Written by Taylor Wilkins, Student, CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania
What do you think of when you picture Europe's medieval era? The feudal system, with poor villages that pay high prices for the protection of the king and his knights? Widespread illiteracy? A world in a general economic stand-still? While many of these visions are partly true, the Middle Ages were certainly not as stagnant as one may believe. So often we forget how knowledge and education were valued and maintained by the monks and clerics in monasteries during this time.
No place is a greater reminder of this than Catania's own Biblioteca dell'ex Monastero dei Benedettini, the university library where I have my internship. The building used to be a Benedictine monastery, but is now, the university library for the foreign languages, literature, and communications departments. The books are housed in rooms with stone walls, floors, and ceilings, almost like a castle. The interior of the building is just as beautiful as its exterior.
For my internship, I work at the front desk checking students in, handing them locker keys, and making sure they get the books they request. This library system seems different from the norm in America. First, patrons cannot check the books out of the library because many are so old. Additionally, patrons fill out a written request for the book(s) they need, and the people at the front desk take these request forms to what is basically a dumbwaiter so that people upstairs can fetch the books and send them back downstairs.
Since my work isn't overly demanding, I have plenty of time to try and talk with the other students working there. These attempts at conversation are so interesting (and informative) that they make my internship my favorite part of my time here in Sicily thus far.