A new chapter

New National Library opens its doors to readers, semiofficially

With formal event postponed by war, reading room of new building welcomes the public, and weekly tours are available

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The reading room of the new National Library of Israel opened on a limited basis to readers and scholars on October 29, 2023, as its formal opening was postponed (Courtesy, Iwan Baan)
The reading room of the new National Library of Israel opened on a limited basis to readers and scholars on October 29, 2023, as its formal opening was postponed (Courtesy, Iwan Baan)

The National Library of Israel was supposed to hold a formal opening on October 17 for its long-awaited, NIS 860 million ($225 million) building, across from the Knesset and the Israel Museum.

The official event was postponed after war erupted following Hamas’s October 7 massacre, when some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, murdering some 1,400 people and seizing over 230 hostages of all ages.

Instead, the library opened unofficially Sunday, on a limited basis, to readers and scholars, and was inundated with enthusiastic visitors.

The library posted the news on its Facebook page, noting that tours of the main reading hall and various service points would be held every day at 10 a.m., with no need to sign up beforehand. The tours are geared toward readers and scholars who need to know where to find the materials they use for research purposes.

As of November 1, and every following Wednesday, the library is offering free guided tours to the general public. The Hebrew tour will be from 10-11:30 a.m. and the English tour from 12-1:30 p.m., with advance registration required.

Given a current Home Front Command limitation of 300 people at the library, those planning to use the reading hall must book ahead of time.

Readers and researchers trying out the new National Library of Israel building as it opened unofficially on October 29, 2023 (Courtesy Yoni Kelberman)

Only the main reading hall will be open for now, Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. It contains the library’s Israel, Judaica, Humanities, Islam, and Gershom Scholem collections.

Some 100 people arrived on Sunday and more on Monday, said a library staff member. The library’s core group of regular readers wandered through the reading halls, the staffer said, looking for their new favorite place to sit.

Readers and researchers trying out the new National Library of Israel building as it opened unofficially on October 29, 2023. (Courtesy Yoni Kelberman)

And on that first day, those who were in the building stood together and recited the “Shehecheyanu” blessing of appreciation for having reached this moment.

Librarians are available to help with requests, with photocopiers and microfilm machines available as well.

The library’s public computers are not ready yet. Internet access is available in most areas of the reading hall, but not all.

Readers and researchers trying out the new National Library of Israel building as it opened unofficially on October 29, 2023. (Courtesy Yoni Kelberman)

The Special Collections Reading Room will remain closed for now, and rare items and archival materials are not yet available for viewing.

The library also noted that the cafeteria is not open yet. Afternoon prayers will be held every day at 1:30 p.m.

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