Has your sojourn abroad got you missing that favorite local library back home? Whether you’re a student conducting research, a traveler in search of the latest destination guidebooks, or just an old-fashioned bibliophile, you’ll find the city of Florence offers a variety of libraries to suit your interests.
The Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (BNCF) is a full-service lending library housing over five million printed volumes. This library’s rich collection, originating with the Antonio Magliabechi bequest in the early 1700s, covers all areas of Italian culture and is considered one of the most important libraries in all of Italy. The sala dei periodici contains an extensive selection of periodicals, several of which are American and English. English-language volumes are present throughout the BNCF, rather than housed in one specific area.
As is common with Italian libraries, there are no open shelves to peruse at the BNCF, which makes for a somewhat austere atmosphere. Searching the catalogs is instead the standard modus operandi. After consulting a catalog, requests for books are made at the distribution desk (banco della distribuzione), where up to three items can taken for consultation into the reading room (sala di lettura). Only two books at a time can be checked out of the library for a period of up to 30 days.
The general catalogs are accessible online via the library’s website (See Library Info Box), and users in possession of the membership card, or tessera utente, may request items electronically to later be retrieved at the banco. Requests can even be made for specific days.
The Biblioteca Nazionale grants lending privileges to residents in the Provincia of Tuscany, and to foreign students whose term of study is at least one year. Access is otherwise restricted, meaning that all visitors must be in possession of the tessera utente to enter. Upon entry, large purses, backpacks, and cameras must be deposited in the lockers provided. Bringing in books from outside the library is strictly prohibited.
To obtain the tessera utente, take your passport and a passport-size photo to the ufficio ammissione, where your application will be processed. Also available is a one-time visitor pass, the tessera visitatore, which allows consultation access only.
For Anglo-Americans, a more traditional ambience prevails at The British Institute of Florence’s Harold Acton Library, a beautiful facility established in the early twentieth century. English-speaking sojourners will appreciate this library’s vast collection: The majority of their 50 thousand volumes are in English, one of the largest such collections in Italy. Subject areas include Art History, English and Italian History, travel and music.
The BIF Library’s open shelves cover three floors of the sixteenth century Palazzo Lanfredini. Some special collections, however, are restricted to those scholars and researchers presenting a letter of request from an academic institution. In the elegant upper rooms, one can study or relax with a newspaper or periodical subscribed to by the Library, while the ground floor is home to an additional study and reading area, complete with desks and electronic outlets for laptops. (No Internet is available in this room.)
Several membership options are possible at the BIF Library, including family, student, and life memberships, at varying rates. (Take your passport and a passport-size photo when you join). Use of the multi-media room is available at an additional fee. The British Institute of Florence Library also functions as a cultural center, hosting an ever-fascinating and diverse lecture series, followed by film viewings, on Wednesday evenings.
English mother-tongue and bilingual families will enjoy the Children’s Lending Library at St. James’s Church. This volunteer-run library, located in a quaint, welcoming space in the church undercroft, began as a kind of book club among American and English mothers living in Florence in the 1970s. Through donations and fundraising activities, the library has evolved to an impressive collection of children’s literature and video titles, all in English. Dr. Seuss and Nancy Drew, Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket are but a few of the familiar characters you will encounter while browsing these shelves.
The membership policy at the Children’s Library is friendly and reasonable. For residents of Florence, a 15 Euro donation grants borrowing privileges of five books to each family member, for a period of two weeks. Up to three videos may be borrowed at a time, also for two weeks. Short-term, non-resident visitors to Florence are asked to leave a refundable deposit on items borrowed during their stay in the city.
Opening hours at the Children’s Library are limited, yet the wide selection of books and pleasant atmosphere will make fitting in a visit in during these times worthwhile, for young ones and parents alike.
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze
Piazza dei Cavalleggeri, 1
055 24919 1
Hours: Monday to Friday 8:15 a.m.
to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The British Institute of Florence
Lungarno Guicciardini, 9
055 2677 8270
Hours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The Children’s Lending Library
St. James’s Church
Via B. Rucellai, 9 055 577 527 / 055 714 779
Hours: Wednesdays 10 a.m. to noon and 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 – 1:30