Saturday, April 14, 2012

Biblioteca Vicenzo Bellini - Catania's children's library

Childhood memories of belonging to the bookworm club at my local public library lead me to seek some kind of equivalent here in Sicily. So of course I was delighted to discover that a public library with a children's section does exist in Catania - Biblioteca Vicenzo Bellini. The photos on the website showed an inviting reading nook with colorful chairs and enough shelves to explore that it tempted me to find the place. My husband (and many other Catanese I have since discovered) did not quite believe in its existence -- but let me tell you, it really does exist!

The library is centrally located right off of northern via Etnea, just before the circonvalazione di Catania. Signage for the 'bibloteca communale' points the way down a tiny alley that leads to a large courtyard and the library itself. After speaking with the librarians at the front desk I discovered there is even a lending policy: two books per person for a four week period. This was a bit of shock considering that on my visits to the US I am able to check out 50 books at a time.

But on seeing the cute little kids room it was clear why so few books could be lent at a time -- there just aren't that many books in the collection. While it makes one feel bad that the library clearly does not have much of a budget for new acquisitions, the small scale means the space is really manageable for the little ones and there is none of that overwhelming feeling that I usually experience back home. We quickly discovered there are plenty of wonderful books for a kid and his mom to peruse and there is something nice about being limited to just four special books a visit (2 with my card, 2 with my son's card).

Other facts I have noticed since starting our library visits:
-very few small children seem to use the library. We either have the place entirely to ourselves, or at most one other child has shared the space with us.
-there are about 10 children's books in English in the otherwise Italian collection.
-checking books out is slow, since part of the process is logged by hand.
-the library will call you if you are late in returning your books.
-the vast majority of people who seem to use the library are high school students, and there are usually quite a few of them occupying the tables and hanging around outside.

When the kids start running laps around the room we know the visit is over. We deposit the selected books with the librarian and set them free in the open courtyard while the books are being checked out. Three huge trees shade half of the space, supplying large trunks for tree hugging, and mounds of leaves and sticks. The other half is open but with grassy spots and wild flowers blooming from cracks in the pavement and hanging over rails. The remains of an old volcanic stone wall is the finishing touch for an authentic Catanese vibe.

We really enjoy these relaxing outings on our own and with friends and the library books have a special spot on our bookshelf at home. Here's what came home with us this visit: Cacca pupu by Stephanie Blake, Look Inside the City: a book full of surprises and The Class Painter by G. Brian Karas.


  1. Lets meet up here one day! Thanks for sharing this....I actually had a friend send this link to me. She didn't realize that we were friends but it made me smile to see that she knew I would be happy to see this and I am :)

  2. I wish I had found your blog sooner. The library would have been a fun place to visit this week. I found all your information on acitrezza sicily and hope to visit tomorrow. Thanks, Kelleyn


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