The National Library of Albania
By Mary Elizabeth Walters
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
The National Library of Albania is the main repository in Albania of books, periodicals, official publications. It also holds a strong collection of archival material linked to the rise of Albanian nationalism, as well as medieval manuscripts and maps from both Europe and the Ottoman Empire. It is open Monday-Friday from 8am-8pm. The weekend hours are listed as Saturday and Sunday from 8am-2pm, but this is subject to unannounced changes.
The National Library of Albania is housed in the Pallati i Kulturës in downtown Tirana off of Skanderbeg Square. There are three main reading rooms. On the first floor is a general reading room and information desk. The second floor houses an academic reading room, as well as a smaller Albano-Balkanology Read Room that requires special permission from the Director of the National Library of Albania to access.
To conduct research at the Library, no special appointment or permission is needed. Researchers do need to get a library card, however. To apply for a card, bring your passport and a passport sized color photograph of yourself to one of the information desks on either the first or second floor reading rooms. You will also need to be able to provide an address for where you are staying in Albania, but a hotel address is fine. The whole processes should take five minutes at most. Be aware, the library card is valid from January 1-December 31 of one calendar year, regardless of when you apply for the card, after which you are required to obtain a new card.
Conducting research itself is somewhat more complicated than getting the library card. The National Library of Albania is currently in the process of modernizing it’s holding methodology, updating its online catalog, and digitizing key holdings. It is unclear how long this process might take. Nevertheless, a good starting point is the online catalog, which will at least give a general idea of the Library’s holdings. It is very incomplete and inconsistent, however. I recommend doing as much of this before you arrive at the Library as possible. Each reading room has computers available to search the online catalogs, but they are very slow and semi-regular power outages are a real problem. After you have identified collections or documents, you will have to go to the physical card catalog to get the box numbers the librarians will need to actually pull the materials. This is one of the elements the current reforms are hoping to improve, but right now it is a mess. Generally, the librarians are happy to help researchers fill out call slips and find materials, though as will most things in Albania this is not always the case. It takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours for requested materials to arrive, so bring some other work to do while you wait.
The academic reading room has a large number of desks available for researchers and space is generally not a problem. Photography is allowed and there are photocopiers available for a fee. There are only two power outlets in the reading room and neither is by the desks. There is no wifi.
Albania in general is very inexpensive. There are several coffee shops around the corner in the front of the Pallati i Kulturës. There are also several fast food options nearby that serve byrek, a savory pastry common in Albania that generally costs about $.50. If you want a fuller meal, nearby restaurants serve meals for about $5. Avoid the Hotel International, which is very expensive.
Hostels are beginning to emerge in Albania and there are a few in Tirana that are very nice. There are also hotels near the center, such as Hotel Livia, that are between $35-45 a night. While Tirana does have a bus network, there are no posted maps or schedules. Also, when riding the buses there are no announcements for different stops. You’ll have a much easier time if you simply stay within walking distance of the Library.
Finally, avoid scheduling research trips for late July and all of August. Most of Albania goes on vacation during that time. While the basic functions of the library will be open, if you need to meet with archivists or get any type of permissions from the Director of the Library you could face serious obstacles.
The website for the National Library of Albania is: http://www.bksh.al/index.html#.VveUlc6gMT8