Hebrew University Hails ‘Landmark Legislation’ for the Establishment of the National Library

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[img_assist|nid=276|title=National Library|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=260]Hebrew University hails ‘landmark legislation’ for establishment of national library

27 November, 2007 - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem hailed the passage today by the Knesset of the law establishing the National Library of Israel as “landmark legislation” that will ensure the preservation and further development of the library as a treasure for Israel and the Jewish people.

The law will transform the current Jewish National and University Library on the Edmond J. Safra Campus of the Hebrew University in Givat Ram into the new National Library. The legislation specifies that the library will initially function as a subsidiary of the Hebrew University for its first three years and then as a totally independent body.

Although the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) of the Hebrew University has functioned for many years as the de facto national library, the Israeli government has not formally declared it as such and has had no equivalent to the national libraries existing in other countries, such as the U.S. Library of Congress.

When the library law is fully implemented, the government will own 50% of the new national library, the Hebrew University 25%, and the remaining 25% will be allocated to other governmental or public bodies as approved by the government and university. The governing council of the library will be made up of 14 representatives from the government, the university, scholars from various fields, and representatives of the public. Funding will come from the government, the university and outside contributors.

The passage of the new law clears the way for further planning, already in progress, of a new home for the national library, either on the Edmond J. Safra Campus of the Hebrew University, or elsewhere in Jerusalem.

Hebrew University President Prof. Menachem Magidor, in praising the passage of the new law, said that “after more than 80 years of exclusive ownership of the national library, the Hebrew University views positively the new partnership with the government, which will now have a more significant role in operating the library. The library belongs to the entire Jewish people, and I am hopeful that this new partnership will contribute to the preservation and expansion of the library’s collections.”

David Blumberg, chairman of the board of directors of the library, said that “with the passage of the law today, the cornerstone has been laid for a new national library for the people of the book, for whom the written word and the musical composition are its central expressions. The construction of a new home for the library with the latest technological equipment will enable the library to move forward and to become a fitting facility for the digital era. The building of the new library will be made possible through the generous assistance of the Yad HaNadiv foundation, which will thus complete its contributions to the fundamental institutions of the people of Israel -- projects which have included the Knesset and Supreme Court buildings. We believe that the building of the new library and its opening to the public at large will be completed within five years.”

Shmuel Har Noy, director general of the Jewish National and University Library, said that “the national library law initiates a new era. The state of Israel will have an official national library as is the norm in all western countries. The new formal status and the organizational change into a subsidiary company will enable the national library to expand and to serve as a leader in its scope of activities in Israel, to broaden its links with similar bodies in the world, and to increase its resources via the government and through contributions from Israel and abroad.”

The history of the Jewish National and University Library goes back more than a century. In 1892, the Jerusalem Lodge of B’nai B’rith founded the Midrash Abrabanel Library as a central library for the Jewish people. A portion of the building that was to become the library’s new home was opened on Jerusalem’s Ethiopia Street in 1902.

After the First World War, the library’s ownership was transferred to the World Zionist Organization. With the opening of the Hebrew University on the Mount Scopus campus in 1925, the library was reorganized into the Jewish National and University Library, and in 1930 it moved into its new home on the campus.

Due to the university’s “exile” from Mount Scopus beginning with the 1948 War of Independence, the library found itself forced to operate out of temporary quarters in Jerusalem. Finally, in 1960, the library moved into its new home in the Lady Davis Building on the (then) new campus of the Hebrew University at Givat Ram, where it remains to this day.

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