The National Library has been without a director for almost a year and there is no replacement envisaged because changes to the law are being planned, the Education Ministry says.
“The reason is because we have legislation in the pipeline for the setting up of the Maltese Libraries, which will be headed by a National Librarian. This legislation runs on the same pattern of the National Archives, which is headed by the National Archivist. We hope this legislation will pass through Parliament in the coming months and the post of Director of Libraries will become redundant,” a ministry spokesman said.
Yet, the absence of a director will keep piling up the problems of whoever takes over the library in whichever capacity.
“Without a director, only day-to-day issues are being handled and other pressing problems are literally being shelved,” Laurence Zerafa, chairman of the Malta Library and Information Association (MaLIA), says.
He welcomed the planned reform, saying he hoped this would go through, elevating the National Library to the place it deserves. However, he insisted: “There’s a lot to be done. Part of the problem is the lack of funds but, if there’s no management, it’s difficult to move forward.”
The news comes after Air Malta last week joined the Sliema Lions Club to sponsor the restoration of old books literally falling to pieces along with other priceless manuscripts at the National Library.
Though most of the library’s 750,000 books are in a good state, there are hundreds of tomes – dating between the 16th and 18th centuries – that are turning to dust.
Speaking at the launch of Air Malta’s campaign on Thursday, Education Minister Dolores Cristina pointed out that expenditure on the library had tripled from €1,700 in the first six months last year to €5,724 in the corresponding period this year. She also said that the Central Public Library saw €71,000 being spent on books.
However, the money going to the National Library collection is nowhere near what is needed to restore the priceless volumes. The absence of a director compounds this situation.
“The National Library is a national institution and should be taken care of as such,” Mr Zerafa says, adding that its Melitensia section is the only one on the island open to all the public, unlike the one at the University, open only to its members.
He notes the need for investment in new machinery that could help maintain better old books. There are machines that could de-dust harmful dust but the library does not have this equipment. “I’m afraid there is very little that can be done for some books already,” Mr Zerafa warns.
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