Archivist Burkely Hermann takes us on a mini-tour of libraries in Florence and Venice
I have a new year’s treat for y’all! I am featuring another guest post by Burkely Hermann, who contributed a couple of guest posts in 2021 about BIPOC librarians and BIPOC archivists in animated series, and another guest post in 2022 analyzing the breakout witchy librarian in Hilda.
Burkely asked to contribute a guest post about libraries he recently visited in Italy, and I thought this would fit with previous posts on this blog about similar real-life outings, such as when I visited the Vancouver Public Library in British Columbia and when I visited the Oregon Film Museum. As a real-life librarian, I LOVE traveling to and visiting other libraries, archives, and museums! Also, if you’re experiencing the winter blues right now, this might be a fun virtual vacation to indulge in by proxy. Enjoy!
Bellissime librerie!: Library tourism from Venezia to Burano
~ Guest post by Burkely Hermann
Buongiorno! After getting my degree from library school in December 2019, I’ve been occasionally going to libraries, sometimes as a patron, and other times as a tourist. The latter was the case in Italy, where I went on a vacation with my parents, in September 2022. I traveled there, in part, to visit a town called Casola, in the mountains above Parma, where my cousins own a trattoria. It’s also where my great-grandfather and his siblings were born, and lived, some of whom immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. In this post, I won’t focus on my expanded albero genealogico (family tree), but rather on my library tourism, as it could be called, during my trip in Italy. For the first part of my trip, I stayed in an agritourismo in the suburbs of Firenze, often known as Florence, a beautiful city in Northern Italy. Multiple times I attempted to enter a biblioteca (library) in the center of the city, known as the Laurentian Medici Library. The first time I tried, I was told by the attendant that the library was only open to students. The second time, I was informed that the library was “permanently closed.” Whether that is still the case, I’m not sure, but I believe it probably is. Later on in the trip, I attempted to enter the Galileo Museum library, in downtown Firenze. Unfortunately, I was turned away, by a nice middle-aged Italian librarian who was working there, and told that the library was only for researchers. Through all of this, I somehow overlooked the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. That library, also known as the National Central Library of Florence, is located on the Arno River.
It wasn’t until September 18 that I visited my first library of sorts, in Venezia (Venice), Italy. It was within the Correr Museum on St. Mark’s Square. There were various library rooms filled with books and collections for tourists to examine. Some were rooms filled with artifacts collected by Francesco Morosini, Bessarion, and Venezia itself, like globes, manuscripts, and other items.
The next day, with my mom and dad, I visited the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, also known as the Marciana Library or Library of Saint Mark, which is inside the Correr Museum. Run by the Italian Ministry of Culture, it holds thousands of manuscripts, about one million post-16th century books, and many other artifacts, like globes, maps, and sculptures. While it is more of a museum than a library, it still has many library features. This includes pamphlets on a table which were labeled “for reference only” and beautiful paintings on the ceilings, in-keeping with Italian art. Some rooms were built by Joseph Sansovino, a famous Venetian architect.
A mangy library cat and the Venetian isle of Burano
On September 20, my next-to-last day in Italy, I traveled to Burano, an island near Venezia known for its colorful houses. It is a very tourist-centered island geared towards those who want to buy clothing, especially clothing with handmade lace, something the island is known for. A mangy, black cat guided me to a public library! It was almost like a dream. The library’s official website says the library, which is accessible to people with disabilities, has a “total of 5 rooms, 3 of which are reserved as reading rooms with 50 seats.” It is part of the Venice Library system.
Not long after entering, my mom, dad, and I met an elderly Italian woman who was helpful, even though she knew very little English. She seemed to be the librarian on duty, helped by another Italian woman who was about the same age, sitting behind an information desk. On the wall in another room was an Italian-language version of the Dewey Decimal System. Both library workers were friendly and embodied an attitude of Italians I experienced throughout my vacation in Northern Italy: Italians want you to understand what they are saying, even if you speak very little Italian.
