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  • Publishing, Travel writing

    Searching for Rome’s oldest public library

    Inside Library Angelica, the oldest public library in Rome.

    Searching for Rome’s oldest public library

    I love working as a professional editor.

    It’s like being a tailor who works away quietly behind the scenes.

    We help writers present their words in the best possible way, leaving no part of our own voices behind.

    When an audience applauds our client’s speech, compliments our author’s story or pens great reviews about their book, we’re quietly rejoicing because we know their success means we’ve done our job well.

    So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many editors are bibliophiles – that we cherish and collect books.

    That when we travel, we constantly seek interactions with the written word.

    When I hold a beautifully written and designed book in my hands I’m drawn to the meaning of its words, the texture of its paper and the scent of its pages.

    I’ve found many remarkable libraries and bookstores in my travels, and the Bibliotheca Angelica in Rome is one of my favourites – not only for its unforgettable interior, but for its transformative history. 


    In the early 1600s, when the Angelica opened its doors, books were generally kept under lock and key or in chained libraries – such as the 15th-century Bibliotheca Malatestiana in Cesena and the Hereford Cathedral Library in England.

    It took thousands of hours of painstaking work to make a book – copying text by hand, adding decorative elements, illustrations, page numbers and indexes before binding the pages together and adding a cover. 

    This made books expensive and valuable items. Medieval books sometimes had ‘book curses’ placed at the front, warning people that if they stole or defaced the book they would be cursed.

    An example of a book curse, or warning from Medieval times, about stealing a book.
    This Medieval book curse was found inside a copy of the Vulgate Bible.

    But, in a revolutionary step, the Angelica opened its door to all people with no class distinctions or government restrictions.

    All they needed to access this remarkable collection of volumes, rare maps and other material was a curious mind, a yearning to read and a thirst for knowledge.

    It was a momentous decision to grant ordinary people access to scholarly knowledge.

    Looking back we can see that Bibliotheca Angelica and other early public libraries, such as the Milan’s Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, helped bring about the democratisation of education when, rather surprisingly, ordinary people were free to embrace the archives of history and knowledge.

    Even for somebody accustomed to Rome’s ancient piazzas and cobblestone alleyways, it’s easy to get lost searching for the Bibliotheca Angelica.

    The library’s humble street presence belies its pre-eminence as Rome’s oldest public library – and one of the first public libraries in the world. 

    The entrance to the library provides no indication of the historical treasures within it. 

    Like the adjacent Basilica di Sant’Agostino, which is home to works by Caravaggio, Raphael and Sansovino, its riches are cloaked by a plain unassuming exterior.

    Dual photo of entrance to Library Angelica in Rome and second photo is inside the library.
    The library's unassuming exterior and its magnificent interior.

    The Angelica’s collection consists of almost 200,000 volumes. It includes works on the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, along with texts from the 15th–18th century related to what the library calls ‘religious controversies of the period’.

    There are texts on Italian literature and theatre from the same period and almost 3000 Latin, Greek and Oriental volumes. 

    Acquisitions dating back to the 13th century grace the ancient shelves of the Angelica.

    These hand-inscribed manuscripts were bestowed upon the Monastery of Sant’Agostino before becoming part of the Angelica collection.

    Some of these manuscripts were donated to the Augustinians by Roman nobles in previous centuries.

    Safely stored within its walls are 1100 incunabula, which are books or broadsides printed in Europe before the year 1501, when books were printed using metal type. 

    Wall of books in Library Angelica
    The Angelica's collection contains more than 200,000 volumes.

    Rare incunabula in the library include a manuscript from the ninth century – the Liber Memorialis from Remiremont Abbey.

    The first book printed in Italy, in 1465, De Otatore by Cicero is also in the Angelica library.

    So, too, is one of the earliest copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    The person responsible for the founding of Bibliotheca Angelica was Bishop Angelo Rocca, who was born in Rocca in 1545.

    He earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Padua, and went on to become head of the Vatican Printing House in 1585.

