Dis­cov­er­ing Le­banon's public li­braries

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENT - Derek An­thony-isaacs

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

Dawaw­ine

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