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The Italian Parliamentary Library

The following post is written by Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress.

The Italian Parliamentary Library is composed of two libraries: the Senate Library and the Chamber of Deputies Library. Together they make up the Italian Joint Parliamentary Library (Polo Bibliotecario Parlamentare), the largest parliamentary library in Europe.

The Senate Library (also called the “Giovanni Spadolini” Library) was founded in 1848 in Turin. Since 2003, the Senate Library has been housed in a building looking on to Piazza della Minerva, just behind the Pantheon. The Library’s role is to provide support to the Senate but is also accessible to the general public. It holds about “700,000 modern and contemporary books, pamphlets and other printed documents, 80 incunabula, 2,000 editions from the 16th century, 8,000 maps, 850 manuscripts, and 2,000 autograph items.” The Library also holds 3,500 periodical titles (Italian and foreign), 400 newspapers (Italian and foreign), and the “holdings of the Statutes of Italian Comuni and other bodies, from the late Middle Ages until modern time.”

Senate Library/ Photo by author.

The Library of the Chamber of Deputies, which was also founded in 1848, holds about 1.4 million books, 1,800 current periodicals, and more than one hundred databases. Much like the U.S. Library of Congress (albeit at a much smaller scale), its collection includes topics such as law, history, economics, political science, the history of political institutions, legislative documents and parliamentary records from Italy and other countries. It acts as the research organ of the Chamber of Deputies.

A partial view of a room at the interior of the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ Library. Source: Parliamento Italiano, https://storia.camera.it/palazzi/palazzo-via-del-seminario/sala-del-refettorio/sala-del-refettorio-3#noNav.

A book on the history of the Library of the Italian Chamber of Deputies called Libri, Lettori e Bibliotecari a Montecitorio. Storia della Biblioteca della Camera dei Deputati[Books, Readers and Librarians at Montecitorio. History of the Library of the Chamber of Deputies] (Milano, Wolters Kluwer—Cedam, 2019), by Fernando Venturini, was recently published in Italy as a part of the “Quaderni di Nomos” series. The book’s author visited the Law Library of Congress in 2017 while in the midst of writing his book. During his visit, he had the opportunity to access and appreciate several items in the collection highlighting the contributions of certain groups to the history of the Library of Congress, including: Women in Congress, 1917-2006; Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012, and Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1977. He later had this to say about the Law Library collection:

While I was writing my book on the history of the Chamber of Deputies Library, I searched for books on the history of other parliamentary libraries, but only found a few. It was then when I took notice of these great publications by the Library of the United States Congress [referring to our aforementioned books], which are an example of the biographical approach to parliamentary history, which contains a particularly useful approach in the case of “minorities” because it reveals their progressive integration to parliamentary life and hence to society. In addition, these publications helped me understand that some aspects – such as the not always easy relationship between the library as a collection and library as a research center, and, consequently, the birth of the Congressional Research Service — were set in the United States much earlier than in European parliaments.

In general, I tried to give particular emphasis to the relationship between the events of the Library and Italian political and parliamentary history. I also followed the biographical approach, constantly stressing the role of those who led the Library throughout its history. Finally, during my writing process, I always had in mind that one of the most effective tools to defend public institutions in a democracy is to cultivate their history. History brings institutions closer to citizens because it makes them understand that they are not far from the life of the nation but are an active part of it. (Quoted with permission of Mr. Venturini. Translation by author.) 

This is a good example of how continuous cooperation and contact with our colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic can lead to fruitful results and give life to our vast combined bibliographical resources!

Additional Resources

The Library of Congress has three additional bibliographical items dealing with the history of the Italian parliamentary library:

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