National Library’s Reading Room open

The National Library’s Reading Room was opened to the public earlier this month, but anyone using it will have to squeeze by dozens of cardboard boxes full of books. Though restoration of the building (whose static study was carried out by Professor Georgios Penelis) after the 1999 earthquake will not be completed before June, the director of the National Library, Georgios Zachos, and its supervisory council decided not to shut the area down entirely to researchers. «We decided on this tactic because the collections in the National Library are unique,» he said. Thus the Reading Room was closed for only a month and a half, until the risk to readers was past. Work on the glass roof of the Reading Room has been completed, while concrete reinforcement of the building on the side of Riga Feraiou Street and the scaffolding have been transferred to the Ippocratous Street side. Zachos has no illusions. The structural problems of the National Library cannot be solved by injections of cement, nor were they solely caused by the earthquake. «What is needed is air conditioning, lighting. The whole building needs an overhaul, since the interior decoration has been severely damaged by damp.» Negotiations have already been made. It was agreed that Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens SA (UASA) would undertake work on the library’s garden (now a construction site) and the area in front of the doors on Panepistimiou Street, while the five-floor metal bookstand on the Riga Feraiou side has been repaired and painted. More needs to be done, but little can be when the annual budget stands at 400,000 euros, of which 270,000 goes to rent for the two storage spaces in Nea Halkidona and Aghia Paraskevi. Thus, when the library published an invitation of interest in cleaning the building for a fee of 117,400 euros, not one cleaning company responded. Yet all buildings need cleaning after building work, not least the National Library. Zachos, in his two years as director, submitted a report that raised four fundamental problems that needed solutions: 1) The legal framework (which was changed); 2) More and better trained personnel. Thirty-six new positions were approved, to be filled mostly by library science graduates from universities or technical colleges. The process had gone as far as the General Accounting Office, but was frozen due to the elections. Apart from permanent personnel (72 people), another 18 work at the library through the state employment program and 10 people have been transferred from teaching posts in secondary schools. 3) An increase in the annual budget. «The present one is just not enough,» says Zachos. 4) Space for books is also in short supply. The process of obtaining the Plessa barracks, where a new National Library will be built, is currently in progress. The National Book Center has also announced a «program of cooperation» between it and the National Library, with the aim of upgrading and ensuring as full a collection as possible of Greek books. «After the completion of the negotiations and cooperation between the two bodies, there will be specific, substantial results that will radically change the level, quality and effects of library services.» As yet, negotiations have been confined to two letters exchanged between the two bodies, with the National Library supervisory council (chaired by Professor Pavlos Sourlas) yet to make a decision. Although there is still some way to go to achieve full cooperation, Zachos states that he wants to have a list in circulation of first editions published annually, both in print and electronic form.