Italian Word of the Day: Biblioteca (library)

The word for library in Italian is biblioteca (feminine, plural: biblioteche). Its origin can be traced back to the ancient Greek word βιβλιοθήκη which is a combination of βιβλίον (biblion meaning book) and -θήκη (-theke meaning box or chest).

italian word for library

Some different kinds of biblioteche include:

  • biblioteca comunale / pubblica = public library
  • biblioteca scolastica = school library
  • biblioteca universitaria = university library
  • biblioteca ambulante = mobile library
  • biblioteca circolante = lending library

Mia cugina lavora in biblioteca da cinque anni.

My cousin has been working in a library for five years.

Two young students working together at the library
Due ragazzi studiano in biblioteca. = Two young people studying at the library.

Someone who works in a library is called a bibliotecario (male librarian) or bibliotecaria (female librarian).

You would be forgiven for thinking that libreria is the word for library given the similarities in spelling and pronunciation. Although they share the same etymological origin, libreria is what you would call a bookshop or bookcase in Italian.

And if that weren’t confusing enough, a bookshelf or bookcase can also be called a biblioteca in addition to a libreria. The two words can also indicate the room in a house where all the books are stored (home library or reading room).

The easiest way to avoid getting confused is to use the words as summarised below:

  • library (the public place or the dedicated room at home) = biblioteca
  • bookshelf / bookcase = libreria
  • bookshop = libreria

Mia zia ha una bellissima libreria di legno in salotto.

My aunt has a beautiful wooden bookshelf in her living room.

Bookstore shop exterior with books and textbooks in showcase
Hanno aperto una nuova libreria in centro. = They’ve open a new bookstore downtown.

Another possible meaning for biblioteca is series when talking about a collection of volumes, printed by a publisher, whose cultural subject and format are similar.

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