Thursday, 18th March 2010
Renzo Piano’s public library in Valletta
Laurence Zerafa, chairman, MaLIA, Msida

The Malta Library and Information Association (MaLIA would like to refer to the Prime Minister’s statement (March 6) that “The government intends forging ahead with its plans for a roofless theatre in Valletta, with the Prime Minister saying yesterday it was relying on architect Renzo Piano’s advice on the matter.”

It seems to have escaped nearly everybody’s attention that on June 22, 2009, The Times reported Renzo Piano (A Magic City In A Magic Island) as follows when expressing his views about the Parliament building and the controversy that he well knows surrounds it:

“Right next to this magic (the theatre), Mr Piano now plans the seat of Parliament, an institution where many Maltese have come to expect a less enthralling experience.

“But even here, there has been a lot of listening going on. The building will not only house Parliament but a public library too, as suggested by a group (MaLIA) that joined the fray when controversy sparked over the Prime Minister’s declaration that the new House of Representatives would be built on the site of the ruins.” Further on, when speaking about the empty space beneath the Parliament building above the present Freedom square, Renzo Piano goes on as follows: “The new (Parliament) building will allow you to see the St James Cavalier in all its glory. “What’s more, there will be a garden between the two buildings, at the back. I want people to enjoy going there. We want to put on the ground floor of the Parliament a function that is public. I don’t think that there will be shops there… the shops are already there. I think we have to put there a dignified, noble activity. We are thinking about a library…”

MaLia of course immediately welcomed this excellent piece of news. But just five days later on Saturday, June 27, when the official plans were unveiled, the public got to know that this space beneath Parliament will now be transformed into a museum of political development, about which nothing else has been mentioned. The question that crops up is obvious. Why is the government relying on Renzo Piano’s advice for a roofless theatre but waiving his advice for a public (lending) library, beneath Parliament at City Gate? What will the space beneath Parliament be used for now? The City Gate area is of course one of the ideal places for such a public library, an area which is readily accessible to all, as opposed to the present location of the Central Public Library in Floriana, half way down a steep hill cut off from the hub of activity in the city.

While respecting that the government may have valid reasons why Mr Piano’s advice for a public library beneath Parliament was not taken up, MaLIA feels that the government should now seek to find an alternative, easily accessible, central location within Valletta for the country’s main central public lending library building. One suggested good location would be a renovated building in the vicinity of St George’s Square which would place it conveniently close to the present National Library. MaLIA feels that a centrally located, attractive public library building that is well equipped and professionally run would certainly boost the numbers of people using libraries and improve the country’s low literacy rate.

This ties in with the government’s intention to turn Malta into a knowledge-based society by 2015.

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