The librarian showed us around the small library, noting their collections, and what services they had to offer, such as a children’s corner. This even included a bathroom. While that might seem strange, elsewhere in Italy, you had to pay one Euro to use the bathroom, equivalent to about one U.S. dollar. In this library, the bathroom was open and could be used free-of-charge.
The library seemed like a place that Lady Elianna Bernstein or Myne, protagonists of Bibliophile Princess and Ascendance of a Bookworm respectfully, would be at home. However, both would probably complain that there weren’t enough books, even if they were enthralled with books about town’s history, teen fiction, or even children’s picture books. Myne would likely be overjoyed by the latter, since she tasked kids at a local orphanage with creating such books, in the anime series, in an attempt to make free books available. She did so despite pushback from her sponsor-of-sorts, a city merchant named Benno, who wanted to sell books rather than giving them out for free. My parents and I were likely some of the only – or maybe even the first – tourists to enter the library in Burano. Many probably walk past it, as they’d rather shop or see the recommended sites. They might be thrown off by the mangy cat or the library itself. After all, black cats are, unfortunately, seen as bad luck, as witches in disguise, or many other silly superstitions. For me, the black cat was, in a sense, a form of good luck, as I wouldn’t have found the library if I hadn’t followed the cat! In order to respect the privacy of the librarians, I decided to not take their photographs. Instead, I only took photos of the library itself. In fact, I took all the photos displayed in this post.
There were no witchy librarians like Kaisa in Hilda, nor any like Clara Rhone in Welcome to the Wayne. That didn’t matter. What was important is the fact that the library was there with services to help the community. I remain optimistic that those in the community use the library to learn more about the island they live on, the world in-large, and themselves, becoming more informed citizens in the process.
Bibliotourism + its benefits
While visiting libraries in Italy did not give me culture shock, it gave me a glimpse into how libraries in Italy function and serve patrons. That is something I believe is valuable. Some have praised library tourism, also known as “bibliotourism,” or argued that “public libraries should be a tourist destination the way museums are” since libraries are a reflection of the community they serve. Others even created blogs about this form of tourism, like The Library Tourist, considered integrating libraries in “the tourism sector,” or called bibliotourism the “next big trend.”
Whether any of that is the case, the fact is that library tourism must be done respectfully without imposing one’s culture and beliefs onto another. Although this doesn’t always happen, as the trend continues, as libraries become tourist attractions, and some tourists are downright snobbish. Ultimately, library tourism is inevitable since libraries play an important role in tourism. Some even believe that since libraries interconnect with tourism, they can promote sustainable development in countries such as China. In any case, visiting a library as a tourist, and even better, as a patron, can allow you to experience the space, the architecture, and understand the library’s role in the society in which it resides.
While I was a tourist in Italy, along with my parents, I was also a patron, as I used available library services. It is possible for someone to be a patron and a tourist. Doing so is more respectful than coming into a library on a whim, taking some photos and leaving, then going on your merry way, without a care in the world. Library tourism is possible despite the continually raging COVID-19 pandemic, causing library practices to change. The latter includes renewed efforts to serve those coming to a library as tourists, in addition to serving patrons from the local community.
In the end, as I continue through my career, I plan to visit libraries, not just as a tourist, but as a patron, understanding the role that the libraries I’m entering play in the local community, while respecting those who work at the libraries, and fellow patrons.
A bit about Burkely:
Burkely Hermann is an archivist and researcher who works for the National Security Archive (NSA) as a metadata librarian and indexer. He graduated from University of Maryland with an MLIS degree with a concentration in Archives & Digital Curation in December 2019, and earned a B.A. in Political Science, minoring in history, in May 2016 from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He is currently a member of the Society of American Archivists Issues & Advocacy Steering Committee and I&A Blog Coordinator for the Issues & Advocacy section blog. He often writes about libraries on his blog Pop Culture Library Reviewand about archives on his blog Wading Through The Cultural Stacks. He presently writes pop culture reviews, mainly of animated series, for Pop Culture Maniacs and elsewhere. He also occasionally researches his family roots and puts together a newsletter on Substack. He has been published in the American Archivist Reviews Portal, the SNAP Roundtable, Issues & Advocacy, Neurotastic, I Love Libraries, and the NSA website. In his spare time, he volunteers as a National History Day judge. He also likes hiking, reading webcomics, watching animated series, and reading books. He can be found on various social media sites, from Twitter to Instagram.
