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Overviews of the Collections

Maltese Collections at the Library of Congress

Grant Harris
Chief, European Division
Eric Solsten
Former Reference Librarian

Overview   The Library of Congress has approximately 1,000 monographs published in Malta and approximately 1,100 monographs about Malta published outside that country. The collections also include limited runs of several dozens of periodicals, bulletins, and annuals from or about Malta. Because serials are multi-volume, as are some monographs, the monographic and serial collections from or about Malta exceed 3,000 volumes. The Library also has special collections pertaining to Malta, such as rare books, maps, music, and manuscripts.

Monographs from Malta   Approximately 75 percent of the Library's 1,000 monographs from Malta were published in the capital, Valletta, with others published (in descending order) in Msida, Sliema, Pieta, Floriana, Rabat, Hamrun, and a dozen other towns. Some 70 percent are in English and 20 percent in Maltese, the two official languages. About 3 percent are in Arabic, 2 percent in Italian, and 5 percent in other languages. The Library's monographs in Maltese were published primarily from 1971 to the present.

Monographs published outside Malta   Of the 1,100 monographs about Malta published outside that country, approximately 60 percent are in English, nearly 15 percent in Italian, more than 10 percent in French, nearly 10 percent in German, and about 5 percent in other languages. Nearly 100 of these books were published in the United States. Approximately 350 of these 1,100 monographs concern the Knights of Malta.

The European Reading Room   The European Reading Room provides direct access to several reference works on Malta, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, histories, biographical directories, bibliographies, and other reference sources. The reading room makes available for onsite use numerous bibliographic databases and full-text resources, many of which contain citations or texts pertaining to Malta.

Rare Books   The Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room has custody of about fifty volumes from or about Malta, most of which were published before 1800. (As a general rule, works published before 1801 are found in the Rare Book Reading Room; later publications are usually in the general collections.) A few examples are given below.

Malta stood siege against Ottoman forces and won a decisive but bloody victory in 1565. The Library has copies of the first two works cited below; both appeared the following year to describe the events.

Language and Literature   The Maltese language has Arabic origins but with many Sicilian and Italian words added during the 11th-18th centuries. Maltese was primarily an oral language through the end of the 19th century, with little printed in it before the 20th century. It was only in 1924 that the Maltese alphabet was standardized, and another ten years passed before Maltese became an official language, joining English in that status. Not until after independence from Great Britain in 1964 did Malta begin publishing much in Maltese.

The earliest work giving evidence of the Maltese language is Jean Quintin's Insvlae Melitae descriptio (Lyons, 1536). The Library has a recently published facsimile edition of the original, as well as an English translation, entitled The Earliest Description of Malta (Lyons 1536). Sliema, Malta, 1980.

Michele Antonio (Mikiel Anton) Vassalli is recognized as the father of the Maltese language for his efforts at creating a literary language from the spoken form. The Library has a copy of his grammar of the Maltese language, entitled Mylsen phoenico-punicum, sive Grammatica melitensis (Rome, 1791). The work itself is written in Latin. Vassalli later published a revised edition in Italian, entitled Grammatica della lingua maltese... (Malta, 1827). The Library has a recent reprint of Vassalli's Ktyb yl klym Malti, a Maltese-Latin-Italian dictionary originally published in Rome in 1796; it is of great linguistic value but is also important historically for its "Discorso preliminare," an appeal in its opening pages to promote the Maltese language and people.

Another trilingual dictionary of interest was compiled by F[rancesco] Vella, entitled Dizionario portatile delle lingue maltese, italiana, inglese (Livorno, 1843). Vella's contributions to the development of the Maltese language and literature have been researched only recently.

The important Maltese literary journal Malti (or Il-Malti) began in the 1920s under the direction of Ghaqda tal-Kittieba tal-Malti (the Union of Maltese Writers) and was edited from the late 1920s until 1942 by Dun Karm, Malta's national poet. The Library has an extensive run of Malti from 1947 through 1980, and three earlier issues from 1935, 1938, and 1939.

Serials   The Library's collections include runs of more than fifty retrospective or current newspapers, magazines, journals, bulletins, annuals, and other serials from or about Malta. Most of these are in the general collections. Current issues of periodicals relating to Malta are available in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. In addition, that reading room provides retrospective holdings of the following Maltese newspapers:

  • Times of Malta (Valletta), nearly complete holdings for 1962-94, on microfilm (in 1978, the title was shortened to The Times).
  • Malta News (Valletta) 1974-Oct 31,1978, on microfilm. The title changed to Daily News (Valletta) Nov 1,1978-81, on microfilm. This title also changed, to Weekend Chronicle (Valletta) 1982-88, on microfilm.

Manuscripts   The Manuscript Division collects Americana, including materials pertaining to U.S. relations (of any nature) with other countries. The papers of several American diplomats and others from the United States who worked in or had correspondence with individuals from Malta are available in the Manuscript Reading Room, such as Hugh Smythe's papers when he was U.S. Ambassador to Malta from December 29, 1967 to August 16, 1969, and the journal kept by Obadiah Stevens, an American prisoner of war in a British prison in Malta during the War of 1812.

Maps   The Geography and Map Reading Room provides access to millions of maps, atlases and other cartographic materials, including hundreds of maps pertaining to Malta. These comprise general, historical, specialized, city, and other maps. To view maps that have been digitized by the Library of Congress, see [Map Collections].

The following citations to maps and atlases in the collections illustrate the variety of cartographic materials relating to Malta.

Music and Recorded Sound   The Music Division has a number of resources related to Maltese music, including general monographs on the subject and additional monographs relating to particular Maltese composers and musicians. One early work of note is by the 18th-century Maltese composer and theorist, Francesco Azopardi, entitled Le musicien pratique (Paris, 1786). This French version became well known, more so than the original Italian text. The division also has a collection of printed music, such as scores and sheet music, as well as sound recordings of Maltese composers. Examples include the dozens of recordings and printed scores of compositions by Charles Camilleri, considered by many Malta's national composer. Not all Music Division materials are listed in the online catalog, so interested researchers should check the various card catalogs in the division for access to the full collections.

In addition to the Library's Online Catalog, the Recorded Sound Reference Center maintains a database of many more sound recordings, both musical and non-musical, called the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC). It includes several recordings of radio broadcasts from 1942 concerning World War II developments in Malta, e.g., interviews with Sir Hugh Lloyd, Air Marshal of Malta. Many of these World War II radio broadcasts emanated from the U.S. Office of War Information.

Law   The Law Library Reading Room makes available more than a hundred monographic titles pertaining to law in Malta, such as Collezione di decisioni dei tribunali di Malta (Malta, 1840- , 3 v.) and J.J. Cremona's The Maltese Constitution and Constitutional History since 1813 (San Gwann, Malta, 1994). Among the reading room's several Maltese serials are runs of the following three titles:

Other Special Collections   Special collections pertaining to Malta include prints and photographs, motion pictures, microfilm, and digitized materials. Because not all items in special collections are listed separately in the Library's online catalog, researchers should contact the appropriate reading rooms for advice from specialists and for access to additional finding aids. Many Library of Congress collections have been digitized and are available online. For photographs and other images, see the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. To search simultaneously for all digitized materials that relate to Malta, whether maps, music, photographs, early motion pictures, or materials in other formats, use the American Memory search engine.

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  February 23, 2017
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