Internet Culturale homepage

Internet Culturale

Reviewed by:
Spyros Koulouris, Cataloging Librarian
Gennadius Library – American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Internet Culturale is a multiyear project that aims to bring together in one platform the digital assets created by Italian repositories. This national network of partners provides access to thousands of materials made available by libraries, archives, and museums. The platform is managed by ICCU – the Italian Central Institute for the Union Catalog, which is part of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Currently 175 repositories across the country share their materials through the aggregator. Collections within the platform are organized by subject and/or medium. These include resources documenting visual arts, music, history, architecture, literature, and the sciences from the 8th to the 20th century in a variety of formats such as books, maps, images, manuscripts, drawings, music scores, and audio visual materials. Collections are displayed as online exhibitions that comprise objects from one or more libraries. A brief introductory text gives some summary information about the content of each exhibit, while users can either browse the collections, search for specific terms, or use the facets. Full-text searching is available for some of the resources.

Italy is notorious for its rich art historical collections that are spread all over the country. One of Internet Culturale’s strengths is that it makes visible the resources owned by small libraries, no matter if they are located in big cities or remote towns. Of additional value is that the records of some other Italian shared catalogs have been exported and are part of the platform. For example, records from SBN (the network of the National Library Services), Manus online (a database of manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century), and EDIT16 (the census of the 16th century Italian editions) are searchable through Internet Culturale. In some cases links to external catalogs are used for digital content that is not hosted in the platform. Among the many interesting collections currently available that users can find are the Autografi Palatini collection of the National Library in Florence (which includes 1200 autographs from significant personalities such as Orazio Rucellai, Benvenuto Cellini, Angelo Poliziano, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Michelangelo), the maps collection of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, and the Judaica of the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma (with more than 180 incunabula and 16th century books). Another key aspect of the catalog is that digital content is provided under a CC BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license. The metadata created by the repositories have a CC0 1.0 universal public domain dedication, making it easy to distribute and reuse information without asking for permission. One potential concern is that the last import was made in 2020. Hopefully, the platform will continue to be updated in the future.

Screenshot of the Internet Culturale book viewer showing the book Liber quartus Vribium praecipuarum totius mundi

Currently, the site is only available in Italian, and therefore users will need to be able to read Italian to use the resource. With some targeted metadata improvements, Internet Culturale has great potential for expanding accessibility to an international audience. This can be done by increasing the use of multi-lingual controlled vocabularies and thesauri. Organizing the metadata in a more structured way would help surmount language-related barriers, supporting access for everyone. 

Overall, Internet Culturale has the potential to become the main hub to document and access hidden collections of Italian art and culture. In the post Covid-19 era, small repositories that do not have the staff and resources to manage their digital assets can benefit from it, curate their online collections, and offer them to the broader community. The platform can become a model for national-level catalogs to be used by  students, librarians, and researchers in a variety of disciplines: historians, musicologists, art historians, archaeologists, botanists as well as artists in different fields like music, acting, and visual arts.