The Gennadius Library, a treasure trove of books, manuscripts, archives, and works of art documenting the heritage of Hellenism since the end of antiquity, is housed in a stately marble building on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus. It was named “Gennadeion” in pious memory of the founder’s father, George Gennadius (1786-1854) but it is equally a memorial to the founder himself, Joannes Gennadius (1844-1932), for the library that he created is a fitting symbol of his whole career. A diplomat, scholar, and bibliophile, he was always motivated first and foremost by a passionate devotion to Greece.
The core of the collection consists of John Gennadius’s 26,000-book personal library, which he formally offered to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens to house and maintain in 1922. The conditions of the deed of gift were that the collection would be housed separately, that it would remain in Greece, and that the Library would be available to the scholars of all nations. The Carnegie Corporation generously undertook to provide the building and the Greek government provided a site adjacent to the American and British Schools.
The building was designed and built by the New York firm of Van Pelt and Thompson. The inscription on the frieze of the façade, ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΛΟΥΝΤΑΙ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΤΕΡΑΣ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ (Greeks they are called those who assume our education), is borrowed from Isocrates’ Panegyricus. The formal dedication of the Library by His Excellency and Madam Gennadius took place on April 23, 1926.
The somewhat remote location of the Library in pre-war Athens in the area of the Archaeological Schools meant that access to the collections was possible to 2 - 5 readers per day. At the end of the 1960s, however, the growth of the collection and the number of its patrons made the need for expansion pressing. New offices, stacks and exhibitions were added in two wings that were built behind the colonnade. The expansion was undertaken by the architect Paulos Mylonas.
The Gennadeion Today
Over 80 years after the Gennadeion first opened its gates to the public, its garden is a relief to the suffocating city center and the collections are now numbering over 119,000 volumes and continue to increase rapidly. New acquisitions are classified according to the original system devised by Joannes Gennadius with some minor changes and additions to the class numbers in order to encompass a large number of new books and more current subject divisions such as the collection of children’s books. Now the Library serves almost 40 to 50 readers per day.
The Library’s building structure and the way it was organized until recently were closer to the ideas of the founder and to the demands of an earlier era than to the current needs of the library, which resulted in severe problems in the conservation and preservation of the collections. Once the problems were realized and identified a special committee was formed in 1995 to find an effective solution to the pressing needs of the grounds and buildings of the Gennadeion.
The Overseers of the Gennadius Library co-ordinated in Greece and the U.S.A. a fundraising campaign to modernize the Library. Funds were raised for the endowment as well as for the reconstruction of the Library, the acquisition of state-of-the-art technical equipment and the improvement of the services offered.
Climate control, fire protection systems and a new underground space, equipped with compact stacks that house half of the collection, were added in 1999 below the original building.
The East wing was inaugurated in 2005. It houses new spaces for seminars, reading rooms for consultation of archival material and special collections, new office spaces as well as ample storage areas for the Gennadeion Archives and the rest of the collection.
To the east of the Gennadeion a modern auditorium, Cotsen Hall, named for the chief benefactor Lloyd Cotsen, was also inaugurated in 2005. Holding 370 people this lecture hall is used for lectures, conferences and other public events.
A new fundraising campaign seeks to provide funds for the renovation of the West wing with additional spaces for the operative demands and needs of the Library.
Joannes Gennadius’s collection is the richest private collection of books about Greece. As a collector and bibliophile, Gennadius saw Greece as a continuum from antiquity to the present and the Library he founded still adheres to that vision. His intentions are best described in his own words: “to form a library that represents the creative genius of Greece at all periods, the influence of her arts and sciences upon the western world, and the impression created by her natural beauty upon the traveler.”
Gennadius Library Directors
1925 - 1931: Gilbert Campbell Scoggin, Librarian
1931 – 1937: Clarence Lowe, Librarian
1937 - 1941: Shirley Howard Weber, Librarian
The Gennadius Library remained closed during the war (1941-1946)
1946 – 1953: Shirley Howard Weber, Librarian
1953 - 1961: Peter Topping, Librarian
1961 - 1976: Francis R. Walton, Librarian until 1970; change to Director after that date
1976 - 1983: Sophie Papageorgiou, Acting Librarian
1978 - 1979: Angelike Laiou, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1979 – 1981: Timothy E. Gregory, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1981 – 1982: John W. Nesbitt, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1982 – 1983: Beata Panagopoulou, Samuel H. Kress Professor of Hellenic Studies *
1983 - 1986: Beata Panagopoulou, Director
1986 – 1989: George Huxley, Director
1989 – 1992: Donald M. Nicol, Director
1993 – 1995: David Jordan, Director
1996 – 2004: Haris Kalligas, Director
2004 - : Maria Georgopoulou, Director
* The Samuel E. Kress Professors of Hellenic Studies were to provide academic leadership to the Gennadius Library by their own research, by guiding the work of younger scholars, by participation in the teaching program of the School and by advising the Librarian on matters of scholarly policy.