    A renowned editor and book lover, his vast collection of 20,000 volumes was incorporated into the Angelica’s collections.

    The building and funds required for the library were provided by Bishop Rocca and, as mentioned above, it was on condition that the library would welcome all people, regardless of social status or income.

    A wooden library ladder rests against a wall of ancient books.
    A library ladder leans against a wall of ancient books in Bibliotheca Angelica.

    In 1873, the Angelica became the property of the Italian State, and in 1975 it became part of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Environment.

    You probably need to be a local or a determined tourist to find Bibliotheca Angelica, but once you step inside this ancient place it’s a remarkable feeling to be surrounded by millions of timeworn pages and their stories from the ages.

    When in Rome, this beautiful library is a treasure worth searching for.

    Bibliotheca Angelica is located at  Piazza di S. Agostino 8, in Rome, Italy.

  • Ebooks, Publishing, Writing

    How to make an ebook

    Open books in blue computer light with code printed across background.

    How to make an ebook

    If you’ve been thinking about making an ebook, now is the time to do it.  

    Downloadable ebooks are experiencing unprecedented levels of popularity and are generally considered prized giveaways and items of value.  

    Web entrepreneur Neil Patel lists ebooks as the second most successful way to create lead generating content.  

    The Digital Marketing Institute sees ebooks as unique content marketing tools because they play an integral role in a company’s marketing strategy by demonstrating authority and subject matter expertise.  

    Ebooks are your unique opportunity to demonstrate your expertise to potential clients. I’m going to show you here how to make a PDF ebook for free.

    What is an ebook?

    An ebook is a piece of long-form content with at least 2,000 words. It includes text and images, and can include tables, graphs, infographics and screen clips.

    Structured like a traditional book, an ebook contains a table of contents, page numbers, a hierarchy of headings, links, captions and source lines.

    It can be detailed content that focuses on a specific topic—drilling down to examine concepts at a granular level. Or it can be complex content that is broken down into easy-to-understand concepts.

    The text design, or layout, is as important as the content itself. Good design enables readers to focus with clarity, clearly understand the content and retain it in their memory.

    Ebooks also need to be visually appealing. You want your readers to enjoy the experience and find it aesthetically pleasing. This increases the likelihood of them sharing the reading experience with their friends and colleagues.

    Let’s start with Microsoft Word 

    Authors and editors in publishing houses use the Word program to create the books you find in bookstores.

    The content, or manuscript, goes through an editorial process before it is handed over to a graphic designer who lays it out in Indesign. Then it goes through a series of editorial checks before the editor signs it off and sends it to the printer.

    We’re going to follow the same process with one exception. We’re not going to send our book to the printer – instead we’ll convert it to PDF file and make it available as a downloadable ebook.

    PDF is the ideal format because it is universally recognised by PCs, Macs and ebook readers. PDF also keeps the content stable, and unlike Word, the different elements on the page do not move about during transit.

    Plan your content

    The first thing to do is create a plan of your content.

    It should have the following components:

    1. Cover
    2. Table of contents
    3. Introduction
    4. Main content
    5. Summary
    6. Call to action

    Let’s break it down even further.


    Be bold and creative. Your cover is the first thing your potential readers will see, and within a few seconds they will decide whether to read on.

    Go to Canva and design a cover yourself. You can upload your own photos to Canva and set custom measurements. For A4 you need 21 cm x 29.7 cm. Alternatively, there are A4 templates available in Canva’s gallery. Just add your own graphics and text, download as a PDF and insert it into the front of your ebook.

    Microsoft Word also has the functionality to create a cover for your ebook. Go to the Word Document Gallery and select a template of your choice. Add your text and colour scheme, save and insert into your ebook.

    Table of contents

    A table of contents (TOC) is always created at the end when your content is stable and complete. Leave a blank page for your TOC and come back to it at the end. In the meantime take care as you write your headings because these are what will end up in your TOC.

    For an ebook it’s relatively easy to create a TOC manually. Your headings should be hierarchical, so ensure you select the ‘A heads’, or the largest heads, for the main headings in your TOC. Subheadings can be listed under it, but keep them consistent. If in doubt refer to a TOC in a hard copy textbook and use this as an example.


