Like many projects in the new Jewish state, “the National Library had modest beginnings, but a soaring vision,” said Lord Rothschild, head of Yad Hanadiv, a charitable foundation in Israel that has contributed untold millions to further the country’s academic, cultural and physical well being, at an inauguration ceremony held Sunday, March 27.
The $200 million dollar project will encompass a brand new building across from the Knesset and Israel Museum, and the gargantuan digitization of thousands of books, which will then be made available to scholars all over the world. The present, unique collection includes rare manuscripts handwritten by Maimonides, as well as rare maps, photographs and Jewish literature from all over the world.
The project is slated for completion in 2016. It is hoped that the library’s expansion will open its collection to ten million online visitors a year. “We are guarding here the magnificent treasures from the birth of our nation and of all of humanity,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that expanding the accessibility of the library’s materials through new technology would not only allow the country to protect its traditions but to also share them with the world at large.
The new library is being built next to the Finance Ministry in a pine forest overlooked by the Knesset. The building will replace the 1960s-era facility on Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, that houses the more than 5 million books in the National Library collection. Another building is scheduled to be built outside of Jerusalem, possibly in the central city of Lod, for book storage and scholarly use.
The idea of spreading the library collection across multiple facilities was taken from a number of overseas institutions, including the Library of Congress in Washington. During the past two years, the National Library has passed from university funding and operation to state control. In 2004, growing complaints over the library’s maintenance and accessibility led the government to approve the construction of a new facility.
“Direct contact with the treasures of the past leaves a deep impression on every one of us,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “We are guarding here the magnificent treasures from the birth of our nation and of all of humanity.”
He added that expanding the accessibility of the library’s materials through new technology would not only allow the country to protect its traditions but to also share them with the world at large.