PUBLIC READING IN LEBANON
Dr. Imad Hashem, responsible for books and reading in the Ministry of Culture, shares his thoughts on the importance of libraries in Lebanon
Integrated in local public life and playing a role as cultural, educational and social spaces, the public libraries of Lebanon have become true meeting spaces. Indeed, the creation and development of neighbourhood and village libraries assures a better promotion of books, facilitates the discovery of reading, but above all, offers public spaces for the young and the old.
Being accessible and free of charge, public libraries provide access to knowledge and information for all citizens. By the diversity of services provided, the plurality of sources, the variety of activities organised, they further offer the possibility to divert and educate oneself, to build one’s personality and opinion in the respect of public space.
Today, the importance of public libraries has become clear to the Lebanese; they witness a constant development and are today at the center of activities of the Ministry of Culture and Civil Society Organisations.
The idea of public libraries, which incited some municipalities to small initiatives before 1975, has re-emerged after the end of the civil war in 1990. Certainly, initiated by civil society organisations and associations, the wave of library creations has known an expansion and amplification thanks to militant activism of the latter, but also thanks to the involvement of the municipalities and the engagement of the Ministry of Culture in the framework of a policy of democratisation of culture and access to books in particular.
The Centers for reading and cultural activities
In 2001, the Ministry of Culture launched a large public reading project by creating 14 centers for reading and cultural activities, Centre de lectures et d’animation Culturelle (CLAC) in partnership with the International Organisation for the Francophone (OIF) and local authorities. Based on the model of the CLAC and encouraged by their success, which is illustrated by the numbers of visits (1000 per month in 2004) and book rentals (300 per month in 2004), the ministry has continued to pursue this initiative and has created libraries throughout [Lebanon]. To date, 45 centers for reading and cultural activities are distributed in all regions of the country. At the beginning equipped with a stack of 2,500 books in two languages, they now offer to the public diversified collections of some 4,000 to 5,000 books, newspapers and magazines, CDS and music, with particular attention being paid to the space for children.
The Library of Baakline
The library ( 05 304050, Baakleen, Chouf ) was created in 1987 in a heritage building of 700sqm and was attached to the Ministry of Culture in 1997. Offering a trilingual collection of 75,000 books and more than 7,000 magazines, newspapers and journals, it employs 20 people of which some are professional librarians.
The national reading week
A national reading week, coordinated by the Ministry of Culture, is organised every year during the month of April. In 2008, more than 400 events were organized by libraries, cities, bookshops and publishing houses... all actors in the chain of books.