Exploring readers’ top viewed posts + my favorite posts from the past year
Happy New Year! Before launching into the new year, I wanted to take a quick look back at favorite posts from the past year. First, I will highlight the most viewed posts I wrote and published this past year, and then I will go into detail about my own personal favorite posts from this past year. There is a bit of overlap between the two lists — always a pleasant surprise and unplanned, because I always make my list of my own personal favorite posts first. I hope you enjoy revisiting these posts!
Reader’s choice: Top 5 viewed posts published in 2022
This post had the most views of ANY post this past year, so I felt like it deserved a shout-out, even though it was a post published at the end of December 2021.
Librarian’s choice: Top 5 personal favorite posts published in 2022
The majority of my picks below are presented in chronological order.
From Feb. 2022: A research quest in ‘Winter’s Tale’ (2014) + how to tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche
Winter’s Tale is a weird movie, y’all. I truly thought I was hallucinating while watching parts of this movie (e.g., Russell Crowe’s TERRIBLE Irish accent, Will Smith popping up out of the blue). I did not expect to go as deep as I did while watching and analyzing this movie. I thought it would be a short post, but the entire movie revolves around a research quest, so there were several different library and archives-related elements to that quest to analyze. I also unexpectedly ended up outlining the major differences between microfilm and microfiche, because this movie carelessly (and cluelessly?) mixed up the two. Enjoy revisiting me getting all CAPSY on my microforms soap box! 😉
From May 2022: Reader poll write-up, Spring 2022 | A reel librarian gets shushed in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)
I really enjoyed re-reading this post — yes, I re-read my own posts! In this reader poll post, I shine a light into the dark and disturbing corners of this classic Audrey Hepburn movie, but I also highlight bits of joy in this movie, including Holly’s utter delight in learning about the card catalog system and seeing her friend’s name and book included in the library. “There you are, right in the public library!”
From Summer 2022: All the round-ups of library, archives, and reel librarian scenes in the MCU
Maybe it’s cheating to include 5 posts in one, but I think of the MCU series this past summer as one cohesive block. This past spring, after I watched and analyzed Wong in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I thought it would be a fun exercise to revisit all the MCU movies and catalog all the library, archives, and reel librarian scenes. I thought the project would be pretty easy — but I was WRONG. It was a lot of work, and I had to make a lot of decisions, like:
Should I present the movies in chronological order by when they were released, or in timeline order? (I ended up doing the former.)
Should I integrate the movies and TV series in Phase Four into one huge post, or separate them? (I chose the latter, separating them into two posts, one for the Phase Four movies, and one for the Phase Four TV series, thus far.)
Should I include the Spider-Man movies, which are owned by Sony? (I did, and I had to request them from my local public library, as the solo Spider-Man movies aren’t included in the Disney+ platform.)
Should I include the peripheral series and shorts, such as Agents of Shield and Daredevil? (I chose not to, for the time being.)
I also hadn’t realized how many MCU movies I had not gotten around to watching (or hadn’t watched very closely the first time). And I have to admit, watching and rewatching all the MCU TV series nearly broke me, y’all. And in the middle of the series, Marvel Studios revised its Phase Four slate, and provided details about Phases Five and Six! (As Phase Four is now officially closed, I will be revisiting and finishing off the MCU Phase Four posts next month, so stay tuned!)
