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Pirelli’s three corporate libraries: welcoming, open spaces to enjoy the freedom of a good book

Stéphane Mallarmé was probably right to say “Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book. Indeed, he was the one who declared with a game of paradox and some regret that “he had read all books” (and so, what could he have possibly done afterwards?), he nevertheless didn’t hide his passion for libraries, for those places filled with a certain magic not populated by books, but by people who love books, who leaf through them curiously, who borrow them, read them and then, from one passion to the next, read another, and then another, and another still…

Mallarmé’s judgement springs to mind as one walks through the doors of the new Pirelli Library, which was inaugurated on Monday, in the large open space of the Headquarters in Bicocca as one looks at the white shelving already filled with almost 3 thousand volumes (the majority of which were purchased by the company, some supplied free of charge by the editors of the “IoLeggoPerché” initiative of which Pireli is the main sponsor, 700 of which provided by the Rsu (the corporate trade union representation) and many gifted by private Pirelli employees). Shelves, naturally, ready to host up to 10 thousand books in just two years’ time. A large room full of books, then.

A corporate library, open to group employees, organised like a library, with a librarian, a loan service, consultation rooms, encyclopaedias and illustrated art books to peruse, borrow and return. Reading as a service. Like a distinguishing element of the “corporate welfare” (it’s a good life, one among books). And as a pleasure. Continuing in the theme of the “French greats”, one can remember how Roland Barthes speaks of the “pleasure of the text”. And how Daniel Pennac, the fun and genial creator of a very popular character such as Benjamin Malaussène (the “scapegoat par excellence” in “The Scapegoat” and “The Fairy Gunmother”) puts the pleasure in the “rulebook” of the “rights of the reader” in his fantasy book, “Reads like a novel”. Besides, Pennac himself writes, in praise of reading: “We human beings build houses because we’re alive but we write books because we’re mortal. We live in groups because we’re sociable but we read because we know we’re alone. Reading offers a kind of companionship that takes no one’s place but that no one can replace either”.

Pirelli has three corporate libraries. A record, in the Italian corporate universe.

The first, in Settimo Torinese, the group’s most modern and innovative factory, had been in force for a few years, with approximately 6 thousand volumes in a large bright room “wired” with services and research designed by Renzo Piano. And since late March, it has been connected to the services of the Settimo Municipality, as part of the project entitled “Archimede fuori di sé” (Archimedes beside himself). So Pirelli employees can count on 110 thousand volumes, 220 magazines, 14 newspapers, 4500 films and documentaries on DVD, 4 thousand music CDs and 400 audio books, in short all the wealthy heritage of the Archimede municipal library, which supplements the even wealthier heritage of the Sbam, the “library system of the Turin metropolitan area” (11 million books, which can be tracked and reserved based on the ErasmoNet catalogue). A lot to read, in fact. And easily.

The second and third were inaugurated on Monday. At the HQ in Bicocca. And in the Bollate plant, on the Western outskirts of Milan. The library at the HQ will also be linked up to the Milanese municipal library system (interviews with the people in charge of the Municipal services are already under way).

It is a large, brightly lit, well furnished space. With shelving. And a sitting area with armchairs and sofas for reading. Along with a big table for consultation: an historic piece that was recovered and restored, one of the furnishings designed in the 1950s by Gio Ponti for the “Pirellone”, the “skyscraper” next to the Stazione Centrale which, although no longer a Pirelli location (now belonging to the Region), continues to be among the major much-loved symbols of “industrial Milan”.

The walls left bare of any shelving display reproductions of a famous campaign launched in 1962 by a great photographer, Ugo Mulas, for one of Pirelli’s leading products, the “Cinturato” belted tyre. The tyre is in the foreground. And immediately beside it, there is a well-defined picture of a girl reading. In Italy during the “economic boom”, in Mulas’ acute and well-educated intuition, the book also plays an essential role. In the hands of a woman.

But why corporate libraries? The initiative is part of a project entitled “IoLeggoPerché” (I read because) organised by the Aie, the Association of Editors, with the support of Confindustria’s Gruppo Cultura (Culture Group): to promote corporate libraries (also as corporate engagement) and build a positive relationship with municipal libraries and school libraries, in a virtuous circuit which marks an active process of reading and participating across the local territory. A library as a “public service”. And factories considered to be special places where, even while one works, one is cultured, one produces culture and inhabits it together. Like good books, sometimes, narrate. There are other examples in Italy aside from Pirelli. At Zambon, a cutting-edge pharmaceutical firm, in the plants in Vicenza and Bresso (Milan), just to mention one example. Or in the factory-Mediaeval town of Brunello Cucinelli, in Umbria, a symbolic place for the production of superior quality textiles. At the behest of Confindustria, other initiatives will follow.

Readings to improve production? No. Readings to read. To discover other worlds, other feelings, other dimensions of life. Reading as travel. And adventure. Reading – we repeat – as a pleasure. And the library as the place that makes our workplace more pleasant, welcoming and personal. So, by reading, one improves general culture and the quality of work; this effect will most likely come about naturally.

Books, in any case, open up new worlds. Lives. Thoughts. They help understand, reason, see better and more. They are essential tools, in addition to being enjoyable, for improved comprehension, community, civility and culture. At the end of the day, Mallarmé was right.