The telephone directory

11/11/2002 - 00:00 AM

  • The telephone directory
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Twenty-seven million copies of the 2003 edition of the telephone directory published by SEAT, now known as the “White Pages”, is being distributed across Italy in 103 different editions. It contains information on telephone subscribers with Telecom Italia and the other five companies that now offer telecommunication services in Italy, and is the latest chapter in the long history of a "book" whose annual circulation is unrivalled.

When it first appeared during the 1880s, the telephone directory was eagerly awaited. Before telephone directories were published it was up to the "young ladies" who worked for the first telephone franchises to memorize the phone numbers of all their subscribers. And boy were they in trouble if they made a mistake! Insult was added to injury as the service came under increasing strain until questions were asked in Parliament, and the situation was decried for "increasing nervous disorders". The publication of telephone directories that were rarely updated and only distributed piecemeal did very little to resolve the problem.
In the early 1920s Italy witnessed a passionate debate about whether the telephone services should be publicly or privately run. Telephone directory publication was also drawn into the fray: from their origins directories had  always been a remunerative channel for advertising income.
A bitter dispute broke out in 1926 between FIDAT, the Federation of Telephone Subscribers, founded in Milan in 1921 and the body behind a new co-operative, CUT, which was keen to publish the official Italian telephone directory, and STIPEL, the first of the five new concessionary companies, which had commissioned Seat to publish the telephone directories. The courtroom battle dragged on into 1927, and only ended after the issue of a decree law which exclusively assigned publication to the telephone concessionary companies. Despite their attempts to change the co-operative's name to the Co-operative of Fascist Users, the co-operative managers were arrested and over 7,000 telephone directories sequestered..
The Viglongo Archive, which is part of the Telecom Italia Archives, contains a great deal of interesting material on the preparatory work undertaken by STIPEL in the compilation and updating of telephone directories, along with contemporary specimens of telephone directories from other European nations, and US public education advertising material which was subsequently translated into Italian. It was vitally important that everybody knew the exact number they wanted to reach and was able to check that they had the right number in order to avoid extra work and unnecessary strain on a network that was still only in its infancy.