On World Book Day, grassroots project in Rome turns mafia-seized asset into public library

GMT 23:08 2016 Sunday ,24 April

Arab Today, arab today On World Book Day, grassroots project in Rome turns mafia-seized asset into public library

Paola Gaglianone

A brass band of teenagers brightened up the crowd gathered for the event, while clowns entertained children with comedy sketches and acrobatics.

There were some 400 people, almost all of them local residents, waiting for the public Peace Hill Library to open its doors for the first time on Saturday afternoon.

The inauguration ceremony would mean more than a free access to reading to them.

On the same date, April 23, countless initiatives were organized across Italy to mark the World Book Day, which was promoted by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of reading since 1995.

Major events in several cities, included Rome, drew large audience and authorities.

Yet, the launch of this small public library in an unknown working-class suburb east of Rome might represent at best the true meaning of such a celebration.

"Finally, we have something good in our neighbourhood," Cristina, who gave her first name only, told Xinhua.

A mother of three adolescent girls, the woman confessed she was not an ardent reader herself: two books a year was her average.

But she did believe her three daughters would benefit from the new library, with its airy common spaces, books, laboratories, reading rooms, and computers.

"They will receive some cultural inputs, hopefully, and not just in terms of reading".

"I was born and raised in this suburb, and it is not uncomfortable. Yet, it is shabby and has nothing to offer, especially to young people," she explained.

The Peace Hill library would provide a cultural offer, and work as a sort of community center.

Indeed, local residents have been fighting more than 15 years for this.

The building was once a manor farm, and lay abandoned and dilapidated since mid-1990s at least.

The municipality in 2001 seized the whole area of 13,000 square meters to the infamous "Banda della Magliana", which was the first and most feared example of organized crime in Rome.

With the pivotal help of local associations and anti-mafia groups, the area was turned into a park called "Peace Hill", and the complex named after Sicilian mafia victim Peppino Impastato.

The choice was not random, since mafia groups' presence has constantly drew attention in Rome in recent years.

The final destination of the manor farm was decided through a public procedure. In 2002, some 3,000 students and 6,000 parents in the suburb were presented with a selection of public services to choose among, and voted for having a library.

The Rome city council approved the project in 2007.

More years passed, much due to Italy's lengthy bureaucratic procedures. Yet, the building was finally restored according to bio-architecture standards, and assigned to the public library network department less than a year ago.

"This has really been a grass-roots project, and the local community has contributed greatly: this is why this inauguration is so meaningful to us," Paola Gaglianone, Rome commissioner for the public library network, told Xinhua.

"Its educational value also lies in the fact that this was a mafia property, and has now been turned into a place for books, leisure, and cultural activities".

The setting up of the library cost 450,000 euros (about 505,000 U.S. dollars), restoration works excluded, the officer added.

Among those who joined the opening on Saturday, not many were true book lovers. When asked about, the most-cited reason adults gave for not reading was a lack of time.

They would represent the average Italian citizen, who is not much of a reader overall.

Only 13.7 percent of Italy's population read at least one book a month for pleasure in 2015, according to Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) latest annual data.

Some 42 percent picked up one book, and 45.5 percent no more than 3 books, in one year.

On average, readers in Italy exceed 50 percent of the population only between the ages 11 and 19; then, the share starts dropping, ISTAT said.

"I was a better reader when I was younger," 24-year-old Daniele Bianconi confirmed to Xinhua.

"Studying at the university, and having a mobile phone with other leisure inputs, are my main reasons for dropping books," the student said, as he perused the shelves.

Yet, he strongly approved of the project.

"Such a public place is good for me, as well as for all the kids in the neighbourhood: opening a library, after all, is much better than opening the umpteenth shopping mall".

Source: XINHUA

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