Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 6(1973)2(204-206)

MALTA LIBRARY ASSOCIATION YEARBOOK 1971 (ed. Carmel G. Bonavia, Anthony Sapienza, Lillian Sciberras and Paul Xuereb, Valletta, Malta Library Association, 1971); MALTA LIBRARY ASSOCIATION YEARBOOK 1973 (ed. Thomas Bason, Anthony Sapienza, Lillian Sciberras and John Sultana, Malta Library Association, Valletta, 1973).

The first two MLA Yearbooks — so called, though dated two years apart — are undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the Island’s professional literature. While much of the contents are of interest mainly to MLA members — text of the Association’s Statute, current membership lists — a directory of libraries in Malta by Fr. A.F. Sapienza, S.J. (1971) and Gordon B. Neavill’s detailed survey of ‘Maltese Commercial and Business Information Sources’ (1973) afford a promising start to the long-overdue work of documentation: exact classification of material is urgently required in nearly every field of Maltese life.

Significantly, a bibliography of ‘Libraries and Librarianship in Malta’ by Dr P. Xuereb (1971) lists only a handful of items, exactly half of them newspaper articles or comment, and some of the others not much more. Dr. Xuereb, to be sure, merely skims the surface in a rather obvious way: apart from archival material, historical researchers will know of sufficiently extended reference to the Public Library in the older printed works (e.g., W.H. Thornton, Memoir on the Finances of Malta [Malta, [p.205] 1836], p. 20) and perhaps even some — albeit somewhat obscure — modern studies (e.g., F. Mackenzie, ‘An Anglo-French Collection of Books in the Royal Malta Library,’ Studies in French Language, Literature and History presented to R.L. Graeme Ritchie [Cambridge, 1949], pp. 119-27). It is also difficult to justify Dr Xuereb’s inclusion of a two-page article on archives in the Royal Malta Library by A. Mackenzie-Grieve (Country Life, 20 February 1948) without mention of J. Delaville LeRoulx, Les archives, la bibliothèque et le trésor de lOrdre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem à Malte (Paris, 1883), or indeed the massive Catalogue of the Records of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in the Royal Malta Library (ed. J. Mizzi et al., Malta, 1964-in progress), where other bibliographical data may be found, besides more popular works (e.g., H.C. Luke, Malta: An Account and An Appreciation [London, edd. and revised and paperback reprints since 1949], Chapter XVI): of natural importance is E.R. Leopardi, ‘Frà Jean Louis Guerin de Tencin, Founder of the First Public Library in Malta,’ Annales de lOrdre Souverain Militaire de Malte, Vol. XVI (1958), pp. 79-85, reprinted in the posthumous Maltas Heritage: Selections from the Writings of E.R. Leopardi (Malta, 1969), pp. 97-107.

Nevertheless, the thinness of current material on library subjects in Malta is ample proof of the gross general neglect of this entirely fundamental requirement of national culture and economic as well as social development. “If the Roberts arithmetic of book-provision for adults and children were applied locally,” Mr J. Montalto observes in the (Presidentital) Annual Report for 1969, “we should have to purchase annually at least 75,000 volumes, costing approximately £110,000. In terms of staff, on the standard ratio of 1:2500 of population, we should have to have at least 120 librarians, 40 per cent of whom should be professionally qualified. Since we currently have only 5 qualified librarians, and not 48, we obviously require to increase quam citius the presently available number by something approaching 1,000 per cent.” Actually the number of Maltese qualified librarians is scheduled to have risen to seven by 1973 (of whom one has been promoted out of library service), and Dr Xuereb’s Annual Report for 1972 comments on the announcement by the Department of Education and Culture that a Public Lending Library is to be set up with £65,000 provided by the U.K. Government; but it cannot be said the Second, Third and Fourth Annual Reports are appreciably less gloomy in basic implication than the First: “No progress was made,” Dr Xuereb records, “on another cooperative project, the Union Catalogue of Legal Publications, since two of the libraries involved were unable to provide the funds and personnel needed for their share of the work...... One of the biggest disappointments of the year was the MLA’s failure, through no fault of the Council, to [p.206] publish the first number of Kotba Maltin, a current bibliography of books and serials published in Malta......”

There is little doubt that Maltese history-teachers must view with concern the continuing inadequacy of facilities without which classroom interest cannot be extended or followed up. Indeed, when problems at this level are so grave, it is perhaps ungracious to note that the MLA has as yet indicated no very definite policy regarding archives, conservation of manuscripts and the difficulties of historians as such — as distinct, that is, from teachers, antiquarians and bibliophiles — none of which can be set aside in the overall planning of a national library system. However, historians will certainly welcome sustained MLA initiatives towards a truly professional service, including the organisation of a Library Assistant’s Certificate course and examinations: the first two Yearbooks are evidence of a determination to advance Maltese standards towards those obtaining in Europe generally.

Dr Xuereb also contributes to the 1973 edition a comprehensive article on the University of Malta Library (of which he is, of course, Librarian), and it is comforting to learn from his 1972 Report that the MLA had — at last — secured five members from the staff of the Royal Malta Library.

J.T. McPartlin