Apr 102010
This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series A Summer in Italy, 1929
Primo Congresso Mondiale delle Biblioteche e di Bibliografia, 1929
Congress logo from L’Italia che Scrive
12:5 (May 1929) p.137.

This part will cover the Binkleys’ voyage across the Atlantic and through France and Italy to Rome, where the Bibliographic Congress opened in mid-June, and then follow Bob’s participation in the Congress during its sessions in Rome. Part three will complete the description of the Congress until it closed in Venice at the end of the month, and part four will pick up some threads in Bob and Frances’s personal lives and follow them through to their return to the US.

A major source for this posting is the conference proceedings: Il Ministero della Educazione Nazionale (Direzione Generale delle Accademie e Biblioteche), ed., Primo Congresso mondiale delle biblioteche e di bibliografia, Roma-Venezia 15-30 giugno MCMXXIX – a. VII: atti, 6 vols. (Roma: La Libreria dello Stato, 1931-33), cited as Proc. with volume and page number. Copies are rare; WorldCat knows of only one in a Canadian library. (I was lucky enough to find a set for sale at a decent price.) The other main sources, apart from Bob and Frances’s correspondence, are the jocular “Expedition Reports” they sent to friends and family in July, 1929. The first was Bob’s work and is cited as “Report”; the other two were written by Frances, who entitled them “Minority Reports” 1 and 2. Since these were written to amuse their friends and family, who had no professional interest in the Congress, they can’t necessarily be taken as a fair-minded description, but they do provide details not available elsewhere.

The Crossing and the Road to Rome

Bob’s two previous Atlantic crossings had both taken place in December (1917 and 1919), so this one was a good deal more pleasant. He wrote to Sidney Robertson:

The crossing has been so perfectly smooth that no single case of seasickness has been reported; in fact, the ship has not at any time been as unsteady as our apartment at 49 Morton St. was whenever the milk truck would go past in the street.1

The S.S. Minnekahda was a tourist class ship (no first class), with 275 staterooms and a dining lounge seating 400. Bathrooms and showers were shared. She boasted a “famous jazz orchestra” and had a large dance floor. The Atlantic Transport Line promoted the Minnekahda as the “ship of distinction but ‘without distinctions’”. 2

During the voyage Bob befriended a young French silk technician, and together they started a fad among the passengers: they bought dungarees and worked a shift stoking coal in the engine room. (It was probably just like this.) Frances reports that Bob found it “very interesting”. Others picked up the idea, and every day Bob and the Frenchmen had to lend out the dungarees to new stokers.3 Both Bob and Frances spent much of the voyage trying to work, Bob on his review for the Journal of Modern History and Frances on the index to What is Right with Marriage, and both corrected page proofs. They made a useful social contact: Henry Canby, the editor of the Saturday Review, who had long conversations with Bob (as well as bumming cigarettes off him).4

Cabin on Minnekahda
Lounge on Minnekahda
On board the Minnekahda (click for larger image)
(Photo source: S.S. Minnekahda (II), used by permission of Jonathan Kinghorn)

They touched at Portsmouth on June 10, where they mailed some letters, then crossed to Boulogne and took the train to Paris. They neglected to check their trunk through to Paris and were surprised at how easy it was to retrieve it — “Imagine getting by with that at the Grand Central Station”, Frances remarked.5 They remained in Paris for three days, and then left for Lyon. There Bob introduced Frances to the Alliod family, with whom he had roomed in 1919.

After a day in Lyon they took the night train south. Approaching the Italian border early in the morning, they looked forward to their first sight of real Fascists; but though the station at Ventimiglia was crowded with soldiers and Fascist militia, the only real difference they noticed was that the station staff were more serious than their French counterparts. From here their Congress card entitled them to half-price tickets and accommodation. On the train to Genoa the Fascist militia busied themselves checking tickets and passports repeatedly. The Binkleys stayed overnight in Genoa, where Frances bought shoes and Bob left their money and papers in the hotel safe. The hotel sent a runner to the station who caught up with Bob and Frances in their compartment on the Rome train.6

When they reached Rome on Sunday, June 16, they checked into the Albergo del Sole (selected from the tourist agency list) opposite the Pantheon, paying 25 lire or $1.30 per night for a “dim, vast room with baroque furniture and windows opening on the Piazza”, that had once been occupied by Ariosto.7 No doubt worn out with traveling, they began to reconsider their plan to spend only the period of the conference in Rome and then move on to Florence, Bologna or Milan. Rome seemed worth a longer stay.

