when I mentioned these facts.

So a great day overall. Personally, subconscouly, I realise that I’ve always wanted to somehow link my Australian being with my Italian origins. The fact that I was able to deliver a talk in Italian to my peers who work in one of the most prestigious Italian universities, about my work in Australia has certainly done that.

1 Comment

Filed under Musings

One response to “Bologna the wise – putting my librarian hat on.

  1. Thank you for sharing this about Bologna, tourist should be more aware that there more than Venice, Florence and Rome. Come to Bologna

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