Rare Books? See Naples and Die. Whoops!
December 3, 2013 | 10:46 am
Here’s someone you do not want to let inside your library. As reported in the New York Times and across Italian media, Massimo Marino De Caro, sometime director of the Girolamini Library, Naples’s 16th-century foundation, is now under investigation, together with a circle of associates including a priest, for the systematic looting and resale of the rare books under his care. The Library itself never had a systematic catalog of its collection of some 160,000 volumes, so the full extent of the losses may never be known. But they probably run into the thousands.
What’s more, the De Caro case provides one more instance of the unfortunate collision of libraries with politics. De Caro appears to have used connections, rather than qualifications, to become director of the Girolamini Library. As described in the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association’s article on the scandal, “No one seems to be exactly sure how he got the job. He had no particular qualifying credentials as far as can be seen.” What he did have was connections to the inner circle of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, where De Caro moved as a sometime advisor on energy policy. He then built on his own private bibliophile enthusiasms to secure himself the position of director of the Library.
Once in office, De Caro appears both to have brought in equally suspect asssociates and to have neglected the archive, to such an extent that some 2000 academics and curators petitioned for an enquiry, and journalists picked up on the story. At that point, De Caro himself claimed to have uncovered the disappearance of around 1500 books, but subsequent investigation into surveillance footage and hidden caches fingered him and his aides for extracting the volumes.
“To say this theft, and the ensuing mess, is large would be an understatement,” remarks the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. “Tracking them all down and restoring the library to its prior position will probably be impossible.”
As with the situation in the UK, the conclusion seems to be that politicians are best kept away from libraries. Berlusconi has done huge damage to the institutions, credibility, and economy of Italy. Now it seems his proteges have directly damaged the cultural legacy of Italy, and Europe. The Union’s libraries and archives deserve better.