Finances sought to save private library on island of Cephalonia

One of the busiest libraries in Greece, the Corgialenion Library in Argostoli, capital of the island of Cephalonia, is in danger of closing down, putting an end to its long history as a source of knowledge for hundreds of schoolchildren, students, teachers, researchers and other scholars who have passed through the doors of the building in Ilia Zervou Street, Monday to Saturday, throughout the year. The library boasts 60,000 volumes, half of which were published before 1900. The manuscript department includes archives of Byzantine and European music, writers’ archives and individual manuscripts. It also includes the collection of Byzantine icons of Spyridon Harokopos. Naturally, under the present circumstances, new additions only come through donations, although its growing number of visitors has resulted in an immediate need for a larger lending section, as well as the addition of contemporary books to its collection on the Ionian Islands and its information section. The Corgialenion is a modern library which provides Internet access, up to 10 free photocopies for each school pupil, copies of thematic bibliographies, as well as information on its catalog for users around the world via telephone and e-mail. By arrangement, it will also post photocopied material and works to educational institutions. It makes its hall available for functions by scientific and cultural groups and allows music students to use its piano. However, this lively and hard-working library, managed by a young graduate, Ilias Toumasatos, is at risk of closing down due to the very low amount of annual funding from the State, which has approved a total of only 20,000 euros for this year. The manager’s salary alone (at 960 euros gross per month), that of the two librarians and the cleaner, along with their social security contributions, totals around 74,000 euros annually. To this amount must be added another 17,000 euros for general expenses and building maintenance. The situation has prompted Bishop Spyridon of Cephalonia, in his capacity as president of the board of the Corgialenion, to write to Education Minister Petros Efthymiou for assistance in securing funds of at least 70,000 euros to avert even a partial closure of the library, noting that the archives of the prefecture of Cephalonia are housed rent-free in the library, which pays for municipal and electricity rates. Students who use the library throughout the academic year, or the many researchers who come – mainly in the summer months – to delve into its Ionian Island collection, as well as all those interested in the cultural and intellectual history of the island, are awaiting the minister’s reply. Mr Efthymiou knows the island well and is aware of the reason for the library’s financial straits, as he is of the valuable service it provides. Its fate is now in his hands. Minister’s reply In reply to the above article, which appeared in Thursday’s Greek edition of Kathimerini, Education Minister Peros Efthymiou yesterday issued a reply to the above article: «Your story on the Corgialenion Library in Argostoli draws attention to a problem but does not present all aspects of the issue. «The Corgialenion Library is a private legal entity monitored by the Education Ministry. «The library has always relied mainly on the management of income from the estate, with partial support from the ministry. «According to the law, sole responsibility for managing the estate rests with the foundation’s board of directors. «Two years ago, owing to poor management by the board… it appears that the estate’s resources evaporated, leaving the library in a truly difficult position. «I myself have links with Cephalonia and am personally aware of just how valuable the library is. As a result, the ministry immediately increased its own share of the funding. This year, the Corgialenion Library has been allotted 30,000 euros, and an additional 30,000 euros has already been approved, bringing total funds to 60,000 euros. «The library has also been included in the ‘Information Society’ program, which will bring in 50,000 euros for a public information center where visitors will have free access to the Internet. «So it is clear that the foundation’s legal character does not allow the library to be maintained solely by funding from the Education Ministry, no matter how high this may be. «Therefore, if it emerges (and that is something known only to the board members) that the revenue from the estate is irretrievable, the most appropriate solution will be to turn the Corgialenion into a public library as a public law entity under the jurisdiction of the Greek State. «If the board of directors and the people of Cephalonia submit such a request, it will naturally be approved immediately.»