As a part of the course in International Librarianship, we visited the Biblioteca de San Giorgio in Pistoia, Italy. The trip there took us about thirty minutes by train. We decided to add the library to our itinerary after it was recommended so highly by the Information Resource Center at the U.S. Embassy. After arriving, we found ourselves in a medium-sized city, and we immediately noticed the coolness in the air and a welcomed breeze. After a week of enduring 100 plus degree temperatures, the coolness was refreshing and reinvigorating. After a short walk through the town, we arrived at the library.
The library building is large and industrial, without being imposing. Modern artwork is visible from front window displays. Upon entering the front doors, we reached a large entryway with a circulation desk immediately in front of us and a digital projection of the library’s website above that.
After looking around for a few minutes, we were energetically greeted by the library director. She welcomed us by saying, “We are so proud of our library. We want you to fall in love with it, too.” And fall in love I did.
The director briefly explained the library’s mission and that even though they are very proud of what they have been able to accomplish since opening in 2007, the library is still a work in progress. In many ways, it seems like the library staff will always view their library in this way.
The Biblioteca San Giorgio was built in an abandoned building that used to house a factory. The library director explained that since many of Pistoia’s residents are employed in factory or other industrial jobs, this was the correct choice for the community’s public library. In many ways, the building celebrates the culture of the community. This symbolism is extended throughout the library because there is a lot of brick and steel in the architecture of the building, which invokes the style of an old factory. Thoughtfully, signage throughout the library has been painted in the same font that was employed in the original factory. One of the most important parts of symbolism in a library is the message it sends to users. These symbols signify to users that this place is designed for them.
When we entered the main gallery of the library, we saw a small olive tree. Our guide informed us that it was meant to symbolize knowledge. This was a powerful symbol because it reflects the community it serves. The tree is actively growing. It is relatively small right now, but the room it is held in is large. There is room for expansion and growth.
After concluding our visit, it became clear to me that the San Giorgio public library clearly understood that symbolism is powerful, and to use it effectively could send powerful messages. I was impressed with what I saw there, and I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about their vision and incredibly execution.