x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Library plans new network

The National Library has ambitious plans for the next three years, starting with adding 15 branches throughout the emirate.

ABU DHABI // To help foster a "reading culture", the emirate's only public library plans to open 15 new branches. It is even thinking about putting some in shopping malls. David Hirsch, the chief librarian at the National Library in the capital, said the first of the branches could open as soon as next year. Others in outlying areas such as Al Gharbia and Al Ain may be built by 2012. Booklovers may even be lent books from branches in shopping malls, Mr Hirsch said. "We want books to be where the people are and we were thinking, where do people go here? "Well, they go to malls, so we're thinking of having small branches in the malls where people can come and pick up books and maybe some videos or other content." He added that a prison library programme was also in the works, as well as a new fleet of "bookmobiles" for bringing libraries to rural areas. "A bookmobile is like the size of a bus and you have books in it, you have a librarian in it, and you go around to less-populated areas where there's really no need for a whole library. "You want people to have access to books, so you go and spend a few hours here and a few hours there. We want to create a reading culture and library culture here." He added that the National Library, which opened in 1984 at the Cultural Foundation, is aiming to become a "world-class and hi-tech" facility. A new main library would also probably be opened in Khalifa City A or B, he said, but could not give a date. The National Library currently houses more than two million volumes - among them hundreds of rare editions, some 400,000 Arabic and foreign-language titles and a collection of hand-written manuscripts dating from the 10th century. Mr Hirsch, who has been overseeing the emirate's library operations since January, said the upcoming expansion was part of a campaign to attract the only thing the library really lacks: more readers. "Our library is definitely, I would say, an underutilised treasure. It's well-hidden, it's like a well-kept secret. We want to raise the profile because it's going to become a world-class library." He also said the institution wanted to entice younger bookworms, such as Akhile Nair, 13. The eighth grader, who attends Sherwood Academy, makes weekly trips to the library to satisfy her appetite for mystery and horror novels. I'm always here looking for something to read," she said, but acknowledged her friends were not as interested in reading. "Some are interested, of course, but a lot of people might stay on the computer or watch TV or go to the cinema." Last year, the National Library had 135,000 visitors - nearly a third of them children. There are currently about 8,000 library card holders. "That's a good number, but we want more," Mr Hirsch said. "A library should be more than just a place where you sit and say, 'Shh'!" Hirsch stressed that any new library facility would accommodate people with special needs, including blind readers. Last week, he flew to Sweden to study their use of radio-frequency identification technology, which would allow blind people to preview books and audiobooks. "One of the libraries in Sweden had invented a new device which can read the titles and names of the authors and a summary of the book," he said. "You pass a little wand over it, and a voice reads the title and author and summary, and that allows you to decide whether or not you want to hear the whole book." mkwong@thenational.ae