Text based on an article written by D. Sauer for News in Conservation, a periodical publication issued by-monthly by the International Institute of Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC).

The ICCROM Library—from its beginning to nowadays

"All is well – nothing to report’ - But as everyone knows, serenity is the result of hard work and the peace of the Library is deceptive." (ICCROM Newsletter N. 3, p. 1., Rome: ICCROM, 1975)

These words come from one of ICCROM’s earliest Newsletters, in October 1975. At that time the Library held 8,500 items and was under the scientific supervision of the expert in chemistry and conservation specialist Giorgio Torraca, from 1971 until 1986 Vice Director of ICCROM.

Since the establishment of the Rome Centre (later renamed ICCROM) in 1959, the maintaining of a scientific library has been a priority, given that our very Statutes specify that one of our major functions is to “Collect, study and diffuse documentation concerning scientific and technical problems in conservation” (Art. 1).

Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Library and documentation centre were set up in 1961. The Italian Government contributed by providing furniture, and the British Museum donated the first stock of reference works. Between 1962 and 1964 the first librarian, Fiametta Varese Gamba, started systematically indexing the collection including the Abstracts of Technical Studies in Art and Archaeology AATA (1943-1952) and the IIC Abstracts (1955-1962). In 1965, Lucetta Amendola Liuzzi was employed as Librarian, followed by Marie-Christine Uginet in 1973. The team counted also on Francesco Tomasi, who was in charge of photocopies. 

From the very beginning, the Library has been a valuable resource for course participants, scholarship-holders, students of the next-door Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (ICR) and professionals who came to Rome. At the same time, the Library had technical exchange with various institutes and researchers and was exchanging lists of acquisitions with other scientific libraries in the field, such as those of Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage KIK-IRPA in Belgium, the Central Research Laboratory in Amsterdam and others in USA, Mexico and Portugal.

In 1977, the Library adopted a computerized system that followed the UNISIST Reference Manual for Machine-Readable Bibliographic Descriptions. To improve the accuracy of classification, in 1979 a new bilingual thesaurus, worked out by the Austrian expert Hans Foramitti and containing 2,500 keywords related to conservation and restoration, was disseminated. Already in the 1980s most of the collection was computerized, and printed lists of acquisitions were sold. ICCROM’s cooperation with the International Institute for Conservation IIC, ICOM and ICOMOS was strengthened with the purpose of unifying their cataloguing systems and enhancing the exchange of information between the centres. “Such unification would enable us to […] exchange the information registered at each centre” (ICCROM Newsletter N. 6, p. 9. Rome: ICCROM, 1980). In 1985, the J. Paul Getty Trust got involved; the Getty Conservation Institute took over the management of AATA to which the ICCROM Library contributed.

In ICCROM’s Newsletter No. 9 (1983) the head librarian, Marie-Christine Uginet, wrote a long article dedicated to the Library and its services, launching an appeal to experts and institutions worldwide to donate relevant materials or information to the Library (ICCROM Newsletter N. 9, p. 18-20. Rome: ICCROM, 1983). In 1985, the Getty Conservation Institute and ICCROM agreed on creating a common ICCROM-AATA system for recording technical literature. Consequently, in 1986, based on the structure of the Canadian Heritage Network (CHIN), a new bibliographic information database was developed, the Conservation Information Network, involving ICCROM, the GCI, the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution and ICOMOS. The Bibliographic Conservation Information Network was officially launched in 1987. During these years, the number of users grew steadily; the attendance register from 1989 demonstrated 12,000 entries—much more than just ICCROM course participants! Over the years BCIN has been a core tool for researchers in the field. In November 2021, BCIN, counting now more than 265,000 bibliographic references, was launched on a new platform. In the next future, our goal is to progressively expand the offer of bibliographic resources on BCIN in terms of number and languages by accepting new partners. In this way, BCIN will continue to be one of the most valuable tools for finding bibliographic resources for researchers in the field of conservation and restoration. 

Another important development was the creation of the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) in 1999—finally the catalogue was available on the Organization’s website!

Holdings in the Library have steadily increased as well; by 2005, the Library contained more than 75,000 items corresponding to more than 90,000 catalogue entries. In the same year, ICCROM signed an agreement with AATA Online in collaboration with IIC to contribute abstracts of new conservation literature to this valuable online tool. At the end of the first decade of the new century, Paul Arenson, head librarian until 2019, initiated a migration project of bibliographic data to a new library system, an important step towards FAIR data principles (Findable-Accessible-Interoperable-Reusable).

Today the Library’s holdings amount to ca. 100,000 books and periodicals corresponding to more than 128,000 catalogue entries. The collection includes materials in more than 70 languages and—as libraries are wont to do—the offerings are steadily growing thanks to a continuous acquisition strategy of both analogue and digital publications as well as generous donations from many international partners and stakeholders. Currently, we subscribe to about 100 periodicals on core topics in conservation and receive another 100 or so journals for free. Our bibliographic records and online periodicals are made available through our contributions to the network of the Union of Foreign Academic Libraries in Rome URBiS and the Electronic Libraries’ network EZB . We continue to serve the international conservation community through our document delivery service, we provide remote access to our electronic resources for students of ICCROM courses and, finally yet importantly, the Library team assists with pleasure the many researchers who use to come from all over the world to visit ICCROM and study in our Library spaces.

The Library team

  • Daniela Sauer, Lead Librarian, Conservation specialist
  • Cécile Gallon, Periodicals Librarian
  • Anait Abramyan, Library Assistant