A landmark move for Greece's national library

A landmark move for Greece's national library

A landmark move for Greeces national library

Wearing masks and gloves, specialized staff gingerly places their treasured cargo inside wheeled, shock-absorbing boxes for a historic trip to the other end of Athens in the biggest book move in Greek history.

From January until April, the National Library of Greece is moving root and branch, out of its 100-year-old home in central Athens and literally into the 21st-century.

"This is no simple move. It's a journey into a new era," says library general director Filippos Tsimpoglou.

More than 550 staff worked on the two-year operation to clean, digitize, tag and relocate over 700,000 manuscripts and books, made possible by a massive donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), one of the country's leading philanthropic organizations.

The foundation in 2016 unveiled the library's new home, a 20-hectare cultural center designed by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano on the Athens seafront that also hosts the national opera.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, named after one of Greece's most successful ship owners, cost nearly 600 million euros and took eight years to design and build.

Library staff say the move could not have come soon enough. And without private funds in crisis-hit Greece, it would never have happened.

The relocation alone cost 500,000 euros. The Greek state nevertheless did manage to contribute; it and the SNF together paid the overall costs of the library revamp, which came to just over 10 million euros.

"For years, the library has been clamoring for space," library engineer Chrysanthi Vassiliadou told a media briefing earlier this month. "As a country we were a little behind in terms of services provided," she said.

The library will now be able to provide ebooks and electronic journals, and for the first time also lend a selection of copies to readers. The reading room will be expanded to 400 seats.

And thanks to SNF funds, the library has renewed its foreign-language collection for the first time in 20 years.