x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The readers on the bus ...

We're starting small, But hopefully with time we will have more buses.

S Yawer Abbas and his four-year-old son, Behjat, read in the Kitab Bus in Al Ain.
S Yawer Abbas and his four-year-old son, Behjat, read in the Kitab Bus in Al Ain.

It is 6pm on a Tuesday and a steady trickle of shoppers are making their way into the spanking new Bawadi Mall on the outskirts of Al Ain. To the right of the entrance, a small group of children and adults are propped up on beanbags and novelty animal chairs. They look peaceful and relaxed. They are reading. Nearby, a bus is parked. With its mustard-yellow exterior, it looks unassuming. But its interior is lined with bookshelves through which adults and children are foraging. This is the Kitab Bus, a mobile library service, which has made its debut at Al Ain's first book show, Al Ain Reads. The book fair, which is run by Kitab, a group that also organises the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, has been taking place in the city's newest mall all week. Its intention, say the organisers, is to promote reading among children and adults.

While book sellers tout their wares inside the mall, the bus, which is a joint venture between Kitab, the Zayed Giving Initiative, the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Emirates Transport, is about one thing - reading. Its interior has been decked out with books in Arabic and English, as well as comfortable chairs and squishy mats, so that people of all ages can spend time with books. "We're trying to encourage people to step away from the TV and pick up a book," says Dana al Sarraj, the programme manager at Kitab, who has been co-ordinating the project.

In fact, diverting trade away from the shops and to the bus has been a tricky business. "People assume it's something commercial," she says. "But this is not a commercial enterprise. It's just for the love of reading." People who have fallen for the bait include S Yawer Abbas and his family from Dubai. "I like the environment," he says. "And we need more books, especially children's ones. It is expensive to always buy them."

His wife, Faiza, is clutching Cappuccino Dusk by Kankana Bash and The Arabian Gulf: Between Conservatism and Change. "It's very comfortable here," she says. "I would like to learn more about the region through books, but in order to use [the bus], I'm going to need to know where it is and when." Although the book bus doesn't currently provide a lending service, it has plans to implement one soon. And then the wheels on the bus, which at the mall aren't being put to much use, will start turning, heading for Abu Dhabi next month, and the Western Region in December.

Hazem Hussein, a biochemical technician from Al Ain, who is on board with his family, thinks the mall is the perfect location. "It's great to have it here," he says. "The kids will enjoy spending time on the bus, and it's a safe place to leave them while you go shopping." While his wife, Sali, helps their sons, Youssef, three, and Loay, four, pick something to read, Hussein's attention is caught by some chemistry books. "The choice of books in Al Ain is limited," he says. "And the timing for the Zayed University library is not suitable for most working people. This way it will be more flexible."

For Zayed Giving, the initiative behind the book bus, this is not the first mobile service it has launched. "Previously we've done a mobile clinic in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah," says its chairman, Dr Adel Alshamry. "And our next project is a mobile science lab, which will give kids and students access to a proper lab, to enhance their science skills." He is pleased with the reaction to the book bus. "We are starting small," he says, "but hopefully, with time, we will have more buses. And then they will be able to visit hospitals and the elderly."

In the meantime, Kitab is keen to hear people's feedback. "There is an e-mail address and a mobile number so people can make special requests for a visit," says al Sarraj. "People have to let us know they want it. And we will make it as good as they need it to be. We just want to show people that reading is great. And we'll even bring it to them to make it easier to find." The Kitab Bus will be at Bawadi Mall and other locations in Al Ain until Saturday. To find out where it will be, or to request a visit from the bus, e-mail kitabbus@kitab.ae or call 050 151 3411.