v32#3 ATG Interviews Barbara Casalini, President, Casalini Libri

by | Jul 15, 2020 | 0 comments

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by Tom Gilson  (Associate Editor, Against the Grain

and Katina Strauch  (Editor, Against the Grain

Barbara Casalini

ATG:  Barbara, some of our readers may not be familiar with Casalini Libri.  Can you tell us a little bit about the company?  What are the main services Casalini Libri provides to libraries and publishers?  What do you see as the company key mission?

BC:  The company was an idea of my father’s.  While visiting the U.S. on business in the late 1950’s, he became conscious that there was little (and unreliable or untimely) information available on Italian publications, and no real supply structure for the diffusion of Italian titles abroad.  He established Casalini Libri as an information and supply service for titles that were not easily found, initially working with the Library of Congress and progressively with more and more libraries and institutions.  We have always tried to respond to the needs of our customers and now offer many services aimed at assisting libraries and publishers, from approval selections to subscription management and the Torrossa digital library.  Although our customer base and services have widened considerably over the past 60 years, I would say that the importance of providing prompt and high quality bibliographic information to libraries and of supporting the diffusion of Italian culture and learning worldwide have remained at the core of all of our activities.

Of course, it is not just Italian culture that we wish to promote, but original language research from across Europe.  This is reflected first in our investment in creating the same infrastructure for the provision of Spanish, Portuguese and French titles over the last fifteen years and — just last month — in our participation in the acquisition of the two Dutch companies, Erasmus and Houtschild.  In creating synergy with these companies with whom we share a single vision, we aim to offer the very best services to the Library world, not simply by strengthening our coverage and providing a more efficient use of technological resources, but by striving to maintain the excellent customer service for which we are known.

ATG:  The world of libraries and scholarly publishing has changed dramatically since your father founded Casalini Libri in 1958.  How has the company kept pace with the rapidly changing market?  What would you say are the key factors that have enabled Casalini Libri to thrive?

BC:  I would say that the key has been our constant collaboration with both publishers and libraries and the confidence we have received from both sectors, not only in the trust libraries have placed in us to source and select quality material for them, but also publishers in our ability to provide a technological support and widen the reach of their publications.  As I said, it has always been very important for us to listen to the emerging needs of our customers and respond with services that offer solutions to those needs.

ATG:  One of the cornerstones of your services to libraries and publishers appears to be the ilibri Casalini Bibliographical Database.  Can you tell us about that?  What is so unique about the database?

BC:  We are indeed very proud of the ilibri database as it is the main showcase for our dedication to providing quality bibliographic information.  We carefully select the new publications that fit the interests and quality required by academic and research libraries in order to create detailed bibliographic descriptions for our customers.  All of the bibliographic data that we produce is included in our online database, making it a very specialised resource for librarians.  It’s also worth mentioning that in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, it is still very often not easy to acquire information about publications or rely completely on national bibliographies.  The ilibri database works to fill those gaps in information. 

What’s more, the database is integrated with our other systems, meaning that librarians can follow a single, linear and straightforward workflow, from viewing our new title suggestions to creating and editing their selections, sending orders and checking on their status, to finding a complete archive of all of the invoices connected with their orders.

ATG:  Another key component of your offerings is the Torrossa digital library.  Can you describe what it provides libraries?  Does it work with the ilibri® Casalini Bibliographical Database to offer integrated services?

BC:  Torrossa was born in its first incarnation in 2000 as a project to explore the potential of digital publishing.  As the initial digital library of Italian scholarly titles grew steadily and was joined by a second digital collection of academic titles from Spain, we decided to unite the two resources in a single website, which takes its name from our historic headquarters in Fiesole.  Twenty years on and we’re preparing to publish an enhanced version of the site, which by now includes digital content from over 280 highly respected HSS publishers from Italy, Spain and a variety of other countries.

The main benefits of Torrossa for libraries include the possibility to reach such a wide offering of digital publications from a single access point and manage all the content under a single licence.  As with print, we try to give libraries the freedom and tools to decide how to put their collections together.  So in addition to the recommended collections of titles selected by our bibliographers, we also offer the possibility to pick and choose collections or single titles, provide tools and services such as PDA and Approval selections, and have integrated all of our digital content with the ilibri database in order to ensure that print and digital go hand in hand.

ATG:  According to your website, Casalini Libri is particularly interested in linked data and the possibilities it holds for the field of librarianship.  Can you tell us about that?  What benefits does linked data offer libraries?

BC:  Linked data helps discovery.  Much of the vast quantity of data and resources contained and described in library catalogues has previously often remained hidden.  Linked data now gives us the opportunity to create links among collections and provide library patrons with the key to unlock and navigate a wealth of data that otherwise would have remained unknown and undiscovered.  By applying the linked data paradigm, libraries, archives, museums and information professionals have a more comprehensive suite of tools at their disposal, based on structured data and fully compliant with the semantic web.  Keeping pace with web technologies in this way means that searching and navigating data becomes much more dynamic and similar to the functioning of the web than to a traditional library catalogue.

