All at once … a lesson in transformation from the National Library of Greece

Keynote addresses at library conferences are often thought-provoking but rarely jaw-dropping.  Dr Filippos Tsimpoglou’s address to the LIBER 2017 conference fell into the latter category after a deceptively quiet start.   He described bravely and honestly the parlous state of the National Library of Greece when he took charge in 2014 and the staggering scale of changes achieved or planned in just over a year.

Until 2016 the National Library managed with only 67 permanent staff, aided by secondments from other organisations such as museums and schools.  It was estimated by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation that the organisation required around 320 staff in 2017.  The budget had varied over previous years from €243,000-€600,000, much of which was used to repay a loan for the building. No books had been bought for 15 years, no ICT equipment for 12 years, no new staff had joined the library for 14 years.  The post of Library Director was vacant from 2005-2014.

This year for the first time they have received significant funding from the government (€ 6.7 million) and matching funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The work that followed Dr Tsimpoglou’s appointment is a lesson in what can be achieved within a short time span when an organisation is clear about its focus:

New library building

The National Library will this year leave its old classical premises for a new building in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center designed by Renzo Piano.  A human chain is being used to move 1.2 million books to the new site.


  • An inventory of 5,429 manuscripts has been created.  The library has 4,500 Greek manuscripts, including 300 New Testament, 300+ Byzantine, and 50 Homeric manuscripts. All have been transferred to acid-free boxes (the library has acquired its own box-making machine), and 1,800 have been digitised.
  • 15,000 rare books have been identified
  • 80,000 books have received “first-aid treatment”

There are also plans to fill over the next fifteen years collecting gaps from the period when no book funds were available.

Digital developments

  • The library catalogue has been moved from MySQL to Koha
  • Digital collections are being moved from Koha to Fedora
  • An e-platform has been built for legal deposit publications
  • A new web site has been created on WordPress
  • A new discovery system is being implemented
  • Single Sign-On for users of electronic publications has been implemented with the Greek Universities Network
  • A Web archiving programme is being developed using Heretrix and a WayBack machine

Staff development  Staff skills are being updated in a training programme that makes use of 25 internal self-teaching course that run every Friday.

The energy and dedication required from the library director and his staff to plan and deliver these developments is both awe-inspiring and humbling.  Apart of the speed of transformation, which gives pause for thought for anyone involved in long-term projects, two things seem particularly notable: the first is that the National Library, in spite of past constraints, aims to serve the research community, the wider audience of Greek citizens, and fulfill its international role.  It was closely involved in the foundation of the Hellenic Libraries Network and with the University of Patras in organising the LIBER 2017 conference.  Audience development has been extremely important to it. The library has built a new audience identity with a new brand, new digital identity, a summer campaign, and surveys of users and non-users.  The human chain to move the library is part of that engagement with its users.  The new building with its attractive setting and public spaces will be an opportunity to continue this work. The second striking thing is its ambition with respect to standards and quality.  In making up for lost time the National Library is making use of the best technologies available to it, skipping several generations of systems used in research libraries elsewhere.


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