Fiera del Libro in Torino

by Jeffry Larson, Yale University Library

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2000, Vol. 24, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
© American Library Association

Not all book fairs are in Frankfurt.

As Adán Griego reported in our Spring 2000 issue, last year the Spanish international book fair, LIBER, invited about a dozen North American librarians as guests. The invitations, at least last year, were extended by the Miami office of the Spanish Trade Commission through the aegis of the International Relations Office of the American Library Association to librarians not just in academic or research settings, as was the case at Frankfurt, but to those from all types of libraries. Most of the librarians attending the October 1999 session of LIBER in Madrid were members of REFORMA; only a third were members of the Western European Specialists Section.

Perhaps coincidentally, the organizers of the Fiera del Libro in Turin also decided this year to extend invitations to foreign book professionals through the Chicago office of the Italian Trade Commission. The net was cast even more widely than for Madrid: most of the dozen guests from North America were book (acquisition) editors from major trade and university presses, who were joined by a smaller number of colleagues from the United Kingdom. There were also a couple of distributors from the Middle West (one was also a publisher). Bosiljka Stevanovic, Principal Librarian of the Donnell [foreign language] Library of New York Public Library, and I were the two librarians in the delegation which visited Turin for the long weekend of May 11-15. A different set of book professionals is to be invited in each successive year. Local hospitality and logistical support was generously provided by the Centro Estero Camere Commercio Piemontesi, and the Regione Piemonte.

Turin, at least its center, is an attractive city, though its only notable tourist attractions are the Shroud (only a facsimile was on display) and what is claimed to be the second largest Egyptological museum in the world. The Fiera del Libro takes place in pavilions attached to a huge converted FIAT factory. It offers an important opportunity for foreign book professionals to keep abreast of developments in Italian publishing. In addition, the Italian Library Association (Associazione Italiana Biblioteche or AIB), which meets in different cities from year to year, exceptionally convened this year at the same time and place as the Fiera.

The local organizers took the editors, distributors, and librarians on different side trips, to a modern, automated four-color printing plant on the outskirts of Turin, the headquarters of arguably the most prestigious Italian publishing house, Einaudi (now owned by the Mondadori group, which is in turn owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate and former prime minister, convicted for corruption though at the time out-on-appeal), and the headquarters of a leading national daily newspaper, La Stampa. At the latter the tour ended in the office of the newspaper's web edition where I was able to demonstrate the link from WESSWeb to their online edition.

The Fiera del Libro is open to the public except for the first day, when our delegation was still in transit: La Stampa reported an amazing 41,000 admissions on Saturday, May 13. The effort to expand readership is admirable (Italy has the lowest in the pre-expansion European Union), but negotiating the booths was more difficult than at LIBER, what with so many people, especially children, either in class trips or with their parents. There were hundreds of publishers' booths in the more than 46,000 square meters in several pavilions. Most of the publishers were of course Italian, with the foreign representatives being principally French, followed by the Spanish and German. As at the LIBER book fair in Madrid, the different sized houses were represented in different ways: the large publishing groups had glitzy semi-enclosed areas displaying their different lines staffed by temporary help, while the smaller publishers had collective stands grouped usually by region. It was only the medium sized publishers that staffed their own booths with knowledgeable hands familiar with editorial policy and backlists. Such publishers cannot afford to attend book fairs in other countries. Italian regional governments are a more recent development than in Spain, where even the ayuntamientos publish a sizeable amount of literary texts; in Italy they do not and there were no sub-national governmental publishers in Turin, in contrast with LIBER. I also noticed fewer CD-ROM products in Turin than in Madrid; I attribute that to the greater Internet infrastructure in Italy.

The theme of the fair was diversity and crossbreeding, making deliberate ironic use of terms corresponding to "miscegenation" or "bastardy" in English. The speakers and panels were more foreign than the array of publishers: George Steiner was the keynote speaker, and Nobel Prizewinner Derek Walcott was also scheduled to speak. In side sessions going on at all hours in various rooms around the pavilions simultaneous translation was offered in English, French, and German. There were many more such sessions than at LIBER, which while international in scope­emphasizing Latin America­was monolingual.

The fair received front-page coverage from the press, and not just from the local newspaper. It was pushed off page one only toward the end, by the "third secret" of Fatima­evidently even the secular, anti-clerical press felt an obligation to comment on this theological development.

The Fiera del Libro may have weathered a crisis this year. Some publishers had tried unsuccessfully to have the fair moved from Turin to Milan. Mondadori, the largest publisher in the nation, did not have a booth in Turin, evidently in protest against this geographical commitment. I even fancy that the last minute invitation to librarians and editors from the US and UK was an attempt to demonstrate the international audience the fair could attract.

In one panel session that was nominally a presentation of a newly published multi-volume history of Italian publishers, Gian Arturo Ferrari, the well-tanned, appropriately named CEO of Mondadori, made a display of insouciant success, saying he had been too busy on the Riviera to attend anything at the fair but this panel. He went on to remark that market consolidation was normal and healthy and that there was no such thing as big or small publishers, but only good or bad publishers. Finally a "smaller" publisher cut off his waxing by saying he could dominate the market, but not the panel. Curiously enough, the CEO of the largest Spanish publisher had put on a similar performance at a panel of small publishers at LIBER.

I was able to attend an important meeting of the Associazione Italiana Biblioteche on copyright and electronic resources in university libraries, "Diritto díautore nelle biblioteche universitarie tra normativa e nuove tecnologie". The panels revealed some friction between publishers' legal representatives and librarians, with their different constituencies. One presentation on current technology and the law consisted entirely of recent (up to early May) US sources, both general and professional. Another interesting presentation, "La tutela giuridca delle banche dati" [The legal status of databases, see for the PowerPoint slides] emphasized the congruence between US and European law on electronic resources, except with regard to databases, whose compilers are accorded more rights in Europe than in the US.

My last session in the Fiera was the most fruitful, being a presentation of a major Italian text corpora database, with a substantial manual as a handout. It was the debut of the renowned Pisa text project, now titled the Biblioteca Italiana Telematica: testi digitali della tradizione culturale italiana, which is finally available on the web ( This important resource is already linked to from the WESS Italian Studies Web and has been announced on WESS-romance-l (see the Bits & Bytes column).

Jeffry Larson
Librarian for Romance Languages and Literatures, Linguistics & Classics
Yale University Library

Return to WESS Newsletter
WESSWEB | WESS Newsletter Editor