With all these headaches, why did this series make my fave posts? Because, ultimately, these posts are the kind of posts that are really useful to do, as they serve as handy reference posts for future use. (Yes, I revisit my own posts for research purposes!) I think this is also a reason why a lot of my older posts continue to get lots of views, even years after they’re published, because they serve as reference posts for other readers, as well. And for your own handy reference, you can enjoy all the MCU-related posts from this summer collected below:
From Nov. 2022: Comparing the central librarian character in ‘Grindhouse’ (2003) vs. ‘All About Evil’ (2010)
As I started analyzing the reel librarians in the camp cult classic flick All About Evil (2010), I was thrilled to realize that the special edition BluRay that was released this past summer included director Joshua Grannell’s original inspiration, his short film Grindhouse (2003). I hadn’t planned on doing a bonus post, but I’m glad I did, as it was really fun to compare the two versions of the central reel librarian character, Deborah “Deb” Tennis, in different ways. I especially enjoyed thinking through how to best utilize the “image compare” graphic widget to help visually compare aspects of the two films.
From Dec. 2022: Reader poll write-up, Fall 2022 | ‘The Breakfast Club’ (1985) + its school library setting
I did NOT expect that two of my personal fave posts for the year would be reader poll write-up posts, but here we are again, with my write-up analysis of the teen angst classic, The Breakfast Club (1985). This was a really fun post to do! Although there is no reel librarian in this film, almost all of the movie takes place in the school library, so this was a different kind of post for me, as I focused primarily on the setting of the school library. It was an interesting challenging to think about how to structure the post. The propmasters for The Breakfast Club did an AMAZING job (and yes, it was a set, as I explain more about in the post), as it is one of the most realistic and detailed library sets I’ve ever seen onscreen. And I’ve seen a LOT of reel librarian movies, as y’all know. 😉
As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll — thanks again to everyone who voted in the poll! — I am analyzing the 1985 classic The Breakfast Club, and in particular, its school library setting. The Breakfast Club earned 75% of the reader poll votes, easily outpacing Good News (1947), Goodbye, Columbus (1969), and Personals (1990, TV movie). I rewatched this movie from my own personal VHS copy, as seen below.
There is no actual reel librarian in this “Brat Pack” coming-of-age movie, which means this movie lands in the Class V category, films with library scenes but no actual librarian characters. Almost the entire movie is set in a school library, so I found it a very interesting exercise to rewatch this movie and focus more on the background and library setting.
The film, written and directed by John Hughes (1950-2009), features five teenagers who serve detention together on a Saturday in the school library: “athlete” Andrew (Emilio Estevez); “criminal” John (Judd Nelson); “princess” Claire (Molly Ringwald); “basket case” Allison (Ally Sheedy); and “brain” Brian (Anthony Michael Hall). The cast list also includes the school principal, Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), and janitor Carl (John Kapelos).
Before detention, these teens know of each other, via their groups/stereotypes, but the film explores how they get to actually know each other. About 90% of the film takes place in the school library, so we also get to know this library setting very well. By the end of rewatching this movie, the school library setting felt as much of a supporting character as the school principal and janitor!
Film’s legacy & criticism
This movie was a legitimate hit in the year it was released, earning over $50 million worldwide. The film’s dialog and themes struck a chord in teenagers who felt seen in the movie, with their fears, trauma, and anxieties validated in a way that had rarely been explored in such depth before on the big screen. It was also respected critically at the time of its release, as well, earning praise from Roger Ebert for having “a surprisingly good ear for the way [teenagers] speak,” and Kathleen Carroll from the New York Daily News highlighting its “exceptional cast — who deserve top grades.”
Some critics, however, were not so generous; for example, critic James Harwood from Variety wrote that the movie “will probably pass as deeply profound among today’s teenage audience.” I laughed at this because that was true for me! When I was a teen, I did think this movie was very deep and profound! Watching this movie has become like a rite of passage into young adulthood for many teens. In this respect, this film has aged well, as a lot of the fears and anxieties that the teens express — pressure over getting good grades, pressure to fit in, pressure living up to your parents’ expectations, feeling like a pawn in-between squabbling parents, not knowing how to express your anxieties, etc. — still ring true today.
