Dubai's oldest English library completes 50 glorious years
Established in 1969, the library has had quite a journey, witnessing Dubai as a trucial state and the cosmopolitan city it is today.
Two parcels of books that occupied three shelves in the home library of British diplomat Sir Julian Bullard was the beginning of The Old Library 50 years ago. Today, it stands proudly in Dubai's Gold and Diamond Park with 26,000 books in over 500 shelves.
Established in 1969, the library has had quite a journey, witnessing Dubai as a trucial state and the cosmopolitan city it is today. Then called the Dubai Lending Library, they stocked books donated by a patroness named Lady Verney from London. A nominal lending fee was charged from readers who wished to borrow books that could be returned later. Lady Margaret Bullard, wife of Sir Julian and founder of the library, said: "I had no idea that I was starting something that would be grand and splendid that would become a crucial part of the cultural fabric of Dubai."
The informal beginning of the library with a collection that included books left by men working on oil rigs. It soon transformed into a stock that was personally curated by Lady Bullard. "One summer, I went to England and drove around town, rounding up and piling good second-hand books, the ones that I had read, and those that were in great condition," she said. The books were then transported by the Royal Air Force to their base in Sharjah at no cost.
Since its formation, the library has been run entirely by a team of volunteers. In spite of having shut shop almost five times in 50 years, the library always emerged as a winner. They tackled it all, from functioning out of a commercial setup in Deira, where bags of sand were used as bookshelves to moving into a space above a supermarket in Karama and functioning from a local church compound in Bur Dubai. In the 90s, the library took its current name, owing to its history.
Their journey was never easy. They lost one of their locations on Beach Road Jumeirah to a redevelopment project. It was in 2004 that Majid Al Futtaim brought them some respite by offering a space in their new project, Mall of the Emirates. For two years till their move to the mall was complete, the library was being run from a villa in Umm Suqeim. In 2006, they moved to Dubai Community Theatre and Art Centre (DUCTAC) inside the mall. After having spent over a decade at this buzzing location, the closure of DUCTAC came as another big blow. However, with the efforts of the volunteers, the library found another place - the Dubai Gold and Diamond Park. Frequented mostly by kids and families, the library now has over 2,400 patrons.
Commemorating their 50-year milestone, the library hosted an intimate gathering that was graced with the presence of Lady Bullard, British Council General Andrew Jackson, key members of the library and their team of volunteers.
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