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Public libraries should reach out to non-Arabs

Asma Zulfiqar Siraj
Filed on August 26, 2005

DUBAI — Though Dubai is fast emerging as a melting pot of cultures, the Dubai Public Libraries comes across as an institute catering only to a specific community — that of the Arabs.

The lack of sufficient books in English has led to a general belief that the libraries are only meant for the nationals or the Arabic speaking people. Though the service and the dedication of the public libraries’ staff to improve these services is impeccable, the libraries’ collections of books leave much to be desired.

There’s a huge gap left for those wanting to enjoy the literature and other books in their native language. There are around a quarter million books in Public Libraries’ huge collection, out of which 60 to 70 per cent are in Arabic, this includes a special collection, where rare books as old as a century are stacked.

Almost all of the special collection is in Arabic, which leaves a non-Arab with not much of a choice to browse through. Had rare collections in English been stacked, this part of the library would have thrived even more. All the million plus collections are connected via the computers and thus available in all the Dubai libraries branches.

Emad Abu Eid, Library Adviser at the main library said, “Out of the estimated 8,000 members, majority are nationals. Although this number is not reflected upon the visitors — around 400,000 people visited the public libraries in 2004, up from 310,000 in 2003 with the nationals, Arabs and the expatriates filling up those numbers equally.”

The increase in visitors could be due to the service factor. With net services starting at relatively cheap rates of Dh3 for an hour and Dh5 for two hours, the public seems to make good use of this offering.

Another crowd puller is the periodicals section. Journals, magazines and newspapers from all over the world are stacked in this section where people, mainly the males, gather to catch up on the latest happenings.

Other services offered by the libraries for their members as well as non-members are printing, photocopying, scanning and binding, even for private books.

The central library, in Al Ras, was established in 1963 by the former ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and has made tremendous progress since then. It also happens to be the oldest in the whole of the Gulf. Amongst the seven libraries, the central library is the largest.

Currently undergoing renovations, this main library, like its other branches, have all automated systems. Recently, a new self-checkout system was installed in the main library, where checking out the books has become even more convenient. One of the branches in Um Sequim is totally electronic. It’s also the first full eLibrary in the region.

Mohammed Jasim Al Oraidi, Head of the Section, Public Libraries, said: “The Public Libraries cover all aspects of life, whether it be political, economical, social or religious. It also has a vast collection of fiction and factual books. Public Libraries stress upon three aspects: size, format and topics. The size is in millions, the formatting is in different types of periodicals as well as books, available in both traditional as well as modern formats.”

All the public library branches have multi-purpose halls which is used for seminars, workshops, poetry recitals and other such activities. The children’s library in all the branches holds activities every summer with specially designed competitions, film shows, readings and different shows.

At the end of these activities, the winning drawings and the winners get their works published in an annual children’s booklet. A special book fair, Dubai Child Summit, for families and specialists is also held from the first of November till the first of December at the Hor Al Anz branch.

When asked about their thoughts on the Public Libraries, Zahra Shakir, a travel consultant and a student, stated, “The best thing about these libraries is that their service is excellent. I am a regular visitor and till date haven’t found any faults with them.”

A visitor from Canada, Bashir Ali, expressed similar thoughts but in the end added that the Public Libraries should come up with another service, that of providing books to the visitors as well.

For the benefit of the general public, a reservation system has been introduced. By visiting the Public Libraries web site, members as well as the non-members, can search for their desired book by entering keywords and reserving it online and also calling up that particular library and reserve their chosen book. As far as the customers satisfaction is concerned, the public libraries have done everything in their power to encourage more people to come and be a part of a serene and readable environment.

By improving their collections further and including books in different languages, the public libraries can enhance their reputation manifold in the eyes of the multi-cultured residents and pull more of the common men into that soothing educative atmosphere.

Spreading knowledge

DUBAI — The role of informing the minds of young and old is what the Public Libraries in this city are doing. For a better future, a knowledge society, a learned set of people is required.

Here are some facts on the libraries in Dubai:

A round 400,000 people visited the public libraries in 2004, up from 310,000 in 2003.

The public libraries cover all aspects of life, whether it be political, economical, social or religious.

The children’s library in all the branches holds activities every summer with specially designed competitions, film shows, readings and different shows

The Um Sequim library is totally electronic. It is also the first fully converted eLibrary in the region.

The Al-Ras library, established in 1963, is the oldest in the whole of the Gulf.

Amongst the seven libraries in Dubai, the central library is the largest.

All public library branches have multi-purpose halls which are used for seminars, workshops and poetry recitals.


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