Two years ago I posted about the near completion of construction work at Lebanon’s National Library. This week, I got a look inside for the first time. And what a privilege it was…
The library is housed at the old Ottoman Sanayeh complex, which has been renovated with a $25 million grant from Qatar. Formerly the law school of the Lebanese University, the atrium has been transformed into a cavernous and sun-drenched reading room, the perfect place to read (without having to pay for overpriced coffee) in an exhaust-choked city.
It was just wonderful to spend some time strolling around what could be an actual public space in Beirut, a rare commodity in a city that has sold almost every square meter of open space (including the coast) to private developers.
So far only the reading room has been opened for an exhibition of local artists celebrating the published word. It was organized by the Lebanese Foundation for the National Library, an NGO dedicated to preserving and restoring the vast collections following the civil war.
But like all great public sector projects, there is a catch. Although the building is largely complete, its opening date now hinges on the political wrangling of appointing a managing board. This should happen “some time next year,” a volunteer told me.
The book collection, one of the region’s largest which is currently stored at the port of Beirut, will have to be moved in as well. In the meantime though, you’ll have a few more days to visit the space before the exhibition ends this Sunday, Nov. 13.
UPDATE (Nov 12): Due to popular demand yesterday, the exhibition has been extended until Nov. 20
Opening hours are between 11AM and 6PM, except Mondays. You can follow their Facebook page here. Hurry and see it this weekend!
The art exhibits are also pretty interesting:
Staff told me they were to be auctioned off to help support the library foundation. There are dozens of others to see. Also featured are the front pages of Lebanese publications since the mid 1800s.
The headers were a bit more decorative than those found today. Here are a few of them:
For more on the library’s rare and extensive collection as well as the bureaucracy holding up the process since the project was announced a decade ago, see this previous post. Once again, hurry and check out the space before the exhibit ends. Also maybe pick up one of the beautiful collection booklets or illustrated coffee table books to support the foundation’s much-needed work.
UPDATE Nov 12: As this post went to press yesterday, the organizers announced an extention to the end of the exhibition from Nov. 13 to Nov. 20th. So you now have one week to see the library before it closes its doors again. Don’t delay, the foundation needs to know people want to use the library and push the politicians to appoint a board and open it.