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Literature

Greece’s First Public Library, Founded by the Venetians on Zakynthos, Reopens Its Reading Room

January 18, 2021

ATHENS — The historical library of Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands, the oldest library in Greece, has recently reopened to the public with a repaired 200 sqm Reading Room providing access to rare editions.

The library was founded in 1628, when the island was under Venetian occupation and its governor (Thomas Flaginis) donated to the city 200 volumes. It was formally inaugurated in 1803 and became an independent public service entity under historiographer Panagiotis Chiotis, who enriched its holdings through donations that included archaeological objects, a numismatics collection, and a gallery of art.

It is housed on a neoclassical building in the Zakynthos proper central square.

Now containing nearly 70,000 volumes, of which 50,000 are rare editions, it has had funding difficulties and has a staff of two, neither of whom is an archivist. The library is independent but overseen by the Ministry of Culture, whose projects were affected by the austerity period in Greece (2010-2019) and other priorities. It is also in dire need of a conservationist for its books.

Following 1953 and the devastating earthquakes in the region, the library was repaired with private funding and trust funds. Education Minister Niki Kerameus appointed an overseers council in 2019 which used funds from its annual state subsidy to repair a crack in one of the walls that had left the Reading Room out of use since the earthquake of 2006. The council includes a historian, a university professor, the deputy mayor (a civil engineer), a lawyer and teachers.

In 1991 the library received the archive of historian Dinos Konomos – a researcher recognized by the Athens Academy – which is being catalogued voluntarily by librarian and historian Georgia Kokla Papadatou. She is not being paid but the results of her work is expected to be published by the library and distributed to other such institutions in Greece.

"We work night and day, all of the members, to achieve what the law calls sound operation, but there are practical difficulties that we cannot overcome," Council President Filippos Synetos tells Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

The greatest problem, he adds, is "the lack of personnel and the conservation of rare editions of the historical library. We are working with the Ministry of Education to achieve this but it is certain the budget cannot cover this. We are trying to motivate private funders, while we are also forming a group of volunteers of specialists and bibliophiles to support some of the library's operations."

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