Italian book provision: a bookseller’s perspective

This is a guest post by Barbara Casalini, Lelia Barcatta and Patricia O’Loughlin, senior staff with our Italian book provider, Casalini.

Mario Casalini, the father of our current owners Michele and Barbara, visited the US in the 1950s with a group of Italian publishers. During that visit a Harvard professor complained that there were no reliable channels of supply for both books and information about Italian scholarly publications. Mario decided to act on this and set up his first office in Montreal in 1958, moved next to New York and then to Florence in the early 70s. Finally, in the late 70s the company was set up in the family home in Fiesole.

Over 50 years later we are now in a state-of-the-art office in the outskirts of Florence (we lost the view of Brunelleschi’s dome but we still have Tuscan hills) supplying books from Southern Europe – representing over 5500 publishers – to over 3000 libraries and institutions worldwide.

We have had the privilege of working with Cambridge University Library for decades – we have standing orders recorded in our system from the Library that date from 1972 and one of these days we must dig into our archives to find out when exactly we started working together. Our business has grown and evolved over the years thanks to the Library’s keen interest in the variety of services we provide. Last year we supplied over 3000 books to the library via firm orders, approval plans and continuation orders and providing corresponding MARC records. We also supply journals for subscription orders.

How we implement/make decisions regarding approval


A book during the approval selection process

In 2004 we started supplying books ‘on approval’ to the Library, following detailed instructions from David Lowe concerning the Library’s specific areas of interest. Since over 20,000 Italian academic publications pass through our hands for cataloguing each year, we match the title to the customer’s profile based first on the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress Subject heading: the final decision is taken – book in hand – by our ‘approval plan’ specialists. Over the years, and thanks to valuable input from David and from Bettina Rex, we have fine-tuned our selection. In 2006, again thanks to David and Sonia Morcillo, we added Spanish Art publications to our selections.

Print versus electronic, number of print titles not decreasing

Casalini Libri has worked closely with Italian and Spanish publishers to provide access through our full text platform We are delighted that Cambridge University Library has supported this initiative, first acquiring content regarding Italian studies and more recently setting up a successful ‘Patron Driven Acquisitions’ programme.

Adding digital content continues to be a priority for the company but it is now clear that, in our areas of expertise, this format is not usurping print as 2016 saw our overall print sales continue to grow.

Challenge of acquiring titles before they go out of print

Academic publishing in Italy is often characterised by a limited publisher output, short print runs and a fragmented distribution system. In this context, our strategic position in the territory along with a well-established network of contacts and dedication to sourcing even the hardest-to-find of titles allows us to guarantee punctuality in the acquisition of new titles and reduce the risk of important material going out of print before the Library obtains a copy.

Regular visits to discuss progress


Casalini Libri staff

We believe that the basis of our successful relationship with the Cambridge University Library is thanks to the Librarians’ willingness to help us understand the Library’s collections and needs and share their expertise and experience. Our business has grown over the years thanks to this approach. We are in regular contact with those responsible for the Library’s Italian collections and have the honour and privilege of visiting Cambridge annually to discuss the current state of our services. These visits also offer us the valuable opportunity both to catch up with any changes within CUL and to inform our contacts of developments in progress and new services offered by Casalini Libri. Our fervent hope is to continue to serve the Library for the next 50 years.

Barbara Casalini, Lelia Barcatta and Patricia O’Loughlin

One thought on “Italian book provision: a bookseller’s perspective

  1. Casalini’s aspiration to monitor and record Italy’s academic publishing output is a challenging task, as is tailoring an approval plan to the Library’s requirements, given the financial restraints which we impose. Casalini has always been extremely effective in both regards, and it is extremely rare for us to come across an important title to which Casalini has not drawn our attention.

    Over a long period of time the UL has developed close personal contacts with many suppliers, who respond quickly and efficiently to our enquiries, but Casalini leads the field in terms of the regularity of its visits to Cambridge, to talk about trends in Italian publishing, to inform us about new initiatives the firm is taking, and to review our recent orders. These close personal contacts and annual visits have undoubtedly played an important part in enabling our Italian specialist Bettina Rex to develop our modern Italian holdings into the outstanding collection which I consider it to be today.

    David Lowe

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