Thursday, 14 June 2012

At the heart of SAIS Bologna: the Library

Most SAIS Bologna students spend at least 15 hours a week there. They are surrounded by one of the continent’s biggest English-language collections in the field of international relations.

Much has changed since SAIS Bologna was founded in 1955. But the Robert H. Evans Library, named after the Center's director from 1992-2003, remains a focal point of any student's work.

Then ...
Gail Martin, the head librarian, has worked here for 30 years. Originally from Bishopbriggs in Scotland, she earned a degree in library studies in Brighton before coming to Bologna. "It seems I have an irresistible attraction for living in towns that begin with 'B'," she said before answering our questions.

Q: How big is the library? How many volumes does it have?
Martin: The library occupies 1,000 square meters of the building, seats around 180 students and is located on the left-hand “wing” of the school. We have a collection of approximately 85,000 volumes, and the library was completely remodeled in 2005. Here’s a link to our catalog.

... and now
Q: Is there something distinctive/unique about the library?
Martin: The building itself is a beautiful example of the work of Enzo Zacchiroli, a famous Bolognese architect. Here you can read a little about it.

Something distinctive about our collection? Amongst other things, we have an excellent collection of English-language materials on Italian government and politics, and our open stacks are quite unusual, here in Italy.

Q: What are the most common ways that students use the library?
Martin: Students often stop off in the library in the morning to quickly check their email before dashing off to class or to drop off their reserve books before they become overdue. The circulation desk gets really busy after classes as students drop off and pick up reserve, or short-loan, books.

Gail Martin
Then in the evenings and at weekends students settle down for long-haul study, either on the ground floor study room or on the mezzanine floor upstairs. Students also come by for one-on-one research assistance with Ludovica, who holds workshops at the beginning of each semester, and before exams begin.

Q: Does anyone know how much time the average students spends in the library?
Martin: Our latest year-end student survey tells us that 45% of the respondents spent up to 15 hours a week in the library, 45% spent from 15-30 hours a week and 10% more than 30 hours.

Q: What is the policy for taking out books? Fines?
Martin: We have three main collection types:
  • Reference books and periodicals, which are for library use only.
  • General circulation books are housed in the open stacks in the basement. SAIS Bologna students can have as many of these books as they need, for a loan period of one month. They are subject to recall by another student, but you are guaranteed two weeks checkout before we ask you to bring the book back.
  • Reserve books are kept behind the circulation desk. This is a non-browseable collection and consists of the books that have been designated required readings for your courses. We purchase them in multiple copies, and they are loaned for 4 hours or overnight. Students can borrow two reserve items at a time, and we also have a "hold" function that allows you to book a reserve reading in advance. We don’t charge fines for overdue reserve books, as we discovered that some students just kept the books and paid the fine, so the reserve system risked collapsing. Instead we devised a penalty scheme, which works far better and helps the reserve system function smoothly and fairly for everyone. We also have an electronic reserves system, called CIAO (Course Items Available Online), which gives 24/7, password-controlled access to syllabi, some required readings and class notes.
Q: Do you hire students to work in the library?
Martin: Yes we do. Each year we hire 8-10 student assistants who keep the library open in the evenings and at weekends and help us with many library housekeeping jobs.

Q: Can people from outside of SAIS use the library? How much do they use it? Is it difficult to find a quiet place to work?
Martin: During the week, from 9 am until 7 pm, the library is open to the general public. Some users come by to browse, read the newspapers or check out books, then they leave. Others spend a few hours studying, but those are in the minority, though we have one user who has been coming almost every weekday for the past 20 years.
Gail Martin with her library staff:
 Maria Christina Marcich, Heather Kochevar, John Williams & Ludovica Barozzi
After 7 pm during the week and at weekends the library is reserved for SAIS Bologna students and faculty. There is normally no problem finding study space, though the library can get quite busy during finals.

Q: How has the library changed over the years? Do you have more changes in store?
Martin: I would say the most important change came thanks to the renovation project. Once upon a time, the book stacks were housed on the mezzanine floor, which is quite beautiful and flooded with light. Student study space was concentrated on the ground floor, which was, and still is, also very nice, and in the basement which was, quite honestly, gloomy.

When we did the reconstruction work, all the book stacks were shifted from the mezzanine down to the basement, and student study space was brought up to the mezzanine and into the light!

More changes? I can see us moving more and more towards electronic provision of materials over the next couple of years. Things are changing so quickly and it’s very exciting.

Q: How many books are you adding every year? What about periodicals?
Martin: Every year we add around 1,000 new books to the collection and though we continue to take some periodicals in hard copy, the trend now is for students and faculty to consult electronic versions of periodicals via the various databases that we have access to.

Questions? Send an email to

Nelson Graves