    In the introduction explain to your readers what your ebook is about, what your expertise is and why they should read it.

    Don’t forget to tell them what’s in it for them.

    Main content

    This is the ebook’s reason for being.

    Divide your main content into sections that flow sequentially. Ensure it isn’t repetitive and break it up with graphics and images. Be sure to insert links to your website and blog where relevant.


    Summarise the takeaways from the main content. Describe the main message in a nutshell.

    What should your readers know after reading your ebook? They’re downloading it because they want to know how to do something, so make sure you deliver it and don’t stray from your message.

    Call to action

    Use this opportunity to convince your readers to extend their relationship with you. Even though this section is likely only a few sentences, spend some time thinking about how to convert your readers into your customers.

    You need more than great content

    Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that writing high-quality content is all that matters. In fact, it’s only half the story.

    The layout and formatting of an ebook is as important as the content, and it all needs to come together like a symphony. For this you need consistency.

    There should be a heading hierarchy, so there is order and consistency in the way the content flows throughout the ebook.

    The spaces between the paragraphs need to be the same, and the treatment of tables, images and graphics should also be consistent.

    Layout consistency is the key to comfortable reading. It enables the reader to focus on the content without being distracted, and it signifies professionalism.

    The best way to do this is to create and use paragraph styles—a function of Word.

    Let’s look at headings first.

    Always use the same font for headings, and use a common font such as Ariel, Helvetica or Calibri to save downloading time.

    The following headings show the difference in point size necessary for clarity:

    Choose your font carefully

    (*A head)

    Why font type is important

    (*B head)

    The best font

    (*C head)


    (*D head)

    Each head level reduces either two or one points in size as we move down the hierarchy.

    The fourth head, the C head, is italics because the third head was size 11 font and any smaller would cause legibility issues.

    Note each head has an asterisk before it. This is so the new styles created sit at the top of the style list in Word.

    Creating a heading style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

     Creating a heading style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

    To manually create your own heading style on a Mac go to go to ‘Format’ then ‘Style’ and select ‘New’ (marked ‘1’ on the image above). Then write the name of your new style in the box (2). Insert an asterisk at the beginning so all your style stay at the top of the list.

    Next go to the Formatting function (3) and select your preferred font, point size and bold.

    Creating a heading style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

     Creating a heading style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

    To finish creating your heading style go to ‘Format’ (1) and open up the ‘Paragraph’ menu (2). Go to ‘Spacing’ and make a six point space before and after your heading. For large headings the space before and after may need to be more. Experiment until you have the space that fits your heading best.

    The main text

    There are two types of main text—indented and ‘full out’. Full out text aligns directly to the left from the top of the page to the bottom. Sometimes an indent on the first line is needed, such as at the beginning of paragraphs. To set this in your style, go to the ‘Special’ menu to the right of (4) below and adjust it for the first line indent.

    Use the same font for headings and text in your ebook, and never use more than two different fonts. You can add variety to a font by changing the size and by using different colours. Dark grey is a good alternative to black in captions and source lines.

    Creating a full out, or hard-left alignment style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

     Creating a full out, or hard-left alignment style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

    To create a style in Word for ‘full out’ text, or text that aligns sharp left, create a new style (1), name it (2)—then go to the Format menu and ‘Paragraph’. Make sure there is no indentation—that both left and right margins (4) are zero.

    In ‘Spacing’ (5) you will need to select how much space you want between paragraphs. Usually 6 pts above and 6 pts below will do it. You also have the  option to insert horizontal space between the lines (6). You can try 1.5 for more room between the lines, or write your own recipe in the box to the right.

    Creating a block indented style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

     Creating a block indented style in Microsoft Word on a Mac.

    To create a style for indented text follow the instructions above until you get to (4). Instead of setting it at zero, set it at the width of indentation you want. Here is is 1.2, which is quite wide. Keep your Spacing (5) at zero pts if you have a block of text. If you want to insert paragraphs in your text set this at 6 pts above and below.