But other aspects of this film have NOT aged well, and need to be called out today as problematic, including, but not necessarily limited to: sexual harassment (Claire endures both slut-shaming and virgin-shaming); fatphobia (“That’s a fat girl’s name”); physical violence and abuse (Andrew’s reason for detention, the principal’s violent threat against a student); violation of personal privacy (the principal looks up students’ personal records without authorization, the janitor looks through students’ lockers); anti-LGBTQ+ slurs (the word “faggot” gets tossed around a lot); the blinding lack of diversity (everyone in this movie is White — in a film set in Chicago!!); and lack of accountability (sexual harasser John “gets the girl” at the end, yikes — and Judd Nelson also bullied Molly Ringwald off-screen). It can be uncomfortable to rewatch old favorites, and realize just how racist, misogynistic, and/or otherwise problematic they seem now — because the discomfort is really about how that reflects on you, right? But it’s necessary to sit with that discomfort and call it out. A movie can be both a beloved classic and simultaneously problematic in different ways. It’s necessary to recognize that we each contain multitudes, and that we can continue to grow and change. After all, isn’t that the ultimate point of this movie?
“Dear Mr. Vernon,
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us — in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.
Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club”
Opening and closing lines of The Breakfast Club (1985)
Filming locations & school library setting
John Hughes set many of his iconic films in and around Chicago, where he grew up. The Breakfast Clubtakes places at Shermer High School — the first shot of the entire film!
Shermer, Illinois, is also the setting in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983, written by Hughes), Sixteen Candles (1984), Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). “Shermerville” was the original name of the current town of Northbrook, Illinois, located north of Chicago, and the high school Hughes attended in real life, Glenbrook North High School, was located on Shermer Road.
The building used for Shermer High School was an actual school that had closed down in 1981, the Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, located northwest of Chicago. Maine North High School had opened in 1970, and the architectural style of blocky concrete is in the Brutalist style, which was a popular low-cost building option for schools and colleges from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Hughes had planned to shoot the film in the actual school library, but it was too small. Therefore, the school library set was constructed in the high school’s gymnasium, but the design of it was based on the school’s actual library. In fact, before rewatching this movie for this post, I was convinced that this movie had been filmed in a real school library, and I was shocked to discover that it was a set! I think it was a smart move to base it on an actual school library; the Shermer High School library is one of the most convincing school libraries I have ever seen onscreen!
School library spaces & collections
Below are the first and final views of the school library in the movie. It seemed fitting that the first view of the library space (at 5:43 mins) was filmed from the front perspective, and the final view of the library (at 1 hour and 34 mins) was filmed from the back perspective.
Click on any image to view in a larger window.
The shape of the school library is more or less a long rectangle, with squared-off corners like an emerald shape, with a ground floor plus a mezzanine level lining the sides and overlooking the ground floor. The layout is mostly symmetrical, with skylights mirroring each side of the mezzanine, exit doors at the back of the library on both levels, and two open staircases in the middle of the library on either side. A large clock anchors the center back of the mezzanine level. The central open space of the library has lounge seating, a large statue, and tables and chairs toward the front. Blue-ish fluorescent lighting lines the bottom of the mezzanine level.
Click on any image to view in a larger window.
The front part of the library consists of glass-panelled rooms, two rooms per level, set slightly higher the rest of the library and accessible by a ramp. A concrete staircase wraps around one side of this front section — yes, this school library has 3 staircases! The entrance to the library is asymmetrical, opening to the front right side, with a wrap-around counter and book return.
Click on any image to view in a larger window.
We get to see glimpses of the library’s resources, collections, and equipment throughout the movie — particularly during the “getting high” and dance sequences — including:
Current periodicals (e.g., magazines) and newspapers line the back wall on the ground floor
“Librarians selections” collections flank each back corner of the mezzanine level
Foreign language room on the mezzanine level
Tall bookcases line the walls of the library on both levels, along with lower, mid-height bookcases.
