Dispatch from Rome: Io amo la biblioteca

Photo by Mari Grigaliunas
By Mari Grigaliunas

ROME – Students from the U.S. arrived at Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center  jet-lagged and most of them hungry after 10 or more hours of nothing but airplane food. They were still struggling to read maps and get their bearings in their new city, but within hours they filled the brand new Information Commons with comfortable conversation and the buzz of their fingers typing.

“What I’ve always loved about libraries and now the information commons is that sense of ownership we all have toward our libraries,” said Librarian Elise Aversa about the students’ speedy assimilation to the IC.

One year ago, the Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., Loyola’s president, put his vision for the new space into action. After months of construction and tedious preparation, Aversa finished moving in the last arm chairs, just as students got to campus.

On Tuesday January 25, Robert Seal, dean of libraries flew in from Chicago to cut the ribbon at the IC inauguration during the JFRC spring semester convocation.

“I think it’s important that the very first step was the information commons because it underscores the importance of academics here at our study abroad program,” Seal said.

According to Aversa, the next step of renovations at the Rome Center may be finding a new function for the former library, but in the meantime students congregate within the social circular walls of the IC at all hours in cushioned arm chairs under golden haloed light fixtures.

“If only the rest of JFRC looked like this,” said Loyola Junior Alana Joyce, a 21-year-old Political Science and International Studies major.

“We love being the center of the community with this new space, and it’s really exciting,” Aversa said. “We used to have people come to the old library, but the old library is pretty dingy.”

Dingy, dark and less than inviting, the former library hides behind closed doors at the end of a hallway, completely abandoned except the olive green stacks filled with books. The original collection held 35,000 books, but only 11,000 fit in the new IC. Another 11,000 will go into a storage facility, and the rest will be donated.

Aversa and Assistant Librarian Anne Wittrick hand-picked the destiny of each and every book. Although the task was taunting, e-books replaced many of the paper versions.

“What I love about electronic books is not only do you not shelve them,” said Aversa. “They don’t get lost and if the whole class wants to read the same book at the same time, they can.”

The IC also holds a collection of 500 DVDs for students and has interlibrary loan systems set up between the Chicago campus as well as a few other libraries in Rome. Eventually, the Rome IC will have the same software available in Chicago and Teamspot for the group study rooms, but for the semester Aversa looks forward to gathering input from students and faculty to continue improving the new space.

 “The way things are in this room right now, and the way I see everybody working, you’ve already taken it all for granted,” said JFRC President Emilio Iodice to students at the inauguration. “That’s the way it should be.”

Loyola Journalism Major Mari Grigaliunas is studing in Rome and filing periodic dispatches.

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