Mussolini addresses the Congress
Mussolini addresses the Congress.
(Proc. 1, facing p.88)

The next day, Bob went to register for the Congress. Both Bob and Frances appear on the list of registrants, but Frances did not attend any of the sessions.8 They had missed the official opening of the Congress the day before their arrival in Rome, where the delegates had been welcomed by Mussolini in person. They would, said il Duce, take home from the Congress “a clear and exact vision of what Italy has been, what it is, and what it wishes to become”.9 But the Binkleys had not missed all the festivities; Bob returned to the hotel with the news that as congressisti they were invited to a audience with Pope Pius XI (a former librarian) in the Vatican Library later in the day. Frances wrote:

The card said that signore should wear a vestito di nero and velo, signori should wear frak. We were a little in doubt as to the respective genders of signore and signori, but the padrone’s young man who spoke English told us that Bob must wear a frock coat and I must wear a veil and a thick black dress. So we didn’t go to the reception that afternoon.10

The Congress sessions were held in the Palazzo Corsini (A). The exhibitions were scattered around the city: Roman bibliography in the Palazzo Margherita (B, now the US embassy), the modern Italian book in the Palazzo della Minerva (C), and “biblioteconomia” in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna at Valle Giulia (D). The Congress offices were in the new home of the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione in the Viale del Re (now the Viale di Trastevere) (E).11 The Binkleys stayed at the Albergo del Sole (F) throughout the Rome sessions.

Though the Congress was now open, its organization was in complete disarray. Bob wrote:

It was characteristic of the Congress that no one knew when anything was going to happen. Esdaill [sic: Arundell Esdaile] of the British Museum never did get a chance to have his section meet, and Koch and Uhlendahl finally got their sections in only by calling them at a time which conflicted with something on the official program.12

The local organizing committee had not printed a program or scheduled sessions; the program had to be improvised by the president of the International Committee Isak Collijn and others.13 The confusion seems to have been the result of conflicting expectations between the International Committee and the local organizers. Bob, perhaps unfairly, laid the blame mostly on the “small calibre” of the Secretary-General of the Congress, Vincenzo Fago.

Fago has since lost his job at the Ministry of Public Instruction because of the way he didn’t handle the Congress. The Touring Company was mostly interested in getting the people to spend money, Fago was mostly interested in advertising the Italian book trade, the Government was getting what prestige it could out of having an International Congress meet in Rome. Fago had not been able, however, to get the Government to pay all the bills of the official delegates, as he had promised when bringing the Congress to Rome, nor had he been able to smooth out the politics of the organization. Previous to the Congress he had been sending out retractions and amendments and circulars one after the other. And now the Congress met without a program.14

In mitigation, The Library Journal noted that Fago was coping with the critical illnesses of his wife and son during the Congress.15

Including the exhibitions in other cities after the initial sessions in Rome, the program ended up like this (based on the dates and times reported in the Proceedings; green sessions are the ones Bob is known to have attended):

Click and drag to left or right to see more of the congress timeline.

On the 18th the Binkleys registered with the police for their summer stay.16 In the afternoon Bob attended a session where a speaker from the Huntington read a paper about the first bibliography of bibliographies.17 Bob was amazed at presenters who insisted on reading their papers in full, despite the crowded and unstructured schedule. The same speaker read a meandering history of the Huntington in Koch’s section, in which, to the disgust of the Northern Californian, “[he] ended, believe it or not, but it’s true, with a few words in praise of Los Angeles”.18

Bob’s real work came on the morning of the 19th. Heinrich Uhlendahl‘s19 Section 3 on the bibliography of periodicals met back-to-back with Theodore Koch’s Section 6 on the book industry, in which Bob was to speak and to introduce his resolution on perishable paper. Together the two rogue sessions made a long sitting: Section 3 ran from 9:30 to 11:30, followed without a break by Section 6, which ended at 1:45.

