By: Guest Blogger Rossana Morriello, Research Support Librarian, Politecnico di Torino, Italy
Here we are again, in our second lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic. In Italy, the first lockdown finished in May and all activities could reopen as long as they guaranteed the necessary safety measures. In the summer, many people (too many!) acted as if the risk had disappeared. We saw squares in the cities full of young people meeting, beaches full of people of any age, many people travelling through Italy or abroad, shopping malls crowded. Despite the fact that we had been warned by experts that the virus would just soothe temporarily and then come back in winter. This is exactly what happened. Therefore, a new law on November 3 put again the country in lockdown. This time the level of lockdown is different according to regions. We have three colours graduating the level of lockdown, red, orange, yellow, where red is the strictest with almost all shops closed. The colour can change if the situation of the hospitals and the number of people sick with Covid rises or decreases, but as for the current situation it probably will soon turn into a total red for all regions. Cultural activities have been closed in the entire country whatever the colour of the region is, and so are libraries.
The first lockdown was accepted by most people as necessary, but the second one is creating more debate because of the way it is organized which looks quite confusing. For example, among the shops that have been considered “essential” and could stay open, we can find perfumeries, herbalists, hairdressers, sport shops. On the contrary, restaurants and bars can open only until 6 p.m. This puts the economy in a very difficult situation. Among the goods that are considered “essential” are books, so that bookshops can open. But libraries cannot. So the book is a fundamental good but only if you pay for it. This decision was perceived as nonsense by most librarians, also because libraries were already fully equipped to guarantee safety conditions. Therefore, the President of the Italian Library Association, Rosa Maiello, promptly wrote an open letter to all the interested Ministries titled “Books are ‘essential goods’ and libraries close?,” underlining the absurdity of the situation. The letter states how libraries are fundamental for the preservation of memory and the cultural heritage, and stresses the fact that they lend books for free, so allowing all kinds of people without distinction to access culture.
Libraries are an act of democracy since they allow access to culture without barriers of any kind, including economic barriers. Particularly in these times in which many people are losing their jobs or having financial uncertainty, libraries have a key role. We saw it during the first lockdown – the letter adds – when libraries showed themselves as the most “resilient” institutions, able to adapt to the situation and to keep on offering their services in a remote mode. Nonetheless, their role is hardly recognized, and governors have always neglected them.
The letter has been relaunched by many other cultural institutions, journals and national newspapers and some petitions have been opened to subscribers asking to reopen libraries. No formal (or informal) answer has arrived from the government until now, but on November 13 the Ministry of Culture sent a letter to the libraries relating to this ministry to specify that still libraries must be closed; they can keep on offering services in remote mode and also loans if safety is guaranteed. In the meantime, many libraries had already started to organize loans as they could, for example, using boxes outside the library where books can be collected and returned, or moving the service inside bookshops or even supermarkets. For sure, librarians are very passionate and aware of the importance of their mission, particularly in these difficult times in which, besides students and researchers who need to study, a book can be a real comfort for many people, an essential warm relief that must be guaranteed to all.