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Italy Immersion Experience Takes In Great Libraries of Florence

By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

A new School of Information Studies immersion experience taking in the unique old libraries of Florence, Italy, has concluded, and its format may provide a model for other types of innovative experiential learning.

That was the assessment of Barbara Settel, the iSchool’s executive director of alumni relations, who described the trip as a sort of “EntreTech for the library profession.” The program was hosted for the first time this year, and was open to alumni of the iSchool as well as, all alumni of Syracuse University, library professionals, and current and incoming iSchool library science students.  (EntreTech is the week-long immersion program that involves visits to numerous New York City tech startups, and offers a taste of entrepreneurial culture.)

The Florence trip consisted of a one-week immersion in Italian culture and a unique tour of a variety of the classic libraries in Florence, coupled with sights and experiences of the city.  For current and incoming students, the one-week library tour was a component of a three-week, three-credit course in Global Librarianship. Those students also spent a week before traveling to Italy in a learning group on campus, then a week in Pistoia (in the Tuscany region of Italy) before joining the alumni group in Florence. In Pistoia, the students helped the AmericanEmbassy work with local librariansof that community, and iSchool students also attended a conference along with librarians from throughout Europe.

The trip offered the opportunity to visit some of the most unique libraries in the world, including some for which visitation is restricted or uncommon, according to Settel. Activities included a guided walking tour of Florence; tours of the National Library, the Siena Public Library, Berenson Library (Villa Itatti – of Harvard University); and the Uffizi and Galileo Libraries. The visit also included tours of the Galileo Museum; Uffizi Museum; Dante Historical Society and Accademia Galleria; and sightseeing at Pitti Palace. The itinerary was developed to provide a private view of some of the most amazing collections of Renaissance art and libraries in the world, and it offered unique access to some facilities not typically available. For instance, at the Galileo museum, the librarian arranged for the museum’s long-time curator to provide a private tour for the iSchool group, and he offered unique insights into the artifact collections and how they came to be located there, Settel noted.

This was the first time the iSchool has conducted an alumni tour, Settel said. Given the positive reaction, a repeat of the Florence library trip, or a new one of a somewhat different nature, geared to alumni, is likely in the future, she added.  

One of the students taking the trip, Alexandra Heidler, will be a second-year MLIS student in the fall. She viewed the most valuable part of the trip as the opportunity to interact with librarians from other countries who were providing their patrons with “American Corner” cultural interpretations. “What was so interesting was the way American culture was interpreted in other countries,” she said. “It gave me a lot of cool ideas if I was ever to work in a public library and have the opportunity to do that kind of programming.” Alexandra said she also found the trip helped her decide where she wants to focus in the library education career field. “There are so many different directions I saw that I can go in. The experience of the conference “made me realize how specialized you can really can be” in the field, she said.

The tour group consisted of four alumni of the iSchool MLIS program; one Syracuse University alumni who is entering the iSchool LIS program this fall; and six current MLIS program students.

Settel, BA, History, ’76 and MLS ’77; and Sarah Inoue, MLIS ’99 (UW) PhD ’12, who works as project manager for International Development at the iSchool, accompanied the group.

Trip Photos:
(Click to view larger image)

Alumni group on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. From L-R:  Barbara Settel G G'77, Bruce Gorman G '05, Stephanie Curry G'00, Cary Stiles G'08 and Raena Pellichet '13.
The group examines books at the Galileo Library.
Entire group in the gardens outside of the Berenson Library, Villa I Tatti. 
Viewing some of the holdings at the Siena Library.
Students Julia Messina and Alexandra Heidler enjoy a gelato break.
The group in front of the Duomo in Florence.

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