As Section 3 opened, Koch was present on the dais with Uhlendahl and Auguste Vincent of the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels.20 Uhlendahl began by describing a questionnaire he had sent to 25 European countries. There was insufficient time to present the results in detail, but he summarized the findings: practices around the compilation of bibliographic data on the literary production of the nations were diverse and generally inadequate. He therefore proposed a resolution in favor of national bibliographies of monographs, well edited and promptly published; and the desirability of lists of all or at least the noteworthy articles in journals. There followed a brief discussion, in which Bob, Koch and Dr. Wieruszowski (who does not appear among the registrants, but was perhaps Helene Wieruszowski, librarian at the University of Bonn) took part. Bob spoke up to promote Social Science Abstracts, and he was elected to the drafting committee for the resolutions of both Sections, along with Uhlendahl and Wieruszowski.21 He reported to M. Blander at Social Science Abstracts:

I made an attempt to get the abstracts mentioned in the resolution which the Committee drew up for presentation to the Congress, but without success. The Germans were in complete control, both in the Section and in the Drafting Committee, of which I was also a member. The Germans were chiefly interested in forcing through a resolution calling upon each country to make a bibliography of its own periodical literature, like our readers’ Guide and the one that the Germans have. The French have none,—hence the German eagerness to put their resolution through in that form. 22

Uhlendahl then gave brief summaries of seven papers whose authors were not present; Paul Gsell reported on the handling of the bibliography of periodicals in Paris libraries; and Uhlendahl discussed the problem of translations, which were frequently indistinguishable in catalogues from original works. Uhlendahl then embodied his arguments in a three-part resolution, calling on each nation to publish a complete and current national bibliography, including a list of journal articles; that translations should be recognizable as such; and that each nation should publish a separate bibliography of translations from foreign languages. Interestingly, the Italian text of the resolution (which is the form adopted by the Section) omits the reference to the periodical literature, which Bob identified as the principal goal of the German delegation. Perhaps that clause was struck by an amendment in the session, and the “forcing through” that Bob mentions was an attempt to reintroduce it in the Drafting Committee.

Koch then took the chair for the session of Section 6. Bob had prepared a paper23 on the problem of perishable paper as it related to libraries. He used First World War newspapers as his primary example to illustrate how library collection policies were affected. He proposed solutions on two fronts: library editions of items intended as a permanent record should be printed on durable paper, and decaying items should be rescued or copied. The latter required research into the chemistry of paper; he noted the work of the US Bureau of Standards. The former depended on librarians to persuade the publishing industry to change its practices. He proposed starting by persuading governments to print their publications on durable paper (at least in limited library editions), and then for libraries to use their purchasing power to get publishers to do the same. As a last resort, he suggested using copyright registration laws to force publishers to use good paper. The first requirement for the rescue of perishing materials was to solve the chemistry problems. Finally, for copying, full-sized photostatic copies are too expensive: Bob advocated exploiting the new opportunities for microphotography. He mentions the Library of Congress’s Project A24 and Admiral Fiske’s binocular reading glass. These are experimental; but once best practices have emerged, a vast effort will have to be organized to apply the techniques of preservation without duplicating effort. The paper closes by introducing his resolution.25

In the event, Bob did not get to read his paper. Section 6 had twelve speakers scheduled during its two-and-a-quarter hour timeslot.26 Koch, the chairman, who was to speak first, gave up his time, and the following four speakers read their papers. Next was Bob’s turn:

When I saw the way things were going I cut mine down to a two page abstract, handed the paper itself over to the secretary and read part of the abstract, after asking permission. Never was permission more cheerfully given. Then I moved the resolutions, and Cole, the dear old gentleman who had praised Los Angeles, moved the drafting Committee resolution, and everything was set.27

The next two speakers, Leslie E. Bliss of the Huntington and H.W. Wilson, followed Bob’s example. Three of the four remaining speakers managed to read their papers in other sections, and one was not present. Bob’s resolution (reproduced below) was therefore the final business of the session.

