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Public Library of Mytilene - Vernardakis' Collection
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Vernardakis' Collection

Vernardakis' Collection

Dimitrios Vernardakis was born at Agia Marina, Mytilene, in 1833. His father, Nicolaos, was Cretan and his mother, Melissini Trandali, from Gera, Mytilene. He studied at the Philosophical School of the University of Athens and made his first appearance in arts and letters with poems and studies about the language issue. He completed his postgraduate studies in Germany and upon his return to Greece, in 1861, he was appointed Professor of General History and Philology at the University of Athens. Even though his lessons were attended by an unusually large and diverse audience, his lectures became the reason for the intensification of inter-university rivalry, which led to his resignation in 1869. Since then, and with the exception of a short period from 1882 to 1883, when he again taught at the University, he lived a secluded life in Mytilene, where he died in 1907.

The history of the Central Public Library of Mytilene is closely interrelated with the private library of the academic Dimitrios Vernardakis. As we are informed by Homer Kondoulis, in an article dated 29-05-2000 in the newspaper Dimocratis (i.e. Democrat), Vernardakis, through a term included in his will, bequeathed his impressive library in order to found a Municipal Library, at the same time granting his brother Grigorios the right to temporarily keep the books he needed. The efforts of many Lesvians to realise Vernardakis' will to establish a Municipal Library, came up against the refusal of the Trustees to execute his will, and the beneficiaries holding the books with no justification. From the proceedings (No 710/4-3-1908) of the Charity Organisations Directorate, we are informed that Athanassios Vernardakis (one of the beneficiaries) would like know if the Directorate intends to buy the library and at what price. A year later it was decided by the Charity Organisations Directorate to offer beneficiaries 320 Turkish lire, as compensation for the acquisition of the library and the manuscripts. The amount was donated by Zannos Sifnaios, under the condition that the library shall consist a special Collection and shall bear the inscription "Dimitrios Vernardakis' Library, donated by Zannos Sifnaios". However, 30 years later the issue of the Vernardakis' library had still not been settled. From the local press we are informed that in May 1938, the library should have been transferred to the ownership of the Municipality of Mytilene and constitute the core of the Municipal Library, whereas the books should have been taken from the basement of the High School of Mytilene to a different area, in order to be preserved from worn-out. The issue of beneficiaries' compensation remained open until 1945, when, after an initiative taken by EAM (National Liberation Front) and EPON (United Pan-Hellenic Youth Organisation, i.e. the youth wing of EAM), part of the books were transferred from the High School to the building on Smyrnis street (where the Library is accommodated nowadays) and at long last the Municipal Library of Mytilene was founded.

The Vernardakis' Library is nowadays a special collection of the Central Public Library of Mytilene and numbers about 3.000 titles of rare and valuable books, including books of classical philology, the first studies and doctoral theses from the Universities of Germany on Ancient Greek writers, as well as dictionaries by Leipzig, Venice, Paris, Odessa publications etc, dating from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century. The collection also includes books with theatrical plays, given that the contribution of Vernardakis in shaping 19th century Greek theatre has been quite significant. Part of the Collection has already been digitized, and the Library aims at digitizing and highlighting the entire Collection, and also at acquiring the rest of the books included in his private library, which we know nothing about.