    Once again set your horizontal spacing between lines of text for single, 1.5. double or your own recipe.

    Indented text moves the text over .6, 1.2, 1.8 – or whatever size indent you want for a selected amount of text. This may be for a quote, stand-alone text or to align with another element on the page.

    How to format a list in Word

    There are two list types generally used in publishing – bullets and numbers.

    Bullet lists are much easier to construct in Word because there is no renumbering and the same style can be used in subsequent bullet point lists.

    Write your bullet point in sentences and hit return between each one.

    Once you’ve written the list points highlight the entire list and go to your style tab in Word.

    Lists always have a hierarchy. This allows room on the page for sub-lists to be formatted. If you indent your first list you have reduced space on the page for your second-and third-level lists. Note the bullet list below is indented because WordPress has the indent as a default. Ideally, the bullets should align with the beginning of the sentences above them on the left-hand edge of the page.

    Another difference between bullet and number lists is that number lists need a new style created for every new number list. If you don’t do this and use the same style the numbers will run onto the new list.

    For bullet lists you can reuse the same style because they don’t need to be sequential.

    • A bullet is round.
    • A bullet list is not necessarily sequential.
    • Bullets can be found in the ‘Tabs’ tab.

    A number list is constructed in the same way as a bullet list, except in the ‘Tabs’ menu click on ‘Tab’ then ‘Numbers’ and select the type of number format you prefer.

    Editing and proofreading your ebook

    When your ebook is written and styled it needs to be edited and proofread.

    The best time to edit your ebook is when it’s still in Word format. If you wrote it yourself commission somebody else to edit it, and ask them to use track changes so you can accept or reject their corrections. If you can, though, hire a professional editor. If you need to know why, take a look at my article Yes, you need an editor.

    Once the editing is done and corrections are taken in and checked, convert your Word document to PDF format. Print it out to check the resolution because onscreen resolution is 72 dpi; whereas, print resolution needs to be 300 dpi—and some people may want to print your ebook.

    Finally, you should proofread your ebook as a PDF. This final check is to ensure no typos have been missed and that every page is where it should be. Read How to proofread like a professional, and also remember to check that the page numbers in the TOC correspond to actual pages (a lot of people forget to do this). Also check it has a page at the end that acts as a back cover.

    Before you press ‘Publish’

    Always wait a day or two before you publish. While it’s exciting to get your work out there, it’s important to go back to it with fresh eyes and read through it carefully.

    Most global publishing houses and major news outlets have at least one horror story to tell about overlooked errors that caused them embarrassment. So take your time and be completely satisfied that your ebook is perfect before you send it out into the world.

  • Libraries, Publishing, Travel writing

    The library Michelangelo designed

    Close-up view of columns and stairs leading to Michelangelo's library.

    The library Michelangelo designed

    In the European summer of 2018, I was in Florence attending Lisa Clifford‘s ‘Art of Writing’ workshop.

    It was held in the beautiful San Niccolo district, which runs along the left bank of the Arno River.

    The location was perfect with the magnificent Boboli Gardens nearby and a steep, but rewarding, walk up the hill to Basilica San Miniato al Monte and the Piazza Michelangelo.

    One sun-drenched Florentine morning, I managed to find time to set off in search of a unique library I’d been dreaming about for years – Michelangelo’s Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

    The library is adjacent to the Basilica di San Lorenzo and is accessed through an unremarkable door on the first floor of the Brunelleschi cloister.

    The cloister courtyard was glistening with morning sun and nuns were appearing and disappearing through small doors, until finally the window to the ticket office was pushed up and I stepped a little closer to Michelangelo.

    On my last visit to Florence, I had stood at the foot of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery and been swept away by its magnificence.

    Weighing more than 560 kilograms and standing almost 14 feet tall, David is carved from a single block of white marble.

    The Laurentian Library in Florence from the outside with green grass and hedges.
    The Brunelleschi cloister, with entrance to the library in the far left corner.

