Municipal Library gets new home, but at dubious location

Outgoing Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos recently launched the city’s New Municipal Library, set up in a building whose notorious historical interest certainly overshadows its architectural worth. Located just meters from the capital’s central train station, Stathmos Larissis, at 2 Domokou St, the new library’s mundane premises lack architectural flair. It brings to mind streamlined military design. Complete with an austere facade, featuring four robust columns at the main entrance, the building, a result of fascist thinking, was, in fact, built by the Nazis in 1941 to house the local Gestapo administrative offices. Following the Nazi occupation of Greece, the building was initially passed on to the Greek army before the Athens Municipality took control. Until recently, the building was utilized by the public nursery’s administration. The library’s launch completes a chain of events for the municipal library which, unfortunately, have lacked vision and sound planning. The city’s municipal library, initially not open to the public, was founded by modern Greece’s first mayor of Athens, Anargyros Petrakis, whose tenure lasted between 1835 and 1857. The library was opened to the public far later, in 1936, when the municipality purchased a vast collection of books that previously belonged to Angelos Vlachos. Donations followed from G. Haritakis, L. Kambouroglou and I. Tsirimokou. By 1970, the municipal library’s collection had grown to 35,000 titles, and has more than doubled since. But this numerical growth has not led to proportionate improvements in facilities. Over the years, the cause has been neglected by most of the serving municipal authorities. Also, the library’s chain of relocations has deprived it of the benefits a stable home can offer and its character and location have remained vague to the public. During the 1980s, the library was housed on the second floor of Athens Town Hall. At the time, the building had been totally neglected but, nevertheless, still provided shelter for various – but not all – municipal services. Later, when improvements were made to the building, the library’s fate seemed destined for better days. But when Avramopoulos, as mayor, decided to move the Athens Municipality’s entire operation into the building and proclaim it the municipality’s headquarters, the library’s prospects for a brighter future were done. By the mid-1990s, the newspapers and magazines section had gradually diminished. Also, floor space made available for the library’s needs continued to shrink with time. By 1999, the major earthquake that struck Athens signaled the library’s end at the town hall. But, should we disregard the new premises’s dubious past? The move to Domokou St could signal a new era for this troubled library. Its facilities are admittedly modern, the library is comfortably spread over ample space, and it is functional. But it lacks a computerized system for the library’s archives – an integral part of any modern library. Users must search for titles via the conventional card system. Library officials, however, have assured that the process will be fully computerized in the near future. A state-of-the-art system has already been purchased but needs to be installed, they said. The library includes the restoration and availability of some 80,000 titles, the majority of which were locked in storerooms for years. The collection is dominated by titles that fall under the literature and history categories, while a new section is being prepared to focus on books about Athens. All residents of the wider Athens region are entitled to become members of the new library, but must produce a state identification card as well as a recent phone bill (for verification of address). Members can borrow a maximum of two books every 15 days. Current operating hours are short, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, but efforts are being made to extend them.

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