National Library of Malta
The National Library of Malta, also known as the Bibliotheca, is situated in the Republic Square in Valletta. It's a reference library, which means that the library does not lend books or other items (newspapers, periodicals etc.), they must be read at the library itself. Such libraries are used for research purposes. The reason for it is that some items are historical or even unique such as the Order of St. John books collections.
The library is housed in a late 18th century neoclassical building, close to the Grandmaster's Palace and just opposite to the oldest coffee shop in Valletta, Caffe Cordina. It's quite shameful to admit that it took me over 10 years to visit this beautiful library and honestly it's not as difficult as I thought. No special permits needed!
Anyone can visit the National Library of Malta. All you need is to present one legal document, either an ID card or your passport at the entrance so you can be given a visitor's tag and you are free to go. There is no entrance fee. I don't know, why did I always think, that you would need some kind of a special permit to enter the library, but you really don't.
It was quite surprising to learn that the origins of the National Library of Malta go back to 1555, when Grand Master Claude de la Sengle decreed that all the books belonging to deceased members of the Order of St John are to be passed to the Order's treasury.
The founder of the Library was a Knight of Malta, Bailiff Fra' Jean-Louis Guerin de Tencin, who on his death in 1766 left about 9700 books. The library was designed by Stefano Ittar to house all these valuable collections. The building was completed in 1796, but it wasn't until 1812 when all the books were transferred to this new building.
The Bibliotheca Publica was officially inaugurated the same year, 4th June 1812, by Sir Hildebrand Oakes, British Civil Commissioner to Malta, on King George III's birthday.
When you walk up the stairs, just before the entrance to the actual library, there are two interesting artefacts on display. Nebiolo Guillotine, on the left, was a hand-operated machine that was used to cut paper or trim the edges of a book. It was manufactured in 1929 and used by bookbinding staff until 2005.
On the right you can see a Recordak Microfilm Unit by Eastman Kodak Company, which was introduced in 1928 and resulted in the earliest large-scale commercial use of greatly reduced-size copying onto narrow rolls of film (microfilm).
As you can see on the photo below, I wasn't able to take any pictures of the inside of the library myself as it was strictly forbidden. This is the only sneaky photo I managed to take. However I was lucky enough to speak to Louis Cini, who is the Assistant Librarian and who was kind enough to send the me couple of photos of the library interiors.
This is what the National Library of Malta looks from the inside! It's not as big as I thought, but it is pretty awesome! It felt a little bit like I walked into Harry Potter's library. :-) If you are not registered reader and you are only visiting, you cannot just walk around the library as it that would be distracting and disrespectful to the researchers. However if you would like to have a look at some of the great books you can simply register yourself as a reader.
And what's stored in the library? Apart from already mentioned Archives of the Order of St John, there are also Archives of the Universita dei Giuratti (the island's local government prior to 1530), some incunabula (exact copies of books produced in the earliest stages before 1501), a collection of library manuscripts, among which a few 15th century illuminated codices, and a rich Melitensia collection comprising books, newspapers and periodicals published in Malta.
Malta's National Library served as the island's first Public Library, but nowadays it's solely a research and reference library.
Opening hours in winter (from 1st October - 15th June) are Monday to Friday: 8.15 - 17.45 and on Saturdays: 08.15 - 13.15 and in summer (from 16 June to 30 September) Monday to Saturday 08.15 - 13.15.
I hope that you found this photo blog interesting, learned something new, and that you will add the National Library of Malta to our list of places to visit when in Valletta. :-)