The first years of the nineteenth century represented a crucial moment for Trent civic library. The secularisation of the episcopal principality in 1803, and the alternation of Austrian, French and Bavarian governments during the following decade, drew attention to the fact that, at that time, many books lacked an owner and were piled inside the Episcopal seminary (formerly the Jesuit college and now the location of the library).
From 1803 to 1810, libraries belonging to religious institutions secularised after the Recessus Imperii were gradually gathered into this central location. Also in 1806, the collection of Bishop Giovanni Benedetto Gentilotti’s became available. This library (10,000 volumes) was the product of Gentilotti’s life-long activity as a scholar, a librarian and a collector in Salzburg, Vienna, and Rome. Later, in 1809, the episcopal library (2,300 volumes) – the most prestigious collection among the civic library’s constitutive assets – was integrated into the seminary as well. Then, in 1810, new books arrived from the Augustinian convent of S. Marco, from the Franciscan convent of S. Bernardino and from the Capuchin convent of Trent: hence, all the libraries of the city were gathered, at that point, in the same building.
In 1822, the problem of ownership of the book collections was solved. The Jesuits’ and Dominicans’ collections were assigned to the episcopal seminary; the books which belonged to suppressed religious orders and the ones previously owned by Gentilotti’s family to a public library that was to be established. However, it would be thirty years before this new public library opened its doors, on 1 January 1856. So, the civic library was born when Trent and Trentino, that once were respectively a capital and a small independent state (the episcopal principality of Trent), were downgraded respectively to a small city with limited political power and to a marginal area of a great empire: they were just a part of the Land of Tyrol with its capital in Innsbruck.
In this era the new library benefited from the generosity of private donors. The library received entire archives (among them, from 1876, the civic historical archive itself) or single documents, but also pieces of art, coin collections and archaeological evidence (their intent was to establish this new institution as the location of civic memory). In 1841, Antonio Mazzetti – born near Trento and who later became president judge in Milan and State Councillor of the imperator Francis I – left a remarkable testamentary bequest: 11,000 printed volumes and 1,500 manuscripts.
Nowadays, Trent civic library owns about 750,000 volumes, divided between the historical library and 12 other branch libraries around the city. The collection includes 536 incunabula, 4,200 sixteenth-century, 6,100 seventeenth-century and 12,000 eighteenth-century editions, along with 180 medieval codices and 21,000 manuscripts and printed musical texts, as well as the civic historical archive (three kilometres of documents).
As we investigate the rarity of our editions, we find that the library has 7 unique survivors among the incunabula and 24 that survive in between two and five copies. The library owns 80 unique sixteenth-century books, 76 that survive in 2 copies and about 230 other rare editions (3-5 copies). The digitalization of the unique items or those that survive in only one other copy is nearing completion and is already partially available on the STABAT website.