Alessandro di Marco (30) looks around with the satisfaction of seeing that everything is, finally, in order. The reading tables, clean and smooth, wait patiently for someone to grab a Kindle Paperwhite. The smell of new books fills the air while Alessandro speaks, with a deep Lazio accent: “I wonder if among these titles there is also La via del sole (The road to sun) by Mauro Corona. It's my favourite book. I love reading. Reading taught me to feel good on my own, even in the most difficult moments."
A new library, a new community space
Alessandro is one of the two thousand people whose destiny changed after the terrible earthquake that hit the town in August 2016. “We lost everything, not just the houses, but also a sense of community that now, thanks to this library, we can take back." On 23 April, World Book Day, Amatrice’s new municipal library opened its doors for the first time, right in front of the Town Hall. The mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, cut the ribbon together with a special ambassador, Giuseppe Catozzella, writer and winner of the Young Strega Award 2014. The students of Amatrice participated in a reading dedicated to his last novel.
It is all part of the initiative 'An eBook for Amatrice', conceived of by professors and students of the University of Udine in collaboration with Amazon. The initiative’s objective is to return a place of meeting and exchange that revolves around books and their stories to the local people, right where the history of the town was abruptly interrupted. The project allowed the donation of e-Books to the people of Amatrice through a dedicated online platform. Amazon has pitched in by providing gift cards to buy free eBooks, hundreds of paper books, 20 Kindle Paperwhites, the containers for the library and furniture. The devices were installed and activated by the young people of Udine during the inauguration.
“It was an incredible experience for our kids, they learned a lot. The parents called us to thank us for giving them the opportunity to feel like adults, like true professionals.”
A library to "fight the ogre"
“It was an incredible experience for our kids, they learned a lot. The parents called us to thank us for giving them the opportunity to feel like adults, like true professionals”, says Nicola Strizzolo, Professor of Public Relations at the University of Udine and one of the minds behind the project. Nicola, born in 1973, can remember another terrible disaster, the earthquake that struck Friuli Venezia Giulia in 1976. "It is the first memory of my childhood: a cavernous roar. The children said that the ogre had awakened."
In 2016, forty years later, the University of Udine thought of a series of commemorative initiatives. But, on 24 August reality abruptly interrupted the academic projects. "We came up with the idea of a digital library for Amatrice, which would solve the problem of lack of physical space. And we thought of the Paperwhite Kindle, which can hold thousands of eBooks. So we contacted Amazon to present the project, which was greeted with enormous enthusiasm."
Around thirty students took part in the 14-month journey: "I found myself at the forefront of managing all the communications of the project by the University, from the press to the social media, like a real PR professional, all with the support from the Amazon team. They were the most beautiful and intense months of my life,” said Luna Paresi (23), a PR student.
This is how they learned about the challenges of working. “During one of our visits to Amatrice, one of the local boys took us to the red zone, the wounded heart of the municipality. None of them remembered where the bar or the grocery store was. Suddenly, the town where they were born and raised became a place where they didn’t belong.”
Amatrice looks forward
In two and a half minutes, during the night of 24 August, life totally changed. “We can’t give up, we have to look ahead”, Alessandro says. “I will not abandon my home. I’m an insurer and after the disaster I had to work from a camper. Throughout this period we’ve missed many things, that is true, but the most important one was a place for all of us to meet, a place to feel that, despite the wound, Amatrice still lives, still smiles. Here it is, finally, our new library”. Normal life is back on track thanks to books. After all, fairy tales teach us that the ogres are always defeated.