The Library "Roberto Caracciolo", named after the famous Franciscan preacher, born in Lecce, Bishop of Lecce and Aquino, who lived in the second half of the fifteenth century, was founded in 1960 by Father Egidio De Tommaso, who was then Provincial Minister of the Friars Minor of Salento. The rooms on the ground floor of the sixteenth-century villa Fulgenzio Della Monaca became the seat of the new institution. The building, according to a notary description, dating back to 1564, was located close to the walls of the city "in loco dicto vulgariter fuora the port of Santo Martino."
After a series of buying and selling from seventeenth century on, reconstructed in detail by Antonio De Meo and Father Luigi De Santis, starting from an article by Amilcare Foscarini published in a newspaper of Lecce in 1904, Giuseppe Sforza, Oronzo Riello and Vito Milella were the owners of the building in early 1800s, but after the failure of their business, it was put on sale and then bought in 1831 by Vincenzo Balsamo. Balsamo’s daughter, Letizia, in December of 1900 alienated the villa for 12,000 liras to the Franciscan Friars Minor, reserving the usufruct of the citrus orchard. The friars moved there the following year from the convent of Santa Maria dell'Idria.
The establishment of the library is due to the initiative of Father Egidio De Tommaso who, from 1955, began to collect the library holdings.
The original library holdings of the convent of Santa Maria dell'Idria, were soon enriched by works coming from some monasteries in the province as the one of the Visitazione of Salice Salentino, S. Maria delle Grazie in Galatone, the monasteries of Squinzano and Soleto, that of St. Francesco of Manduria, the monastery of Gesù Bambino of Massafra, of St. Caterina of Galatina, of Santa Maria del Tempio of Lecce, of St. Francis of Gallipoli, of Santa Maria of Avetrana, of Capuchins of Castellaneta, of Salve and Casarano.
Starting from 1955 a series of donations enriched the initial patrimony. The library collections of the priests Vincenzo De Sanctis, Vincenzo Paladini, Mario Serafini da Barbarano, Raffaele Bonavoglia increased the library holdings.
Opened October 4, 1965, on June 3, 1985 the library was declared of "local interest" by the regional government.
The attention paid to the library "Roberto Caracciolo" by many scholars gives evidence of the importance and richness of the preserved book patrimony. Besides one hundred manuscripts, we can find in the library 11 incunabula, 600 sixteenth century books, numerous volumes published from 1600 to 1800. There are, among many other works, Aldine editions, publications of the Giuntas, of Giolito de 'Ferrari, of Peter Schoeffer and some fundamental texts for the historical reconstruction of publishing in Lecce, as the first 39 editions of Pietro Micheli’s works, dating back to seventeenth century. Among the works of the ancient collection, constituted mainly by religious volumes, including works of morality, patristic, canon law, theology, philosophy, it is worth to be mentioned, the text of the Sermones de laudibus sanctorum, by Roberto Caracciolo, the preacher to whom the library is dedicated, printed in 1489 in Naples by Mattia Moravian, and the volume Maleficorum Malleus (Hammer of the witches) by Jacob Sprenger, considered a real guide to the repression of witchcraft, published in 1584 by Giovanna Giunta daughter of Jacopo one of the few women at that time dedicated to the art of printing.
Besides the old holdings the library currently owns : “Salentino” Collestion (including works on the history, language, art and local culture), the "Franciscan" collection (including 10.000 between texts and periodicals dedicated to the life and work of S. Francis), the "Theology and the Holy Scriptures" collection (including volumes of patristic, theology, church history, canon law, in addition to the Bible and the Holy Scriptures), the "Modern" collection (with modern works on various topics , which increased thanks to donations, among which those of Oronzo Parlangeli, Ennio Bonea and Mario D'Elia).
In the library there is also a newspaper library where there is the availability of magazines on various topics ranging from history to literature, from psychology to sociology, from Franciscan history to theology.
Of particular interest it is the music collection of "Roberto Caracciolo" library, which brought together the collections of father Igino Ettorre and Maria Teresa degli Atti, the founders of the Madrigal Group of Salento. In this collection, along with encyclopedias and magazines, you will find opera librettos, sheet music of sacred and profane compositions, of instrumental and vocal music, musical paleography studies and liturgical works, from the sixteenth century onwards.
The 15,000 titles listed by Father Egidio de Tommaso in 1960 have now become 80,000, thanks to the far-sighted policy of the different directors, from Father Benigno Perrone to Father Paolo Quaranta, the current responsible of the library. Over the years, the library "Roberto Caracciolo" has increasingly become a polyvalent cultural center and, hosting several initiatives, from conferences to concerts, continues to be a landmark in the city life.