Listening booths (or possibly group study booths?) along the mezzanine level
Overhead projector tucked away in a corner on the mezzanine level
Map and atlas case in the center of the ground floor, below one of the staircases
Rolling book carts
Microform/film/fiche readers along one side of the ground level
Black-rimmed computers/OPACs on one side of the center ground level
Sound system room, with records and a microphone, in one of the front glassed-in rooms on the ground level
Reference storage room, with film reels and archival boxes, in the other front glassed-in room on the ground level
Group study rooms — or small classrooms? — on the top level of glassed-in rooms
Click on any image to view in a larger window.
Card catalogs & call numbers
This school library has an entire wall of card catalogs, with 3 separate card catalog units, as well as computers/OPACs (online public access catalogs). This feels accurate to me, as it reflects the transitional nature of the time period, when libraries had and used both the old-fashioned card catalogs as well as more modern computers. Card catalogs had drawers full of index cards, where you could look up resources in the library’s collection by Title, Author, or Subject Area.
The library also has a lot of signage, in blocky, black letters, on the walls to indicate the location of different collections and resources. This signage also reveals that the library uses the Dewey Decimal classification system, which is a common way for school libraries to organize their non-fiction collections. This system uses combinations of numbers in 10 main classes, from the 000s (General works) to the 900s (History and geography). In this movie, we see glimpses of the sections for Reference, General Works, Philosophy, History, and Language.
Click on any image to view in a larger window.
In a confessional scene between Allison and Andrew, we get more close-up glimpses of call numbers on the library books in the 900s area for history and geography. If you’re a regular reader (thank you!), then you’ll know that I look for call number stickers on books in library scenes and settings, because they are a tell-tale sign that indicates actual library books.
The IMDB.com trivia page also revealed that the the Chicago Public Library donated over 10,000 books for use in the movie!
We also see bits of realistic-looking posters around the library, including bulletin boards, a rainbow-colored “library” poster — I remember from my own childhood that my mom had one of these in her school library! — as well as a few large athletic shoe cut-outs that seem kind of random (but kind of realistically random, if that makes sense, like they’re part of a poster campaign from the athletic clubs or something). Props to the propmasters on this movie, as these kinds of details really add to the verisimilitude of this school library setting.
Click on any image to view in a larger window.
It’s also interesting to note that card catalog drawers also get a cameo outside the library! When the principal locks John in a storage room in his office, at 50 minutes into the film, we see an old set of card catalog drawers along the back wall.
A library by any other name…
The library is actually titled the “Learning Resource Center,” a common term/phrase used for school libraries, and this signage is visible at 17:10 minutes into the film on the outside of the front doors, along with the hours. The library is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and closed on the weekends — except when it’s being used for Saturday detention, of course.
And from my notes, Brian is the only character who actually says the word “library” out loud. At around 19 mins, Brian reveals that “the school comes equipped with fire exits at either end of the library.”
Of course, the brain of the group would say the word library, and know where the fire exits are, right?! 😉
Library vandalism & destruction
Throughout the movie, we witness how the students — mostly John the “criminal” — casually and nonchalantly destroy, vandalize, or otherwise meddle with library property and resources, including:
John pockets cards from the front counter as he enters the library, and later swipes everything off the front counter as he exits
John rips pages out a book (the ensuing conversation reveals that it’s a work by Molière, a French playwright)
John reshuffles cards in a card catalog drawer and also throws cards on the floor
John falls through the library ceiling (after escaping the principal’s storage room through the dropped ceiling)
Allison throws a piece of bologna onto the center statue during lunch (it falls off), and John later climbs atop the statue during the dance scene
Andrew screams and shatters the glass door for the “foreign language” room during the “getting high” scene
Can you imagine the school librarian(s) coming in Monday morning and having to deal with ripped-up books, shattered glass, and holes in the ceiling? And it will probably take weeks, if not longer, to find and fix/replace all the misfiled or missing cards. Does the principal use the school library for every Saturday detention, and does this kind of destruction happen every time?!
The principal boasts to the janitor that everyone likes him at the school, but I know one person at the school who likely does NOT like him — the school librarian!
Fun facts & trivia
As per the IMDb’s trivia page, one of the original proposed titles for the movie was “Library Revolution” ❤