As a newcomer to New York City, decades ago, I spent hours reading at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue.
Books in those years were, for many of us, expensive. The large Reading Room with long tables, adequate lighting, and a quiet environment was ideal for anyone interested in devoting a few hours to reading.
In addition, you did not need to do anything other than fill out a form for the book you wanted and in a short time the librarians would bring it to you. If you did not have time to read it in the Library, you could borrow it, if I remember correctly, for 30 days, and bring it home with you.
This was and is New York. Whether you are poor or rich, man or woman, Orthodox Christian or Muslim, native New Yorker or immigrant, you find equality in the Library. The opportunity of a lifetime of education and knowledge.
Who would have imagined that decades later I would be among the guests at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the inauguration of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library at 40th Street and 5th Avenue, basically across the street from where I used to go to read and study.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library: that is now the name of one of the most important institutions in New York and the world as a whole.
It will be the name of the Library that for generations and generations will give the opportunity to younger New Yorkers to read a book or a newspaper – TNH’s archive can also be found there – and other materials, and to “experience, wonder and grow in the understanding of the world,” as Andreas Dracopoulos, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s Co-President, said.
We in attendance lived a historic moment – as New Yorkers, as expatriates – for Hellenism.
Such events, such conjunctions of people and actions, do not happen often. It is rare that a Greek institution would make such a substantial and meaningful donation: $55 million – the second largest donation in the Public Library's 126-year history. Nor are there leaders of the stature of Andreas Dracopoulos – "an incredibly visionary philanthropist" in the words of the President of the Library Anthony W. Marx – who carry out these types of international projects.
A Greek name is now identified with free education, along with opportunities for something even bigger, noble, and transformative; something that liberates human abilities so people can reach the heights of their potential.
We can also say that the Greek ‘name’ was honored – and it was honored in the name of the inspirer and creator of these unprecedented works.
Andreas Dracopoulos was honored with high words of praise by the mayor of the city, and the Chairman of the Board of the Library said: "You are an amazing collaborator, an amazing friend, an incredible visionary philanthropist. On behalf of the people of New York City, thank you."
From its founding, the Public Library was supported and grew on the basis of the model of a partnership of private and public initiatives.
It is a model that offers tremendous potential, making great projects possible.
Thanks to this model, the SNF Library, with a capacity of 400,000 books, was created. And it is this model that makes it possible for beneficiary institutions to express gratitude to their benefactors.
In this case, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to thank the SNF, whose name adorns – and will forever adorn – the main lending branch of the New York Public Library on 40th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.