This fall Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandria will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its opening. It is one of the region’s grandest and most beautiful libraries. Although it currently holds only one million books there is room for expansion. Bibliotheca Alexandria has shelf space for over eight million books. This library has become a public center of learning and activism. It recently hosted the Natural Sciences Earth and Sun Festival, with public programs about the environment and conversation. The facility’s library for the visually impaired offers monthly computer literacy classes and Braille reading courses.
Bibliotheca Alexandria is a rare example in the Middle East, offering the public affordable (often free) educational opportunities and the chance to see diverse art collections, including sculptures, paintings, ceramics and photographs by prominent Egyptian artists.
In Israel The Garden Library has been another example, on a much smaller scale, of a Middle Eastern library bridging the socioeconomic literacy divide, recycling books while strengthening the community.
Israeli entrepreneur Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris, recommended joining a local library as the best way for book lovers to make their habit ecologically sustainable.
The Middle East has a history of monumental libraries. Unfortunately many of the region’s historic libraries have been destroyed or severely damaged, including the original Library of Alexandria, the Library of Antioch, Baghdad’s ancient House of Wisdom and most recently the Egyptian Scientific Institute in 2011.
Scores of Iraqi libraries have been destroyed or looted since 2003, including the Iraq National Library and Archive and libraries at both the University of Baghdad and the University of Mosul.
The ruins of the library of Celsus in Turkey are such a potent national symbol that they were featured on the country’s twenty million lira banknotes from 2001 to 2009.
Reviving this tradition of monumental, public learning institutions could have immensely positive results for the region’s peoples.
And as is typically the case with Egypt, from cinema to libraries, the land of the sphinx has celebrated history with immense style. Bibliotheca Alexandria is adorned with writing in over 100 languages and surrounded by a pool of water with bright blue tiles.
Read more about libraries in the Middle East:
Novel Bus-Stop Libraries in Israel Promote Green Transportation
A Model “Garden Library” For Urban Environments in Transition
Sustainable Reading: The CEO of Eco-Libris Speaks