The ICCROM Library: from its beginning to nowadays

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ICCROM Library staff, 1983. Image courtesy of the ICCROM Archives.

“ ‘All is well – nothing to report’ - But as everyone knows, serenity is the result of hard work and the peace of the Library is deceptive.“ (ICCROM Newsletter N. 3, p. 1., Rome: ICCROM, 1975)

These words come from one of ICCROM’s earliest Newsletters, in October 1975. At that time the Library held 8,500 items and was under the scientific supervision of the unforgettable Giorgio Torraca.

Since the establishment of the Rome Centre (later renamed ICCROM) in 1959, the maintaining of a scientific library has been a priority, given that our very Statutes specify that one of our major functions is to “Collect, study and diffuse documentation concerning scientific and technical problems in conservation” (Art. 1).

Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Library and documentation centre were set up in 1961. The Italian Government contributed by providing furniture, and the British Museum donated the first stock of reference works. Between 1962 and 1964 the first librarian, Fiametta Varese Gamba, started systematically indexing the collection including the Abstracts of Technical Studies in Art and Archaeology and the IIC Abstracts. From the very beginning the Library has been a valuable resource for course participants and professionals who come to Rome while at the same time exchanging lists of acquisitions with other scientific libraries in the field.

In 1977, the Library adopted a computerized system that followed the UNISIST Reference Manual for Machine-Readable Bibliographic Descriptions. To improve the accuracy of classification, in 1979 a new bilingual thesaurus, containing 2,500 keywords related to conservation and restoration, was disseminated. Already in the 1980s most of the collection was computerized, and printed lists of acquisitions were sold. ICCROM’s cooperation with IIC, ICOM and ICOMOS was strengthened with the purpose of unifying their cataloguing systems and enhancing the exchange of information between the centres. “Such unification would enable us to […] exchange the information registered at each centre” (ICCROM Newsletter N. 6, p. 9. Rome: ICCROM, 1980). In 1985 the J. Paul Getty Trust got involved; the Getty Conservation Institute took over the management of AATA to which the ICCROM Library contributed.

In ICCROM’s Newsletter No. 9 (1983) the head librarian, Marie-Christine Uginet, wrote a long article dedicated to the Library and its services, launching an appeal to experts and institutions worldwide to donate relevant materials or information to the Library (ICCROM Newsletter N. 9, p. 18-20. Rome: ICCROM, 1983). The following decade saw the development of a new bibliographic information database, the Conservation Information Network, involving ICCROM, the GCI, the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Smithsonian Institution and ICOMOS. During these years, the number of users grew steadily; the attendance register from 1989 demonstrated 12,000 entries—much more than just our course participants!

Another important development was the creation of the Online Public Access Catalogue in 1999—finally the catalogue was available on the Organization’s website!

Holdings in the Library have steadily increased as well; by 2005 the Library contained more than 75,000 items corresponding to more than 90,000 catalogue entries. In the same year, ICCROM signed an agreement with AATA Online (GCI) in collaboration with IIC to contribute abstracts of new conservation literature to this valuable online tool. At the end of the first decade of the new century, the now head librarian, Paul Arenson, initiated a migration project of bibliographic data to a new library system, an important step towards FAIR data principles (Findable-Accessible-Interoperable-Reusable).

And here we are! Today the Library’s holdings amount to ca. 98,000 books and periodicals corresponding to more than 123,000 catalogue entries. The collection includes materials in more than 75 languages and—as libraries are wont to do—the offerings are steadily growing thanks to a continuous acquisition strategy of both analogue and digital publications as well as generous donations from many international partners and stakeholders. Currently, we subscribe to about 100 periodicals on core topics in conservation and receive another 100 or so journals for free. Our bibliographic records and online periodicals are made available through our contributions to the Urbis and the EZB networks. We continue to serve the international conservation community through our document delivery service. And, last but not least, we assist the many researchers who come from all over the world to visit and study in our Library spaces.

A more detailed description of our services can be found on the ICCROM website under Library Services.

We are also pleased to announce that the ICCROM Library will begin to contribute periodical lists of new acquisitions in future issues of News in Conservation!

Daniela Sauer
Librarian, Conservation Specialist
Via di San Michele 13 - 00153, Rome - Italy | Italie
Tel|Tél : +39 06 58 553 357


Daniela Sauer is a librarian and conservation specialist at the ICCROM Library. She is in charge of collection development, preservation, cataloguing, reference activities and holds responsibility for a range of other library operations including project planning. She holds a bachelor’s degree in conservation of cultural heritage and a master’s degree in conservation of mosaics. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science.

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