Librarianship is unfortunately not seen as the important profession it is, which sometimes takes away from the importance of a library, said librarian Christopher Cilia.
The National Library of Malta in Valletta, often known as the Bibliotheca, is considered the ‘bridge’ between scholars, students and children, to the country’s extensive history and heritage. Malta’s libraries include the National Library, the Central Public Library, the Gozitan Public Library and the Central Library, as well as all regional libraries and the National Bibliographic Office.
Providing an outlet for people to connect to the Maltese identity, the library holds many rare and valuable treasures accessible to all.
The Malta Independent Sunday spoke with Cilia, who is currently doing her internship at the National Library in the Conservation and Preservation Unit. It is responsible for ensuring the proper functioning of the library’s funds, playing an important role in the preservation of literary works.
Asked about her work during an average day at the library, Cilia said that apart from standard tasks such as cataloguing, classifying books as well as ordering resources, the team also focuses on ordering of certain collections and specialized books at Melitensia, which are rare. once they come out. Cilia said these collections were quickly out of stock, so they were working to bring them in quickly.
“We are also IT specialists, also focusing on open access resources. There are a lot of jobs and work going on. Since I work in a university library, I manage, organize, evaluate and disseminate the work of the academic staff members of the Institute for Tourism Studies, with particular attention to students. I am also responsible for specific academic subjects that develop specialist knowledge,” Cilia said.
Cilia was asked about the conservation and preservation unit, which involves work being done behind closed doors in the library.
“Most of the time, people who study library science for a degree never really see what goes on behind closed doors. It was only after 16 years of experience, but having never done anything at the National Library, that I saw that in this unit vital work is being done, which specializes in the preservation of all types of texts, including archives and medieval works. manuscripts,” Cilia said.
Cilia said the posts date back to the 14e century, which presents challenges for restoration, as the team is focused on conservation before irreparable damage is done to it.
He spoke of a method called “preventive conservation,” where library materials are cleaned and preserved to prevent deterioration from occurring or progressing.
He said the method ensures that library holdings remain in optimal order to meet the needs of scholars. It also ensures that the physical material continues to play a vital role in library operations.
Additionally, there is also special storage and fumigation, among other preventative methods, which help keep publications as intact as possible due to the fragility of some, he said.
“Manuscripts, books, maps, some of which are very detailed and very old, are some of the treasures we have in the library,” he said.
Cilia spoke of the carefully controlled environments in which some publications must be kept, due to the harsh Maltese temperatures of heat and humidity. Small and medium sized books should be stored upright and vertical to avoid separation and damage to book spines.
Cilia said microfilming sessions are also available at the library, so people can look at the works in more detail. The library’s digitization process, where documents are converted from a hard copy to an electronic copy, improves access and improves preservation for the next generation, as has already been done since the reign of the Knights of Malta.
“Libraries are solely responsible for the safeguarding of national books and the preservation of national treasures and unpublished documents and manuscripts. We have impressive collections dating back to the year 1107, including several first editions and very rare works,” he said.
“An example is the 1566 edition of Nostradamus and the early 16th century edition by Dante Alighieri The Divina Commedia,” he said.
When asked how he would describe the importance of the National Library to the public, Cilia said that while the library is certainly important to scholars, something is still missing.
“The Maltese don’t really connect with our history, especially in the literacy format like books. Doing my dissertation on library identity through heritage interpretation conveys the message that libraries are there for everyone,” he said.
Cilia said that librarianship is unfortunately not considered a professional status, which detracts from the importance of the library. He said, however, dedicated people are getting the job done, nonetheless.
Cilia is currently writing her thesis, entitled Develop the identity of a historic library through the interpretation of heritage. He said the main aim of the dissertation is to provide a study on how the National Library can function as a cultural center that preserves the identity of all that makes us Maltese and showcases youth. local historic libraries by creating a sense of place. of belonging while learning about Malta’s history.
“People forget that librarians and libraries are the gateways to knowledge and culture,” Cilia said. He said libraries play a fundamental role in society and their resources and services create opportunities, support literacy and education, and help shape ideas to create an innovative society.
Cilia mentioned a quote from author Neil Gaiman, who says “Google will bring you back a hundred thousand responses. A librarian will bring you the voucher”.
“Media literacy is essential and important more than ever, as it tackles fake media and unreliable sources and helps people understand the message being communicated to them,” Cilia said.
In her work, Cilia helps students plan and do research for their dissertations.
“The most important part of my job is to be the bridge with the students, to be an instrument in their work. Being a librarian is a job like being a lawyer or a teacher. We are part of student success,” Cilia said.
The library also organizes campaigns to spread the message that libraries are a fun and interesting place to visit. Summer programs are organized that cater to younger and older children to learn more about the tangible and intangible heritage of the country, Cilia said.
Workshops are also organized and the two sessions already organized have focused on the work of Maltese lace, bizillaas well as significant strategic importance on the maps.
Sessions are structured to be informative and appeal to different audiences, which encourages people to come to the library. Cilia said the response is amazing and it changes the attitude towards libraries because everyone who attends finds it very enjoyable.
Cilia encouraged those interested to search for the campaigns on the library’s Facebook page.