Discovering Lebanon's public libraries
Discover the network of Lebanon’s many public libraries
At the beginning of the year the New York Times by Charles M. Blow (Jan 2014) ran an article with the headline “Reading books is Fundamental.” However in Lebanon, a country with a plethora of homegrown, world-renowned authors, it has been an uphill struggle for many years now to introduce public libraries. Even after 14 years of campaigning, just 3 out of the 12 planned public libraries for Beirut exist.
The first of those planned libraries in Beirut’s turned 14 this year, the Municipal Public Library of Bachoura (01 667701) located in a municipal building overlooking a cemetery. A further two are located in Rmeil (01 562677) and Monot (01 203026), with a fourth library expected to open in Tariq al-jdideh by the end of the year. Nationwide, however, there are 25 libraries within Assabil’s (the Friends of Public Libraries Association) network. The Lebanese NGO founded in 1997 to establish and promote public libraries in Lebanon that are free and open to all.
Back in 1997 Antoine Boulad, the president of Assabil, and four of his friends proposed a public library to the Beirut municipality. Assabil’s administrative committee manages the operations of the association in a number of ways: opening and managing some of Beirut's municipal public libraries; coordinating their network of public libraries located throughout the country; distributing books to public libraries and schools, organizing activities in public libraries; and conducting training sessions for library staff.
The challenges facing readers
Making communities aware that public libraries are open in their neighborhoods is often challenging. A recent report in alakhbar.com by Bassel Habbab (July 2014) about Beirut’s public libraries stated that in spite of numerous radio, TV and print announcements many locals were still unaware that a library was open in their area. Nevertheless “…in 2013, Assabil received 31,000 visitors and lent out over 16,000 of its 44,000 books. While it represents the only source of books for some of its visitors, the NGO also strives to provide its members with access to culture and a community of readers,” the report stated. To counteract the challenges of creating awareness Assabil also “…hosts regular writing workshops, computer classes, and cultural events.”
The report goes on to cite how “…each library [in Beirut] maintains a general collection, but the three branches also cater to their neighborhood’s interests. The Monot branch has a focus on the arts, while the Jeitawi branch, located in a garden, offers some books focused on horticulture.”
In addition to the neighborhood libraries, Assabil also operates the Kotobus, a mobile library, which currently caters to schools in Beirut’s suburbs, as the NGO continues its challenge to ensure the “fundamental right of reading” is available and known to all.
Lifetime library membership costs LL10,000; children unable to afford the fee are allowed to enter for free
A list of countrywide libraries is available on lebaneselibraryassociation.org and assabil.com
Photo courtesy of Hayat Karanouh