Library moves to Goudi

The National Library will acquire a new home to be built in the Athens district of Goudi, on a site originally planned for a football stadium for the Panathinaikos team. There has been much controversy over delays in finding a new home for the library, given the longstanding problems with the historic building on Panepistimiou Street, which opened in 1903. The old building has insufficient room for new books published yearly and for the valuable existing collections. The European Union is seeking a response to an American plan to digitize millions of volumes on the shelves of some of the greatest libraries in the world. National libraries in other European countries work together, yet one wonders if Greece even has a national policy on books and their importance for knowledge and education. According to informed sources, a site in Goudi next to the Air Force General Hospital has been chosen for the construction of the new library, which will need to cover 5 hectares. Transport connections are also to hand. Agreement has been reached with the State Property Assets Company, and once a few pending issues regarding land use on the site are resolved, work is expected to move ahead quickly. The new building will house all the library services, new collections and reading rooms. The older collections will remain in the existing building on Panepistimiou Street, which will also be used as an exhibition center. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has expressed an interest in building the new library. It will come none to soon, considering the state of the old building. Earlier this month, one wing closed for maintenance. The library has storerooms as far afield as Aghia Paraskevi in northern Athens – where the administrative offices are – and Nea Halkidona. According to library figures, between 8,000 and 9,000 books are published in Greece every year, excluding periodicals, newspapers, audiovisual and electronic material. «There is a major lack of space, but at least we don’t see piles of books stacked up everywhere as we used to in the past,» library staff said. Interior architect and book historian Constantinos Staikos, who is in charge of restoring the interior of the old building, said the library has no ventilation or air conditioning and there are problems with the ceiling in the reading room. «Work that has been done on a fire-extinguishing system is tragic; one could call it vandalism. Walls and even doors have holes in them. You don’t even see things like that in factories,» he said. «One would expect a state with some sensitivity to at least restore the monument. At the moment it looks more like a warehouse. The left wing has for decades looked more like a third-rate storeroom. There has been a great deal of shoddy work done within the historic shell of a building. Later work such as power lines have been stuck on top of frescoes. The building generally looks as if it has been abandoned for decades.» Construction of the main National Library building began in 1888 and was completed in 1903, thanks to donations by the Vallianos brothers of Cephalonia – Panayis, Marinos and Andreas. It was designed by the Danish architect Theophilos Hansen and built under the supervision of Ernst Ziller. It contains over a million titles, many of them treasures, and over 2 million volumes of Greek and foreign-language publications. It also has a collection of about 4,500 manuscripts, parchments, Byzantine music scores and foreign manuscripts, legal documents dating from the Turkish occupation, the archive of the 1821 Revolution – about 25,000 files and 100,000 documents – personal files of writers such as Dionysios Solomos and Angelos Sikelianos, and the archives of Greek communities abroad.

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