Written by Laura Cagnazzo
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The new shiny home of the National Library of Greece was only completed last year. The Library has moved from the Vallianeio historic neoclassical building in downtown Athens to its new premises at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC). This complex has been designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano with the aim of re-establishing the relationship between land and sea. In fact, the beach is a few minutes away!
I had the privilege of visiting this stunning building a few weeks ago, as part of the IFLA WLIC (International Federation of Library Associations – World Library and Information Congress) 2019, which was held in sunny Athens.
I was actually double lucky, since I had the opportunity of visiting the Library during the evening, when I enjoyed a spectacular sunset from the roof terrace, and then again in the morning, as part of a guided tour. Looking over Athens from the terrace, with a beautiful sunset taking place, was magical (photo). However, the day visit was very interesting too!
The building is spacious, is very well-lit, with its glass walls letting in light in vast quantity – which is turning to be a bit of an issue for the books more exposed to the sunlight. The ground floor hosts a lending collection and dedicated areas for children and teenagers. I loved the “nests”, as they called them, with sofa and TV (photo). There are also seminar and meeting rooms available for booking to everyone and a very popular and in high-demand music studio, all free. A makerspace will soon be added to the Library services. A good number of PCs is constantly in use, so much so that the staff are planning to introduce a booking system, to avoid a few users to monopolise the computers for the whole day.
Since the National Library of Greece had for a long time the lowest budget among all the national libraries, they had limitations in terms of buying material alongside with what they were receiving through the legal deposit. This is the reason why they are now working hard to acquire resources related to Greece and the Greek culture from all over the world. With legal deposit, they receive 4 copies of all that is published in Greece and the 4 copies are located in 4 different places, including a secret location. This revelation sparked vivid curiosity among some of the visitors who were on the tour with me, but the Library staff did not reveal any other detail! If it’s secret, it must remain so!
The staff who led the tour were very nice and helpful and they honestly acknowledged the difficulties that they are experiencing, particularly understaffing and the process of transferring the collections from the old to the new building not being fully completed yet. The re-location is still an ongoing process and there are many more features that need to be added.
As the ground floor suggests, the Library is aiming to be more open and accessible to the whole community, not just to researchers. I really like this. For a long time, I looked at national libraries as scary building that only researchers, academics and a few other elected people could enter! There is a completely different feel when you step into this building. The whole surrounding is so pleasant, with a big park, a vast pool and display fountains. There is a nice café and the terrace I already mentioned, where everyone can enjoy one of the best views of Athens.
If you are in the area, don’t miss out on a visit to the National Library of Greece!
Happy library visits to you all!