- National Library of Malta
The National Library of Malta (also, Bibliotheca) began in 1555. It is currently the legal deposit and copyright for Malta. Its collection spans the personal libraries of the Knights of Malta (also the archives and treasury manuscripts of that order), including archives from the medieval Università dei Giurati of Mdina and Valletta.
The idea of a public Library in Malta began with the issue of a decree by Fra' Claude de la Sengle, Grand Master of the Knights, whereby all books in the legacy of deceased knights were to pass to the Common Treasury of the Order. It was not until 1776, however, that the formal foundation of a Bibliotheca Publica was decreed at the Chapter General of the Order convened by Grand Master de Rohan. The main collections were those belonging to Fra' Louis Guérin de Tencin, Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order who had died in 1766, and of Cardinal Joaquin Portocarrero, which de Tencin himself had purchased on the Cardinal's death in 1760. The Library was for a time named Bibliotheca Tanseana in de Tencin's honour. De Tencin is still today considered the founder of the Library.
Stefano Ittar, a Polish-born architect residing in Italy, completed the designs to de Rohan's specifications. The building, situated in the heart of Malta's capital city, was completed in 1796 but two years later the Order of St. John was expelled from Malta by Napoleon and during the French 2-year period, the books remained at their former premises. It was only in 1812 - during the British administration - that the new premises were officially inaugurated by the British Civil Commissioner, Sir Hildebrand Oakes.
From then on the Malta Public Library, as it was then called, continued to flourish with a number of new acquisitions. In 1925 the Library acquired its "legal deposit" status by an Act of Parliament and 11 years later was granted the prefix "Royal" by King George V of the United Kingdom. The following year the Royal Malta Library took over the custody of the Archives of the Order of St John which were transferred from the Public Registry premises. With the setting up of the new Public Library in Floriana in 1976, the Library in Valletta was officially designated as the "National Library of Malta" and became solely a research and reference Library.
In its capacity as National Library the mission of the Bibliotheca (as it is more commonly known) is to acquire, catalogue and preserve manuscripts and all printed books, as well as periodicals and journals issued in Malta. Act no. II of 1925 instituting the Legal Deposit imposed on all Maltese authors and editors publishing in Malta or abroad, the obligation to deposit two free copies of each of their publications, one at the National Library of Malta and the other at the Gozo Public Library. For this reason, the National Library has become the main source of Melitensia with the function of placing the written heritage of Malta at the disposal of researchers and the general public.
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