Cabinet Picks Site for New National Library

Israel's new National Library will be constructed between the Knesset and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the cabinet decided last week. The decision, made at the same meeting that approved the plan for preserving national heritage sites, is part of a broader project to refurbish the government offices' compound.

Most of the funding for the project - estimated at half a billion shekels - will be provided by the Rothschild Foundation (Yad Hanadiv). The foundation was the primary benefactor of both the Knesset and the Supreme Court buildings in Jerusalem's Givat Ram neighborhood.

Slated to open by 2016, the new library will be built beside 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, which houses the more than 5 million books in the National Library collection.

Another building is slated to be built outside of Jerusalem, possibly in the central city of Lod, for book storage and scholarly use. The model of spreading the library collection across multiple facilities was taken from a number of foreign institutions, including the Library of Congress in Washington.

Over 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.

Yesterday library authorities expressed satisfaction with the new site, chosen from among several in Givat Ram and central Jerusalem.

"We are indeed pleased to see that the Knesset will be 'sitting atop' the library, which will force the architect to be modest in planning," said library chairman David Bloomberg. Library officials said they were also pleased by the new site's proximity to the Israel Museum, and especially the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea scrolls. An underground tunnel is planned to link the library and the museum.

The new building will contain 25,000 square meters of space. In addition to its vast book collection, the Jerusalem facility will include a restaurant, book store, seminar halls and other venues.

"The building is important, but not the most important thing. Part of the project is the digitization of the library. The goal is to expand our activity, to open the library to the general public while at the same time maintaining research activity. We do not intend to build a white elephant," Bloomberg said.

He added that he hopes the library will become a destination for both internal and international tourism, and a key stop on foreign leaders' visits: "I want to see that after their traditional visit to Yad Vashem, they will come for an hour-long visit to the library."

The cabinet decision instructs the Finance Ministry to designate the 14-dunam lot, which is state-owned, for the construction of the new library. The decision also calls for construction and permits to be approved as quickly as possible.

The National Library houses works by renowned writers, philosophers and scientists - including Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Martin Buber, Stefan Zweig and Shai Agnon - as well as a world-class Middle Eastern Studies section and the world's largest collection of Hebraica and Judaica.

The library aims to acquire all books on Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people published anywhere the world, as well as all material published in Hebrew or any of the languages spoken in the Diaspora, such as Yiddish and Ladino.

By law, two copies of all printed matter published in Israel must be deposited in the National Library.