It remained for the drafting committee to put the resolution into its final form. Bob described the process:

The drafting Committee met in a hotel room that night, and translated my resolution out of English while I translated others into English. I felt a distinct thrill of triumph in the fact that my resolution had a sentence so long that the German had to break it up in order to translate. I told him that I had been waiting for years for that revenge upon the German language. The way it came about that the English sentence was so long was that a last minute change was made, cutting out something, and linking together the two paragraphs surrounding it. This made into one sentence what had previously been two articles of the resolution.28

The changes that Bob refers to appear to be those reflected in a different version of the resolution, found in 1987 among the IFLA archives in the United Nations Library in Geneva, and now in IFLA headquarters in The Hague.29 The document has Bob’s name written in the margin, and a note: “Can you put this on agenda with Section 6 tomorrow?”. This appears to refer to the final session of the Congress, where resolutions were adopted by the Congress as a whole, as will be covered in the next posting in this series. The text of the resolution differs substantially from the version in the Proceedings. It summarizes the various points of the original resolution more succinctly (producing some long combined sentences, one of which must be the one that stumped Bob’s German colleague). It then ties the resolution to the previous year’s resolution of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, an organ of the League of Nations:

The World Library and Bibliographical Congress expresses hereby its emphatic approval of the resolutions and recommendations of the Committee of Experts, approved by the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation at Geneva, August, 1928, namely:

“That the attention of the Governments should be drawn to the necessity of using for documents of permanent value, and especially for those of an official character, only papers manufactured according to given specifications.”

It concludes by urging that a committee of IFLA should be formed to coordinate research, and that a Section at the next IFLA Congress should follow up on the progress made in the interim. The relations of IFLA to the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation had been proposed for discussion at the Congress by the International Committee.30 The changes therefore made the resolution more the work of an IFLA insider than Bob’s original was, presumably due to Uhlendahl’s influence.31

Bob left the final text of the resolution with Marco Liberma, an antiquarian book dealer in Rome (who also does not appear in the list of registrants), to copy and forward to Koch. Although there was one more day of sessions in Rome, there is no evidence that Bob attended; he may have used this day to visit the exhibition of “biblioteconomia”, which opened that morning.32 On June 22nd the Congress officially transferred to Naples, and Bob and Frances followed a day later; but not on Congress business, as we shall see in a future posting.

Appendix: Resolution adopted by Section 6

(Printed in Italian and English in the Proceedings, 1.157-60. This is the form in which Bob proposed the resolution, not the final form produced by the Drafting Committee, which, since it it available online, I haven’t reproduced here.)

Deeply concerned with the problem created in the past fifty years by the use of highly perishable paper in the publishing of books, magazines, newspapers, and public documents, and with the consequent impossibility of preserving properly the records of out rime, and recognizing the responsibility which rests upon librarians to preserve for the future the records of the present and the past, the First World Library and Bibliographical Congress urgently endorses all measures:

  1. To promote the use of durable paper in publishing whatever works should be kept for the future, and
  2. To salvage publications already printed upon perishable paper, and proposes specifically the following lines of endeavor:


    1. Scientific research looking toward the establishment of reliable durability specifications for papers.
    2. Large scale manufacture of standard papers conforming to these specifications.
    3. The creation of a publishers’ trade custom which shall impose upon all publishers the duty of indicating upon each work the durability index of the paper used therein, so that the purchaser may know the life probability of the publication he is buying.
    4. The introduction of a practice whereby the durability of paper sued in a publication shall correspond to the durability requirement for which the publication is intended, so that works intended to be kept for long periods of time shall be printed upon durable paper. In the case of newspapers, and possibly of many other types of publication, this principle will require the issue of special library editions.
    5. The study of the possibility of modifying copyright legislation so that a minimum number f registration copies of all publications may be printed upon durable paper as a part of the deposit requirement.
    6. To bring the attention of Governments to the necessity of using durable paper for documents of permanent value, or at least of printing a sufficient number of durable copies of each document to meet the needs of libraries.
    7. To collect and exchange information upon the extent to which documents and printed matter are now deteriorating or disappearing by reason of the low quality of the paper stock upon which they are printed.


    1. Scientific research to discover better and less expensive methods of preserving decaying paper stock, or copying that which cannot be preserved integrally.
    2. To organize and coordinate efforts by different institutions to salvage decaying printed matter.
    3. To undertake propaganda to draw the attention of the public to the seriousness of the danger that the records of an entire period of our civilization may be lost.

