Friday, October 30, 2009

The Italian Library

When my roommate Olga invited me to go with her to the student library, I was thrilled. I know it’s beyond nerdy, but there’s nothing that I love more than to wander through the aisles of a good library and glance through random books that I would never think to read on my own. I had been curious about the student library, as I am not officially a student and could not technically go into it. Being the natural rebel that I am (har, har) I jumped at the chance to sneak in under the guise of a student and wreak havoc on the academic world of Torino. Ok, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that, but it was different than I expected all the same.

From the outside, the library entrance looked exactly the same as all of the other apartment entrances that surrounded it. In fact, had Olga not known where to go I’m sure I never would have found it. The ground floor was actually underground, so we had to go down a flight of steps to get in. When we walked in, we had to deposit all of our bulky outerwear and bags into one of the lockers that lined the entrance hallway. That done, and feeling quite naked and vulnerable without my trusty Mary Poppins purse, we entered another room, passing through imposing magnetic detectors on the way. Finally, I thought, as we reached the other side, let the library shenanigans begin!

I was doomed for disappointment. We came into another room with the Italian version of an information desk in the center, and a set of student computer stations scattered around it. Olga immediately went to the card catalog, as she needed to find a book for school. I had intended to wander around the bookstacks (my favorite pastime), but there wasn’t a book in sight! What kind of library is this? I wondered. There was nothing but a few computers lining the walls and a shelf holding the card catalog, which appeared to be at least 100 years old.

After fifteen minutes of searching for her title, Olga gave up and asked for help at the information desk. One of the staff members told her to fill out a request form for her book, and they would go find it for her. The form was very specific, asking her not only the author and title, but the ID number, publisher, date of publication, and numerous other questions. It almost seemed like they wanted her to compile all of the book’s information for their records, instead of doing it themselves. I didn’t see why it was all necessary, but I kept my mouth shut and watched politely (even though tact has never been a strong suit of mine, I can utilize it from time to time). Ever the curious cat, I sneakily followed the staff member (or I guess you could call him a librarian) when he went to retrieve Olga’s book. We went up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway full of what looked like offices. Each office had a row of books lining the walls around it, but that was all. All of them had desks in the middle, each with one computer and an assortment of papers strewn around it. They could pass for my old desk in Seattle, really.

Finally I found an empty room and was able to scour the shelves to my heart’s content. It only took a few minutes to realize that every single book in the room was on the subject of corporate law. Scintillating reads, I’m sure, but not quite my cup of tea. The line was drawn when I saw the title “Bankrupcy code, rules and forms.” I’ll pick up a legal thriller now and then, but there’s nothing worse than an 800 page book on specialized legal codes. I could barely keep from sprinting out of the room. I was attempting to look graceful yet swift, but I think I came off looking more like a startled giraffe. Oh, well, it's an inescapable casualty of long legs and big feet.

I gave up on finding a good book and headed back down to the reception area to pester Olga. When I told her about the law room and she almost fell over giggling. “This is the law library!” she managed in between wheezes. Ah, and the world made sense again. That explained the general dreariness of the place. I am not jealous of law students, that’s for sure.

At that point the librarians still couldn’t locate Olga’s books, so they told us to come back in a few days. I’ll take a rain check on that, I thought as I dragged Olga to the exit. I’ll leave the detail work to the professionals and stick to John Grisham from now on.