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National Library of Israel opens to readers on Sunday, Oct. 29

Starting in November, special tours and activities will be offered free-of-charge to the evacuees from the southern and northern border settlements.

The Main Reading Halls at the new National Library of Israel building. Photo: Iwan Baan.
The Main Reading Halls at the new National Library of Israel building. Photo: Iwan Baan.

Under the shadow of the atrocities of October 7 and the Iron Swords War, the National Library of Israel (NLI) has made the decision to open its new home to readers and researchers as of Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. Limited library services will be available (detailed below), and the building will be open in accordance with Homefront Command regulations.

The new Library, funded thanks to the generosity of Yad Hanadiv-the Rothschild Foundation, the Gottesman Family of New York, and many other donors, is located in Jerusalem’s Government Quarter, at the intersection of Kaplan Street and Ruppin Boulevard, across from the Knesset, and adjacent to the Israel Museum.

The 11-story building covers approximately 46,000 sqm., with six floors above ground and five floors below ground. Readers will be able to access the main reading halls located at the Library’s center, which are designed to accommodate 600 persons, who may browse, read, and study, free-of-charge. The Library houses millions of items including over four million books, historical newspapers, photographs, some 1,500 personal collections and archives, thousands of antique maps, tens of thousands of manuscripts, posters and other ephemera, records, and tapes, as well as millions of digitized documents, music recordings, and many more treasures.

At present, the Library will be open Sunday-Thursday 9:00–16:00, and closed on Fridays (until further notice). Entry is via the main entrance at 1 Kaplan Street. Underground parking is not yet available; there is “blue and white” street parking. Public computers in the hall are not yet operational. Wi-Fi internet access is available in most but not all areas of the Main Reading Hall. Library staff will be on hand to provide services.

To familiarize readers with their new surroundings, there will be tours of the Main Reading Hall, and various points of service at 10:00 every morning next week, Oct. 29-Nov. 2. The meeting point is the Kaplan Street entrance. No advance registration is required.

As of November, the Library will offer free tours for evacuees from the northern and southern border, to present the building’s impressive architecture, reading halls, exhibits, artworks, visitor experience, and more. Workshops and sessions for children are also planned, subject to the security situation.

As soon as the security situation permits, the Library intends to open the extensive gallery spaces, displaying the most important rare heritage treasures of the Jewish people and Israeli society, alongside items from the Library’s Islam & Middle East and Humanities collections.

The new building also includes a 480-seat auditorium where concerts, lectures, and other cultural events will take place; a visitor center presenting the Library experience through an interactive “soundwalk” with visuals on a 20-meter-long LED screen; a restaurant; and a book shop offering books and unique Library-branded gifts. These, too, will be available once conditions allow.

Visitors to the new National Library of Israel will be able to enjoy artworks by leading Israeli and international artists, including two newly-donated works by Marc Chagall, two works by British artist Edmund de Waal, new works created especially for the new building by Israeli artists Gali Cnaani, Sigalit Landau, Michal Rovner, an important work by Yechiel Shemi, and others.

To the front of the building stands a monumental stone sculpture, Letters of Light, by Micha Ullman, and based on the ancient Kabbalistic text Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation). This important sculpture centers around the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet hewn in stone, with light and shade responding to the ever-changing angle of the sun’s rays.

The surrounding public areas feature specially selected plants and trees that celebrate Israel’s rich, varied vegetation, and landscaping that reflects the natural terracing of Jerusalem.

The new National Library of Israel building was designed by world-renowned Swiss architecture studio Herzog & de Meuron, known for its works around the world such as the Tate Modern in London; the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg; the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) in Beijing, and many others. The executive architect was Mann Shinar.

Support for the new building came from the government of the State of Israel in partnership Yad Hanadiv – the Rothschild Foundation, the Gottesman Family of New York, and many other donors from Israel and abroad. Construction costs amounted to NIS 845 million, of which 86% of total construction costs were funded by donors.

For information about the National Library of Israel, hours of operation, online events, booking tours, and general information: www.nli.org.il/en

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The National Library of Israel (NLI) is the dynamic institution of national memory for the Jewish people worldwide and Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths. As Israel's pre-eminent research library, NLI collections include the world's largest collection of textual Judaica, as well as world-class collections of Jewish and Islamic manuscripts, ancient maps, rare books, photographs, communal and personal archives, and more. NLI encourages diverse audiences in Israel and around the globe to engage with its treasures via innovative educational, cultural and digital initiatives, as well through a new landmark building that reflects NLI's core values of democratizing knowledge, and opening its resources to the broadest audience possible. For more information: www.nli.org.il/en
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