Our work on the linked data approach — with the Share Virtual Discovery Environment — is another example of the emphasis we put on the central role of libraries in shaping our activities.  Share-VDE is a library-driven initiative which brings together the bibliographic catalogues and authority files of a community of libraries in a shared discovery environment based on linked data.

ATG:  As part of this interest in linked data, you have been actively involved in the library community’s discussions on BIBFRAME (Bibliographic Framework Initiative).  Can you give us an update on BIBFRAME’s progress?

BC:  BIBFRAME is an evolving model of entities and it is important for us to contribute to its development given the experience that we are developing in the field through our collaboration with the community of libraries participating in Share-VDE, and also in anticipation of a future in which bibliographic resources may be catalogued directly in linked data. 

For example, while the Share-VDE entity model is based on the three original BIBFRAME Work-Instance-Item levels, in order to maintain and optimise interoperability with the IFLA Library Reference Model (LRM), we have introduced a fourth level of abstraction — higher than the BIBFRAME Work — which later proved to be in line with the latest developments from the Library of Congress, who have recently released the BIBFRAME Hub, a more abstract level entity than the BIBFRAME Work.

All this tells us yet again how productive discussion and exchange of experiences are within the community, and how it is impossible to separate them from experimentation and the practical application of theoretical models.

ATG:  Casalini Libri is known for its interest in research and development.  In fact, we notice there is a section on your website called the Casalini Lab.  Can you tell about the latest projects Casalini Lab is focusing on in addition to BIBFRAME?

BC:  Casalini Lab covers a wide array of projects, from our collaboration in projects such as BIBFRAME and Share-VDE, which take librarianship and bibliographical data into a new, exciting future, to discussions on other aspects close to our hearts.  This May, we planned to host in Fiesole the CRL working forum “New Shape of Sharing: Networks, Expertise, Information,” dedicated to the theme of supporting research in the humanities and maintaining non-English collections.  Although it has been necessary to postpone the meeting, we are confident that it will take place once conditions allow.  Our dedication to the sector and to its continuing ability to thrive also shows through in both our support for the Master’s course in BookTelling run by the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, which allows us to contribute to the training of future publishing professionals, and in our long-running collaboration in the Fiesole Collection Development Retreat Series.

Emerging from our interest in the ever increasing potential of digital resources is the Torrossa Open initiative, a platform designed specifically to contribute to the dissemination of research content from Southern Europe in Open Access, while since last year we have been investing heavily in enhancing and updating all of our websites, from the Torrossa digital library and bookstores, to our dedicated content management site for publishers contributing to these resources.  We have also updated our main company website and are now working on an improved search and ordering interface for our ilibri database and order management functions.

Returning to our role as a bibliographic agency, we continue to strive for excellence.  Not only have we become an ISNI registration agency, we are also embarking on a special project and new services that take into account the importance of the attribution of URI and accurate authority records. 

ATG:  In 1999, Casalini Libri, along with the Charleston Company and Against the Grain, was one of the founding sponsors of the Fiesole Retreat Series.  Can you tell us a little bit about the Fiesole Retreat?  Where did the idea for Fiesole come from?  As you look back over the years why do you think Fiesole has been important to discussions about the future of libraries, publishing, and collections?

BC:  The idea for the Retreat was initially conceived by Katina Strauch and Mario, as a way of bringing the Charleston Conference model of an informal gathering and its culture of exchange of views and discussion among industry leaders to Europe.  The world at the time was much less connected than it is today over great distances and the Fiesole Retreat created a bridge between the North American and European communities of librarians, publishers, vendors and experts.  Now, after more than 20 years and thanks to the tireless work of Becky Lenzini and Katina, the Fiesole Retreat is running stronger than ever, testifying the foresight of both Katina and Mario.

Each year’s programme is a collaborative effort to create and balance a discussion that represents the views of all sectors of the industry on the most pressing questions and challenges of the moment.  Understandably, a huge focus has always been given to digital content and with the COVID crisis we are seeing many publishers reviewing their approach to this whole area.  The proceedings for all meetings are available on the Fiesole Retreat website (http://www.casalini.it/retreat/) and they make fascinating reading as they address issues that continue to be relevant in our fast evolving world. 

Although the current situation has made it necessary for us to postpone this year’s meeting in Greece, we are very grateful to our hosts, the National Library of Greece, who has agreed to welcome us to its beautiful new facility inside the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens next April.

ATG:  Barbara, when you are not directing such an active and innovative company, how do you like to spend your down time?  Are there particular leisure activities that help you refresh and get ready to take on the next challenge?

BC:  I do invest a lot of time and energy in my local community in Fiesole and make the most of the wonderful cultural events that are organised both in Fiesole and in Florence with my husband, a professional musician.  In these last few weeks when we have been unable to attend theatre and concerts, I have been relaxing with a good book and music at home.

I am also lucky enough to have my family and three lively and adorable grandchildren nearby, and I thoroughly enjoy cooking and baking for them in the family home. 

ATG:  Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us.  We’ve learned a lot!  

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