The Section also passed a resolution introduced by Dr. Hoffman of Leipzig calling on all nations to produce inventories of fine bookbindings on the German and Austrian model.33

Series NavigationA Summer in Italy, 1929 (part 1)A Summer in Italy, 1929 (part 3)



  1. Doc. 303: 1929-06-09. []
  2. Jonathan Kinghorn, S.S. Minnekahda (II). []
  3. Doc. 303; Doc. 154 (FWB to her mother, 1929-06-09). []
  4. Doc. 303. []
  5. “Report”, p.1. []
  6. “Minority Report 1″, p.5. []
  7. “Report”, p.2; “Minority Report 1″, p.6. The Albergo del Sole is now a four-star hotel. []
  8. Proc. 1.79. Bob gave his affiliation as Smith College and their residence as Northampton, MA. []
  9. Mussolini’s speech: Proc. 1.94-95: “una visione chiara ed esatta di quello che l’Italia è stata e di quello che è e di quello che vuole essere”. []
  10. “Minority Report 1″, pp. 6-7. Gentlemen did indeed wear frock coats, as this photo shows. In the picture of the papal reception in the Proceedings (vol. 1, facing p.88), no ladies are visible. []
  11. Proc. 1.181. []
  12. “Report”, p.3. []
  13. Serpil de Costa, “Foundation and Development of IFLA, 1926-1939,” The Library Quarterly 52, no. 1 (January 1982): 41-58, at p.47. William Warner Bishop, head of the University of Michigan library, had planned to devote his time before the Congress to his work with the Vatican Library, but found Collijn and Fago “much perturbed over the arrangements and the program”, and so devoted all his time to helping with the Congress. Nicoletta Mattioli Hary, “The Vatican Library and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: The history, impact, and the influence of their collaboration 1927-1947” (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1991), v.2 pp.638-39. []
  14. “Report”, p.3. []
  15. “Editorial Forum”, The Library Journal, Sept. 1 1929, p.714. []
  16. Doc. 2369. []
  17. “Report”, p.3. Bob says it was in Pierre Roland-Marcel’s section, which was Section 10 on bursaries for library school training, and met June 17 at 10:30: Proc. 1.171; but the speaker (later identified by Bob as Watson G. Cole) actually read the paper “Bibliographical Method” (Proc. 2.18208) in Section 4 under Fago, which met June 18, 3:00 to 5:00: Proc. 1.135-40. Roland-Marcel was present and introduced a resolution (Proc. 1.136), which perhaps explains Bob’s lapse of memory. []
  18. “Report”, p.3. []
  19. Uhlendahl was director of the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig (Proc. 1.73), essentially the German national library at this time. []
  20. The report of the Section is at Proc. 1.130-34. []
  21. Proc. 1.131. []
  22. Doc. 1879, 1929-07-03. []
  23. Proc. 3.77-85; also in Collected Papers []
  24. The first large-scale use of microfilm; a five-year project that started in 1927, funded by John D. Rockefeller, to acquire copies of materials relevant to the history of the US in European collections. []
  25. The last paragraph in the paper as published in the Proceedings, omitted in the Collected Papers, is: “In order to give definition to our purpose in this effort, both as regards the publishing practices of today and the rescue of our legacy of decaying paper, I present the following resolution for discussion.” []
  26. The report of the Section is at Proc. 1.156-60. []
  27. “Report”, p.3. []
  28. “Report”, p.3. []
  29. A Resolution from the Distant Past“, Abbey Newsletter 15:7 (Nov. 1991). []
  30. Proc. 1.190. []
  31. Uhlendahl had represented Germany and served as secretary at the first plenary meeting of the International Committee in March, 1928 (Proc. 1.182), and spent a week in Stockholm with Collijn and Fago in January, 1929 planning the program of the Congress (ibid. 1.185-86). []
  32. Proc. 1.251. []
  33. Proc. 6.160. []

  3 Responses to “A Summer in Italy, 1929 (part 2)”

  1. If this sort of confusion happened at other congresses in Italy at the time, that’s perhaps why the Italians used to have a reputation for being disorganized.

  2. [...] found evidence that Salomon was in Rome in the summer of 1929, but the shot of Mussolini (see part 2), as well as the shot of the Papal reception,6 are in his style, in that they are unposed and use [...]

  3. [...] more on the writing and presentation of this paper see “A Summer in Italy, 1929, part 2“, in this [...]

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