DUBAI // Two Emirati women have created a virtual orphanage for unwanted books, with the hopes of finding them new homes and encouraging a culture of reading.
Mariam Al Khayat and Shaikha Al Shamsi, both 28, started The Book Shelter initiative last month. Anyone in the UAE can either donate books or log on to their website and browse titles they would like to adopt, free of charge. The shelter will even handle the delivery.
"I think people see reading as a chore," Ms Al Khayat said. "Everything is fast-paced now and when you read, you need to sit quietly. Maybe that's why they don't read as much."
Only 50 per cent of Emiratis own more than 50 books, according to research being carried out by the Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah.
Samar Farah, co-author of the study, which is to be published early next year, said: "Literacy rates are really high among Emiratis, but literacy is not the actual problem - it's the lack of a reading culture that is more problematic."
According to a Unesco study conducted between 2000 and 2008, 90 per cent of Emiratis over the age of 15 can read.
"We were shocked to learn that so many people don't like to read, and we want to make it easier for people to pick a book," said Ms Al Shamsi. "We think reading is very important. Personally, we are hard-core bookworms."
The women currently have 100 books on their website, but they will be adding another 150 in the coming weeks. Their collection includes children's literature, fiction and non-fiction in Arabic, English and French.
Ms Al Shamsi said they plan to set up a permanent collection point in each emirate as the project grows. First, though, they will set up in Maraya Art Centre in Al Qasba, Sharjah.
"In the long term, we want it to be sustained by the community itself," said Ms Al Shamsi. "We want to see people doing it on their own: recycling, donating, and adopting books, which in turn will promote a reading culture."
Sakina Eb Iha, a 19-year-old student from India, has donated two books and adopted three from The Book Shelter. "I really like sending books to people and spreading the love for reading," she said.
Fatma Al Bannai, the 23-year-old founder of an Emirati women's writing group, has already donated four books to The Book Shelter.
"I had these books for a while and they were just collecting dust on my bookshelf," she said. "When I heard about this initiative I was glad to donate them so that other people can enjoy these books as well."
Visit blog.thebookshelter.ae to donate or adopt books