    Michelangelo’s deep knowledge of human anatomy was acquired from participating in public dissections.

    As a young teenager he joined the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici and became acquainted with the physician–philosopher members there, and by the age of 18 he was performing his own dissections.

    The pulsing veins on the back of David’s hands, his flexed muscles juxtaposed against beautifully contoured limbs, and his face lit exquisitely with large watchful eyes are all the more extraordinary because of Michelangelo’s physician-like understanding of human anatomy. 

    Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he began to carve David in 1501.

    Over the next three years he worked in secret.

    His biographer, Ascanio Condivi, wrote that Michelangelo barely ate during this time, and would snatch brief naps while fully clothed between bouts of work.

    On 14 May 1504, David was finally ready to be moved to his first home, the Piazza della Signoria, and it took 40 men to push the statue there on a large wooden cart.

    A lauded architect, as well as a painter and sculptor, Michelangelo began sketching the design and dimensions of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in 1523.

    View into Michelangelo's library from the entrance.
    View of the magnificent Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

    Construction began on the library in 1524, and continued until he left Florence for Rome in 1534.

    After Michelangelo’s departure, his followers – Medici court artist Giorgio Vasari and Bartolommeo Ammannati – continued the construction based on plans and verbal instructions from Michelangelo.

    The library was finally opened in 1571, which was 37 years after Michelangelo left Florence and seven years after his death. 

    The vestibule, or entrance hall, of the Laurenziana is almost entirely overtaken by a colossal staircase made up of three adjoining flights that ascend to the library.

    It was built by Ammannati in 1559, using a clay model created by Michelangelo.

    The design is said to have come to Michelangelo in a dream. The three flights of stairs are composed of grey sandstone and plaster, and the centre flight is convex with three complete elliptical steps at the base.

    On exiting the library it appears as if an explosion of lava steps is waiting to float you down to the level below.

    It’s a remarkable effect, and characteristic of Mannerist (also known as Late Renaissance) architecture, for which Michelangelo was well-known.

    The multiple staircases to Michelangelos library
    The entry with its three flights of stairs was designed my Michelangelo.
    The main staircase to Michelangelo's library.
    The design for the stairs is said to have come to Michelangelo in a dream.

    Michelangelo designed the library for Medici Pope Clemente VII to store 11,000 manuscripts and 4500 early printed books collected by Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent.

    It’s considered to be one of the most valuable collections of ancient manuscripts in the world.

    Manuscripts and books were organised by subject, and a wooden panel attached to each lectern post displayed a table of contents that could be read from the centre aisle.

    The texts lay on shelves built into the lectern in front, while a sloping platform allowed the reader to position their reading material for comfortable reading.

    The Laurenziana was a chained library, which was a common feature of public libraries in the Middle Ages when books were scarce and valuable. 

    Shelves and seats in Michelangelo's library.
    Functional lecterns support both seats and desks.
    Close up of shelves and seats in Michelangelo's library.
    Books were chained in the space under the reading slope for easy access.

    The long rectangular reading room has simple perfect lines.

    Orderly rows of readings desks, or lecterns, are set off by red and white terracotta floor tiles and splendid stained glass windows that run the length of the reading room on both sides.

    The linden wood ceiling, which was carved from 1548–1550 using early drawings by Michelangelo, wraps the reading room in hues of rich warm timber.

    These superb architectural elements blend so harmoniously with the practical seating and reading arrangements that you feel as if you’re in a church.

    Looking up you almost expect to see an altar of books bathed in celestial light.

    Among the ancient and rare manuscripts in the Laurenziana collection are Tacitus, Pliny, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Quintilian.

    The codex of Vergil is also there, along with the oldest extant copy of Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis.

    One of the most fascinating acquisitions is an early complete collection of Plato’s dialogues – one of only three in existence.

    The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana is now owned by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and is open only on selected weekdays.

    The library specialises in the “conservation and study of its manuscript and rare book collection”.

    Single carved post supporting both reading table and seat.
    A lectern displaying a table of contents that can be read from the centre aisle.