For years now, construction has slowly been moving forward on the National Library project in Sanayeh. Now with the landscaping in progress, could we see the opening some time soon?
The glass facades have been completed in the last few months:
The library is located in the old red-roof Sanayeh buildings, which housed an arts school built by the Ottomans in the early part of the century (thus the name) nearby the Sanayeh Park, also build by the Ottomans in the early 1900s.
Over recent decades, the buildings were used by the Lebanese University until the refurbishing began, following a $25 million grant from the Emir of Qatar in 2005.
The buildings are accessible on Hamra street as well as the street facing the park. Naturally, I got harassed by an undercover policeman (on a scooter) for taking this picture. When he verified I was not a threat (after simply asking if I was Lebanese and scrolling through my previous pictures) I asked him if he knew when it would open. “God knows,” he said, before speeding away.
So what will the library contain?
At its peak before the 1975 war, the national library possessed some 200,000 books and manuscripts, according to its website, which offers great historical pictures like this:
But the stacks were badly damaged during the war and some 1,200 of the most valuable manuscripts “disappeared,” the site says, without further detail.
The library was eventually closed in 1979 and the books were boxed up and moved around to various government offices, until the restoration plan was agreed in 1999 with the help of French experts. The books–some 150,000 remain– are now stored at a building in the Beirut Port. Recently, the premises were opened to the public during the archive weekend earlier this year.
There was some fascinating stuff on display, including old library cards:
Records of the old librarians and how the reading rooms looked:
Several ancient texts:
This one was printed in various directions, I can’t remember why:
And plenty more contemporary books and illustrated novels:
I’ll have more on this collection as well as the super interesting regional newspapers collection in a future post.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before you are able to see these with your own eyes. It’s only been about 10 years since the construction began and 17 years since the project was started in 1999. Could it possibly take much longer? According to the official website, the opening will be in 2014.
In the meantime, you can have a look at the painstaking restoration process:
UPDATE Nov. 6:
LBC correspondent Dalal Mouawad got in touch on Twitter after reading this and linked to her recent report on the National Library. In it, she interviews the culture minister who claims the library may not open any time soon because the cabinet has yet to appoint an executive board and director.
I probed Dalal further on this issue, which she said was affecting many appointments. The question now is: why are these appointments being stalled and can the law or public pressure get lawmakers to start appointing?
UPDATE: Nov. 12, 2016: Two years after the post was published, The National Library has finally opened its doors, but only for one month! The reading room has been opened for a temporary exhibit but the collections have not been moved. Check this new post to see the gorgeous interiors. But again, how long will it take for this great space to actually open and be used by the public?