Reportage with gallery: touring secret rooms of national library

Merike Teder, Postimees
Merike Teder, Postimees

To celebrate its jubilee, National Library of Estonia gives readers a week of peeking into rooms usually hidden.

To celebrate its jubilee, National Library of Estonia gives readers a week of peeking into rooms usually hidden.

In honour of the 20th birthday of the building at Tõnismäe – as well as the national library’s 95th anniversary – an open-days week is happening, offering free excursions, workshops, seminars and meetings.

With great pride, the library’s director Janne Andresoo took her guests through the rarities’ hall of Eduard Wiiralt gallery, where, in addition to high value works, the most costly furniture of the building is evidently treasured: the reader may enjoy sitting at the oldest table of the house, about an 100 years old, coming from the days of the State Library.

Namely, the national library was established on December 21st 1918 under the name of State Library, the name change only coming in 1935. With the disruption of the Republic of Estonia, State Library also ceased to be and was re-opened in 1988, being awarded National Library status.

Next, we can have a look at the depositories – fixed five years ago to create conditions good for books. The most fragile and endangered ones, printed on sensitive paper, are actually kept in one of two special cold rooms. The «pre-chamber» being 14 degrees Celsius, the main one 8o C. «When we need to bring books out from there, we leave them in the pre-chamber to get accustomed to warmer climate, only then they are brought out,» said Ms Andresoo. The pre-chamber also hosts the library’s compact discs and tapes.

The most unique inhabitant of the cold room is an entire historic 140-years-old library for peasants, put together by bright-minded schoolteachers and village people of Vihula village, Ida-Viru County, at their own initiative and expenses. Back then, the «wild village library» functioned for 18 years. However, as the authorities turned against it, a family kept it in their home and it ended up at a state library in 1968.

Underground machinery rooms

With last years’ repairs, the library’s air conditioning was fixed. These are located underground. By the way, the 10 storied building has two of these under the ground and the entry, thus, is from 3rd floor. The ninth floor houses a device by which the air sucked out heats the clean air sucked in, thereby saving energy. So, the air sucked in is 11-12o Celsius even in winter, said manager Mati Kibin. «We have three times the cooling power than before. Books want 18-20o Celsius and, to get that in summer, we need such capacity,» he said.

In addition to reading rooms, Janne Andresoo also showed the Spartan private «boxes» for those who really wish to concentrate. These are little used, however – mainly, perhaps, that people are unaware of their existence. The boxes come in the dozens.

The old periodicals hall has been remodelled, due to shrinking number of visitors. It now includes a computer class, auditorium and a spacious exhibition hall – currently showing book illustrations by Silvi Väljal.

The national library currently has close to 41,000 active readers, half of those youngsters. According to a study done a few years past, 31 per cent of the visitors are students. Creative folk, scientist, doctoral candidates and teachers also frequent the house.

The library built in 1985-1993 is designed by Raine Karp, interior by Sulev Vahtra. Up to this day the largest in the Baltic States, it comes with 52,000 square meters and depository space for 5 million books. At the moment, 3.4 million books call this house their home.

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