Italian Officials Respond to Massive Library Theft with Some Needed Help

- by Michael Stillman

Girolaminiinside

Inside the Girolamini Library.

Sometimes, good can arise from the bad. One of the largest book heists in decades unraveled over the past year. An Italian library, The Girolamini Library in Naples, was the victim of a theft estimated at 4,000 books with a value in the millions of dollars. It was an inside job. The leader is alleged to be Massimo De Caro. He was the library's director. His appointment came through the state's cultural ministry. It appears that Mr. De Caro, who faked some of his credentials, was appointed more for political connections than because he was in any way suited for the task. He came with a shady past, and connections to people who operate on the other side of the law. Some of them worked inside the library with him.

Particularly disturbing, it is alleged that a priest (the Girolamini is Church related), who is the library's curator, turned off the alarm system at night so De Caro could remove books. The Priest has claimed he thought the director was just taking them out quietly in the dark of night so he could tidy the place up during the day.

For details about this story, which appeared in last month's edition of AE Monthly, click here. 

A few weeks ago, whether out of a sense of need and importance, or out of shame and embarrassment at its lax oversight, the cultural ministry decided it was time to help the libraries. Italian Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi announced that they would be contributing €6.6 million (about $8.4 million in U.S. dollars) to assist various libraries with security and upkeep. It is not limited to the Girolamini. Some 20 libraries will be participating in the funding, but the Girolamini Library is among them. Their need is obvious. In a statement, Mr. Ornaghi described the libraries as “a central element and a strategic factor for the entire Italian cultural system.” Along with improving security, funds will be used for such things as repairing structural problems with the physical buildings, improving internal climate conditions, and even dealing with insects that are destroying old books.

The role of libraries in society is changing, and will continue to change. For centuries, there was little change, as the printed book (and other printed material) was the primary means of communicating information and preserving knowledge. That is no longer the case. However, libraries remain our primary repository of history, and continue to play a vital role in the spreading of knowledge. Their preservation is critical to our culture and our knowledge, and their preservation essential, even as they seek to redefine their role. This is a positive step by Italian officials, even if it took some very unpleasant events to help them see the light.