The new National Library building in Jerusalem is expected to open to the public at the end of October. Leading up to the grand opening, the library has provided a first glimpse of the new structure, as it appears from the inside.
After many years of operating from the Hebrew University campus in Givat Ram, the library will officially move to its new location in the National Quarter, opposite the Knesset building and close to the Israel Museum.
The new building, located at the intersection of Kaplan and Ruppin Streets, spans approximately 46,000 square meters and has 11 floors—five of which are underground. The shape of the building resembles an open book.
Alongside the reading rooms, which will be freely accessible and can accommodate around 600 people, the library will also have a paid visitor center and will feature various exhibitions.
The permanent exhibition, "Treasure of Words," will display rare items from the library's collections—including, the Crown of Damascus, a rare thousand-year-old Torah scroll (one of 12 Damascus Crowns preserved in the library), a handwritten commentary on the Mishnah by Maimonides, a copy from the first printed edition of the Babylonian Talmud and more.
In addition, items from the archives of well-known Hebrew writers, poets and thinkers will be displayed. Visitors will be able to find the handwritten draft of Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer, the note found on Hannah Szenes on the day of her execution, a letter written by Ilan Ramon in his youth to Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz and the response he received, as well as the suicide letter of writer Stefan Zweig.
The construction of the new National Library building cost some NIS 845 million ($220 million), with the support of Yad Hanadiv - the Rothschild Foundation, assistance from the Gottesman family and many other donors from Israel and abroad. The Israeli government also participated, funding 14% of the project.
The building was designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, which has built famous structures around the world, such as the Tate Modern Museum in London, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg and the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. The Israeli firm, Mann-Shinar, also partnered in the design of the building. Poran Shrem has been accompanying the project since 2016.
In recent months, millions of items have been transferred to the new building in the National Quarter, including about 4 million books and hundreds of thousands of newspaper issues, millions of historical photos, about 1,500 collections and personal archives, tens of thousands of manuscripts, thousands of historical maps and millions of digital files, musical recordings, posters and more.
The majority of the books will be located in the library's automated storage facility which allows for the retrieval of a book within minutes. The new building will also feature an auditorium with 480 seats that will host cultural events, as well as an education center, study rooms that can be booked in advance and workspaces, a synagogue and a prayer house for followers of other religions.
In addition to the artworks that will be displayed throughout the library, a giant stone sculpture designed specifically for the library by Israel Prize laureate Micha Ullman has been erected at the facade of the building, called Letters of Light.
The sculpture is composed of 22 large Hebrew letters made of stone. Visitors will be able to walk between the letters and enter through a tunnel to a subterranean space beneath the sculpture center, which corresponds to Ullman's own sculpture The Empty Library in Berlin, located where the Nazis burned tens of thousands of books in 1933.
National Library Board of Directors Chairman Sally Meridor said, "This is an emotional moment. Here we are preserving the national heritage. If we can't tell this story to my grandchildren's children, in their own language, then we haven't done our job. There is advanced technology here, as well as a special spirit of mutual respect, listening and dialogue. I hope that this place can also serve as a bridge between the past and the future, a broad bridge that many diverse people can walk on."
First published: 20:06, 09.07.23