Italy takes part in the network of collaborations initiated by the National Library of Israel, more specifically with the “I-TAL-YA Books” project that started a few years ago from the cooperation of UCEI (the Union of Italian Jewish Communities) with the National Central Library of Rome and the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, thanks to the contribution of the Jewish Cultural Heritage Foundation of Italy. The goal, as reported in the past in many of our articles, is to create a unified catalogue of all the Jewish books present in the national territory. The project involves thousands of volumes.
Manuscripts, incunabula and ancient texts have thus become available both to scholars and the general public. They can be found in the digital Teca of the National Library of Rome, that was also adapted into Hebrew for the purpose. “This is an important and exciting initiative, in the sign of a strong interconnection between different realities”, said to Pagine Ebraiche Stefano Campagnolo, current director of the National Central Library of Rome, during a conference dedicated to State libraries in Lazio and Tuscany held recently at the headquarters of the former UCEI Bibliographic Center.
Jerusalem also showed its support. Oren Weinberg, the director of the National Library of Israel, during his speech for the Jewish Book Festival organized by Meis (the National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah in Ferrara) highlighted the ability of all the parties involved to create networks: “I am sure that the excellent relations established between the cataloguing office of the Library of Israel and the cataloguing and technical teams in Italy will allow us to successfully carry out this project, which expands by welcoming many other collections of communities and institutions all throughout Italy.”
The Teca\ Jewish Books currently offers only the first results of this effort. But, as explained on the website in a designated space, “the process of identification, partial digitization and cataloging continues at a rapid pace”. They commit to update the catalog every two months, until reaching its completion “with approximately 35/40,000 volumes from about 40 libraries”.
“In general, I-TAL-YA Books has two characteristics that I would like to emphasize. On the one hand, it will allow us to discover, in the forty libraries examined, volumes that represent important pieces of the history of the Jewish culture in Italy”, Gloria Arbib, the UCEI reference for the project, said while making a first assessment, at the beginning of 2022, after the cataloguing of over 10,000 volumes.
“The other element is linked to the libraries: we ask them to make the volumes available to our photographers and in return we give them a partially digital collective catalog. This is a useful tool for scholars that will thus be able to decide, for example, where to borrow or view a particular book. We therefore value the libraries themselves and their heritage”.
Moreover, she adds, the project represents a possibility for Jewish and non-Jewish institutions to put their inventories in order and secure their book heritage. “We know that these volumes could be stolen, it’s a risk. And it has already happened in the past. Listing them in our system prevents these volumes from disappearing without leaving any trace”.
Translated by Annadora Zuanel, revised by Martina Bandini, students at the Secondary School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.