The National Library of Lebanon, together with libraries, museums, heritage sites, and buildings throughout Beirut, sustained heavy damage caused by the explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020.

 Following a year of fundraising and four months of reconstruction work, the National Library of Lebanon reopened to the public on Thursday, 10 February. The reopening of this library, and in fact all the work that has been done to recover the cultural and educational institutions of Beirut following the blast, is a testament to what can be achieved through cooperation, solidarity, and a strong dedication to access to culture at the local, national, and international levels.

The National Library

The former Faculty of Law of the Lebanese University in Sanayeh, which has housed the National Library of Lebanon since 2018, required significant restoration following the blast.

Since its founding in 1922, the National Library has faced hardships from armed conflict, destruction, and looting, and ultimately closed in 1976. A project to revive the National Library was started in the 2000s, and the library opened once more in 2018.

The project to restore and reopen the National Library following the Beirut Blast therefore is an important step in a long history of effort to ensure this cultural institution is open to benefit the people of Lebanon and beyond.

The National Library today includes a collection of 300,000 books and can accommodate many types of cultural activities.

“It is important to preserve the cultural and intellectual heritage of the country through the walls of this library” says Hassan Accra, Director General of the National Library.

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The Restoration Project

The restoration of the National Library building was made possible through contributions from The ALIPH Foundation – International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, as well as Qatar National Library, host to one of IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres, focussing on the Arab Countries and the Middle East.

Further support was awarded through the Grand Prix culturel de France, and many in-kind donations of books, which helped rebuild the collection.

 Qatar National Library

Qatar National Library has played an active role in recovery efforts in Beirut, working with ALIPH, UNESCO and other partners in supporting the restoration of the National Library of Lebanon, as well as other libraries and cultural institutions in the city, including various local and school libraries.

His Excellency Dr. Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Minister of State, Qatar and President of Qatar National Library, stated that the library’s work in Beirut was driven by Qatar National Library’s commitment to “facilitating knowledge acquisition by safeguarding the past, embracing the present and helping to shape the future”. Qatar National Library supported the National Library of Lebanon in its earlier restoration projects, and once again was involved in enabling this institution, as well as others, to serve their communities.

Regarding the cooperative effort undertaken to support recovery of Beirut’s cultural institutions, Stephane Ipert, Director of Distinctive Collections at Qatar National Library and director of IFLA’s PAC Centre hosted at the library has said:

The Library recognizes the valuable work which can come from work in partnerships, as seen through our efforts as the IFLA Preservation and Conservation Regional Center. For this new alliance, the cooperation among organizations is a key point of success, as it is the very first time that funds and resources will be mobilized for such an important cultural development effort in Lebanon. Exchanging information, sharing costs and lending our areas of strength are important components to the sustainability of the project and ensuring its positive outcomes.

Read more about Qatar National Library’s work in Beirut here: Qatar National Library and Partners Unite in Effort to Restore Libraries and Cultural Institutions in Beirut.

Blue Shield’s Work in Beirut

 The reopening of the National Library of Lebanon is only one aspect of the extensive recovery work that was carried out through cooperation between national, regional, and international stakeholders following the blast.

In the immediate aftermath, Blue Shield International began communication with the Lebanese National Committee of the Blue Shield and other colleagues on the ground to assess damage and begin determining actions for recovery.

As a founding organisation of Blue Shield, IFLA assisted by facilitating information sharing between our members, including the Lebanese Library Association, and a network of partners ready to work on recovery and restoration.

The result of information sharing between Blue Shield International and Blue Shield Lebanon, which includes representation from the country’s library sector, was the compilation of a Provisional Assessment Report (PAR) photo report: Cultural Heritage Damage Assessment.

More detailed damage assessments followed, as well as interventions to secure all the affected buildings. This was assisted through funding by the Prince Claus Fund, ALIPH Foundation, Gerda Henkel Stiftung and the British Council.

 Read the full report from Blue Shield International here: Saving heritage in ruins after the Beirut Blast.