BEIRUT: After more than a decade of intermittent renovations, the Lebanese National Library finally opens its doors to the public Tuesday. Randa Daouk, president of the Lebanese Foundation for the National Library, described the facility’s completion as her organization’s “highest ambition.”
Cabinet created the foundation in 2000 to assist the Culture Ministry in the renovating the library. That same year, the foundation launched the Rehabilitation Project of the National Library, with financial support from the European Commission in Lebanon and the Culture Ministry.
For the next three years, the project organized and archived some of Lebanon’s oldest collections of books, dating back at least a century. The collections originally belonged to 19th-century Lebanese philanthropist Philippe de Tarrazi, Daouk said.
In 1922, the Lebanese bibliophile donated an estimated 200,000 documents to the “Prussian Deaconess” school in Downtown.
According to Daouk, de Tarrazi had intended to establish a national library using his personal collection.
The collection grew over the years, but efforts to establish the library were quickly abandoned with the onset of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.
Many of the documents were destroyed as casualties of war, and efforts were more focused on their preservation rather than the collection’s growth.
It was not until 2000 that with European financing, a formalized project began to piece the scattered documents together.
In October 2005, Qatar made a $25 million donation that secured the site of the new National Library, to be housed in the Lebanese University’s former law department building hidden behind an enclosure of trees in Beirut’s Sanayeh.
Gelnar Atoui Saad, the library’s project manager since 2005, recounted the series of obstacles that hindered the library’s realization.
“Between the 2006 Israeli War, lack of enthusiasm and of course the presidential vacuum, there were so many obstacles that prevented the swift renovation of the library,” Atoui Saad told The Daily Star.
The first few years focused on architectural planning and logistics, with the physical renovation of the building and the construction of an extension beginning in 2010.
Between 2014 and 2015, Atoui Saad added, progress was stalled in light of the presidential vacuum, starting again when Ghattas Khoury was appointed culture minister. The project finally finished at the end of November 2017.
Despite the completion of construction, the final mission of transferring the various collections of books and documents into the library took several months.
The entire project was completed by June this year.
At the time, Khoury told The Daily Star that the public would have to wait for President Michel Aoun to decide when the library’s doors would open. Khoury could not be contacted for an updated comment before publication.
At the inauguration, Aoun is expected to make a speech in the presence of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, university presidents, cultural figures and state officials, according to a statement from his office.
“Our main objective has been the preservation of this national treasure so our country can have a history to stand upon, as well as a prosperous and hopeful future,” Daouk said.