A much-loved library reopens

The British Council Library has a special place in the hearts of Athenian book-lovers. In the late 1990s, when moves were afoot to close the library, the protests were so vociferous that the council relented and decided to retain this much-loved resource. Late last year, a radical refurbishment of the council’s flagship premises in Kolonaki Square forced the building to close for nine months, but construction work is almost at an end, and the lending library is open once again, in tandem with a resource center. Kathimerini English Edition went to see the new-look center on Tuesday, on its first day in operation. Last-minute details are still being sorted, and some equipment has yet to be installed, but the resource center / library is back on track, and in a far more attractive visual environment. Architect Kalliopi Kontozoglou has collaborated with Antonis and Vangelis Stylianidis on an ingenious transformation which retains the shell of the original structure. The effect is striking, with light pouring into the entire building, from the basement up. A central, glass-encased lift shaft carries the sense of space through the building. The resource center and library, now back on the first floor, overlooking the trees and square, feel like an integral part of the neighborhood. The collection The printed book collection, which takes up about half the floor space, is leaner, having been trimmed back to focus on language and literature. «We’ve added to the language and literature collection,» says Library and Literature Manager Mary Haroyianni. «We’ve lots of new titles in these areas. Also our fiction collection has been added to.» Also available for use in the center or for loan to members are the established periodical collection, videos, DVDs, audio tapes and CDs. In a separate room is a new children’s section, currently being stocked, which will offer storybooks, simplified readers, fiction, and audio and video materials for children and young learners of English. «We expect children aged 6 to about 15 will use them,» explains Haroyianni. The system is self-access, but library staff will be available to assist children – and other users – as needed. The new center emphasizes electronic resources. Computer access has been greatly enhanced, and 12 terminals are to be installed in the center. «Much of the reference information once held in book form – for example, the Oxford English Dictionary – is now available online,» explains Haroyianni. «And we’re offering education information in this area. It’s something that we always did at the British Council, but we’re doing it here now.» Tailor-made resources The educational resources include information on studying in the UK, and «Practice your English» zones, which are electronic resources tailored to meet the needs of language learners and professionals in the business, legal, medical and teaching fields. «Some of the electronic resource material has been produced centrally by the British Council in Britain,» British Council Director Chris Hickey told Kathimerini English Edition. «The ‘Learn English’ website is one of the biggest in the world in terms of numbers of hits. But the electronic materials project is based in Athens. Our teachers in Athens have produced the Pathways material, designed to steer students to resources, and geared to their students’ needs.» New literary strategy «What we’re excited about is the new literary strategy,» says Hickey. «We hope to have innovative events, such as the poetry in performance, coming up soon, and the poetry and astronomy evening we held recently, that make literature more fun.» In her role as literature manager, Haroyianni is responsible for a series of external events, which will include visits by British authors, theater performances and literary conferences which will take advantage of the council’s new video conferencing facilities. Hickey expects video conferencing will benefit Greek journalists, among others: «We’d like to bring out writers, but that’s not always possible when they have a new book out and everyone wants to talk to them,» he says. «So we could set up an interview with a video feed for a Greek journalist in Athens, speaking to Ian McEwan, for example, in Oxford, where the British Council has video conferencing. This would suit TV journalists, who could tape such an interview. It won’t replace one-to-one interviews by telephone, but would be in addition to them.» Haroyianni also plans to hold a number of events in the building exclusively for library members, and the first of these is this evening. Members have received invitations to a «Wine and Book Tasting» this afternoon to celebrate the new resource center / library opening. «We’re looking forward to seeing all our old customers back,» she says, «and we’re looking forward to welcoming new customers too. We hope they’ll be pleased with what’s available.» Hickey is pleased that all the council’s operations are back under one roof, and this should certainly streamline its activities. The revamped resource center / library has already attracted a stream of users, and bids fair to make itself an essential part of life in Athens. The Resource Center Library is in Kolonaki Square. Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. Tel. 010.364.5768, e-mail: [email protected]